I used to be up bright and early at four o’clock every morning. That always gave me plenty of time to get myself to the White House in order to prepare the First Family’s breakfast. When the President and Mrs. Campbell left the White House and the Hydens moved in, however, things changed for me. And not just because we now had two kids to feed at every meal.That I wouldn’t have minded so much. What threw the kitchen (and me) into a tizzy was the arrival of Virgil Ballantine, the Hydens’ personal chef. We’d never dealt with a personal chef before, but from the moment he arrived, Virgil took charge of the family’s daily meals. That is, of course, when he isn’t scamming another day off.
Can I whisper, briefly, that Virgil has been a pain in our backsides since he showed up? The man is a diva, utterly convinced of his own infallibility, utterly convinced the rest of us—Bucky, Cyan, and I—are merely pitiful wannabes. His loose lips have caused a great deal of angst for all of us. And the Secret Service tells me I’m the troublemaker!
But I’m not here to talk about Virgil. I’m here to talk about a typical day. Fortunately for all of us, every day at the White House is a little bit different. What with meetings, guests, official dinners, state dinners, and working lunches for cabinet members, our days are like snowflakes. No two exactly alike.
Because Virgil is now in charge of breakfast, I’m not required to be in the White House kitchen until eight or nine. I generally arrive earlier, partly because I prefer to oversee everything (I like being in control—surprise, surprise), and partly because there’s a wonderful sense of peace there every morning before dignitaries, media folk, and honored guests start showing up.
Bucky and Cyan usually arrive shortly after I do. We work quietly together, planning menus, arranging tastings, and experimenting with new flavor combinations. I think the three of us long for the days when it was just us. Sure, Bucky can be a little acerbic, and Cyan a little flaky, but we work well together. We’re a team. To be fair, however, Virgil’s contributions to the day allow the three of us more time to work on major events. And let me tell you, the Hydens are enthusiastic entertainers, far moreso than the Campbells were.
In fact, at the beginning of Affairs of Steak, Peter Sargeant, the White House sensitivity director, and I are charged with finding a suitable venue for a birthday party Mrs. Hyden plans to throw for the Secretary of State. If you know me at all, you understand what a nightmare this team-up is. Little did Sargeant and I expect, when we set out that morning,that participating in this distasteful project would embroil us both in a murder investigation. Sargeant’s persnickety personality and constant personal jabs suddenly became the least of my worries.
Affairs of Steak—the fifth White House Mystery—is out now. Let me tell you—I had a few very close calls this time. I’m obviously here to tell you about it, but my being alive doesn’t mean I wasn’t affected by how things turned out. People come, people go. People die in unusual ways. Things change. I don’t know that I’ll ever be the same after this adventure. I don’t know that I can be.
By the way, you’ve met Gav, haven’t you? He ran the bomb training exercises in Hail to the Chef and returned (not-so-coincidentally after I broke up with Tom) in Buffalo West Wing. He’s back in Affairs, and there’s some question as to whether he’ll continue to pop up in my life from now on, or if he disappears for good.
Now that I look back on what I’ve talked about so far, I realize I’ve hardly touched on the specifics of what Bucky, Cyan, and I do each day. You know… this blog post is a lot like my life at the White House. There’s no predicting how a day might go, and even the best-laid plans are often shoved aside because an important matter (like, say, national security) takes precedence.
Maybe that’s why I love my job so much. Not only do I have the opportunity to create wonderful meals for the President of the United States, his family, and their amazing guests, I’m pulled into conspiracies, dangerous locations, and threatening situations on a regular basis. I’m not crazy about putting my life on the line so often, but I have to tell you—working at the White House is never boring.
You can read more about Ollie in AFFAIRS OF STEAK, the fifth book in the “White House Chef” mystery series. The first book in the series is STATE OF THE ONION.
Julie Hyzy is the award-winning author of the two bestselling series for Berkley Prime Crime: the White House Chef Mysteries and the Manor House Mysteries. Her very first effort, a standalone romantic suspense, came out in 2004 and made her realize how much she loved writing novels. So much so, that she started producing two per year. AFFAIRS OF STEAK, the fifth entry in the White House Chef Mystery series, is her eleventh traditionally published book. Julie has a few titles she’s released in e-book form (rescuing them from out-of-print) and a few originals published independently. She hopes to eventually ramp up her energies and write three books a year. Read more about Julie on her blog http://juliehyzy.blogspot.com (updated regularly) or on her website www.juliehyzy.com (updated every six months or so).
** Thanks to Julie, I have one (1) copy of BUFFALO WEST WING to give away. Contest open to residents of the US only. Contest ends January 18. Leave a valid-email address with your comment. Book will be shipped directly from the author.**
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