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BUFFALO WEST WING
By Julie Hyzy
Berkley Prime Crime, January 2011 ($7.99)
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
Olivia "Ollie" Paras, the first female executive chef in the White House, is trying to make a good first impression on the new President and First Lady, but she gets off to a bad start. While taking part in a scavenger hunt, the two presidential children, thirteen-year-old Abby and ten-year-old Josh, discover a box of their favorite takeout fried chicken wings in the kitchen. Ollie refuses to let them partake of the treat because she doesn't know who brought the food into her kitchen. She intends to throw the wings away, but before she can, five White House staffers eat them, with dire consequences. Ollie could say "I told you so," and clear her name with the First Family, but the Secret Service tells her to keep her mouth shut.
They invade her kitchen in their investigation of the case of the tainted wings, and wouldn't you know it, the agent in charge is her old boyfriend Tom. He believes this is part of a more serious plot, maybe a test run of White House security. There are rumors of a potential terrorist threat, and he swears Ollie to secrecy. This leaves her unable to defend herself against those who consider her paranoid about denying the First Kids their favorite treat, including the First Lady. To add insult to injury, Mrs. Hyden brings her personal chef to the White House to prepare the family's personal meals. Virgil Ballantine is arrogant and pushy, and believes he has free access to Ollie's kitchen and can run roughshod over her and her staff. Ollie begins to wonder if she will soon be seeking a new job.
The children seem at first glance to be spoiled brats, but Josh develops an interest in cooking. Virgil promises the kids he will be happy to teach them, but as soon as Mrs. Hyden is out of sight he turns the job over to Ollie. As if she didn't have enough to do, providing perfect meals, getting ready for a big state dinner, and seeing that all the food the First Family eats is safe as well as delicious. Abby soon tires of the cooking lessons, but Josh is serious, and he and Ollie strike up an unlikely friendship. It is entertaining and enlightening to follow Ollie through her daily routine, getting to peak behind the curtain that separates the First Family's official and personal life.
When Josh and Ollie are trapped in a dangerous situation, Ollie proves that she can do more than whip up a fine meal for the multitudes. Will Ollie survive the new administration, or will she take her talents elsewhere? Only the author knows for sure. This is the fourth in the White House Chef Mystery series, and I hope there will be more. If not, I look forward to following Ollie wherever she goes.
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