Table of Contents
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Looking for loaves, loves, and laughter? Do I have the books for you! Culinary romances feed the stomach and soul with their delicious mix of hot food and even hotter relationships. You come to them to read about the trials and tribulations of the restaurant industry. From opening bakeries and restaurants to maintaining them, making money and food is objectively hard. Add in the complications of celebrity chefs, reality baking competitions, and other famous employees and you have a blend of messy but delectable romances. After all, food is the gateway to the soul.
Now, culinary romances are not a new invention. I have, however, noticed an uptick in the number of culinary romances published, and I am not alone. Bettina Makalintal’s Eater article even noted, “Move over, bodice rippers. It’s all about apron tuggers now.” I cannot argue with her point that there are more and more culinary romances hitting the shelves, and many of them are queer or racially diverse.
Culinary romances give authors the ability to showcase food culture and the ways food is sold to the public. From celebrity chefs, to cooking contestants, to chefs that run businesses, part of a character’s success relies on the way they market themselves and their food to their intended customers or audience. Then throw cultural identities and work-love life balance into the mix and you have yourself a compelling romance. Given the size of the sub-genre, I only included a selection that are sure to leave you hungry for more.
My Recipe for Selecting These Culinary Romances
I picked culinary romances that are both sweet and savory. They all contain an important appreciation and love for food at the center. I split them up into culinary romances about bakers and cooking culinary romances. Even though cooking is an umbrella term that baking falls under, I wanted to represent the difference between a book that focuses on baked goods and sweets and a book that focuses on cooking in general.
Culinary Romances About Bakers
Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall
Content warnings: sexual assault, biphobia, emotional abuse
An amateur baking competition might not solve all of Rosaline’s financial problems, but it is the best place she knows to start. The prize money could help her and her daughter, but with her mixed performance on the show, she isn’t so sure she is in cream of the crop. Fold in a set of posh parents who still don’t understand why their bisexual daughter is still close friends with her ex-girlfriend or why she dropped out of college to raise her daughter alone and you have the start of a messy situation — one that not even the romantic attentions of Alan, a fancy landscape architect, and Henry, a quietly earnest electrician, may be able to mend.
Queerly Beloved by Susie Dumond
Content warning: homophobia
In 2013, Amy is working a double life as a closeted baker at a religiously conservative bakery, and an out bartender at the queer bar in Tulsa. When the cute engineer, Charley comes into the bakery at closing, Amy’s two worlds collide, and she cannot help but offer to be her romantic tour guide. But when she loses her job, she takes on an unusual gig as a bridesmaid for hire to stay afloat. Amy knows it’s easier to be closeted to work in the heteronormative wedding industry, but she is excellent at weddings, and she needs the money. Now, Amy needs to determine what she is willing to give up for her new clientele. Book Riot’s own Susie Dumond brings you a queer 27 Dresses that speaks to a community that loves weddings even when the wedding industry doesn’t always love them back.
Fake It Till You Bake It by Jamie Wesley
Content warning: ableism
A cupcakery with financial trouble, reality TV dating drama, and football players supporting each other is the perfect recipe for a near-perfect culinary romance. Ex-reality dating show contestant, Jada, is still dealing with fans who hate that she rejected the bachelor’s proposal. Now she needs help finding a smooth place to land, so when her grandmother offers her a deal to access her inheritance early by working at a shop, she says yes. Working for an analytical boss like Donovan at the new cupcakery, Sugar Blitz, is not easy. Whipping in a reporter interview that leads to fake-dating the football-playing boss in question doesn’t improve things. The media loves them together, and the struggling cupcake shop is finally getting the steady traffic it needs, but will their relationship be able to withstand the heat?
Mangos and Mistletoe By Adriana Herrera
Content warning: homophobia
Two Dominican pastry chefs must overcome their differences of opinion and approaches to baking if they want to walk away from the Holiday Baking Challenge as winners. Kiskeya wants everyone in her life to know that she is talented enough to have a culinary career. Sully is competing to rediscover her love for baking after years of caring for her family. The growing attraction between the two contestants only complicates their fierce competition. The sapphic holiday baking competition romance novella is the perfect treat for any time of year.
Battle Royal by Lucy Parker
Content warning: death of a loved one
A legacy baker known for his simple cake designs has been the surly judge for a baking competition show for years, but Dominic didn’t expect the former contestant he booted off the show for her glittery confections to become his competition. Sylvie runs the dreamlike shop across the street, and she is now a judge on the show with him. To make things worse, she is competing in the battle over who will win the contract to bake the cake for the next royal wedding. But as the two baking enemies start to work together to crack the impossible royal brief, they begin to understand, respect, and even like each other a bit too much. When they are not in an antagonistic fight to the finish, what will their relationship become?
Cooking Culinary Romances
Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert
Content warnings: ableism, child neglect
In the English countryside, there is nothing more relaxing than a well-run B&B. So, when Jacob interviews a chaotic chief, he doesn’t think to hire her. He isn’t given much choice, however, when she accidentally hits him with her car. With a broken arm, he needs Eve’s help to run his business. Any other job she has tried hasn’t worked out, but she wants to help his business, especially since she injured him first. Eve will have to cope with her grumpy boss with a binder section for every problem and Jacob will have to adjust to living with a ball of sunshine who sings while she cooks. This small-town English romance with neurodivergent characters is hotter than a fresh loaf of bread.
Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron
Reena did not want to date the Muslim bachelor who works for her father and lives across the hall, but when she needs a fiancé for a couples video cooking contest, she will not turn his help away. Now, her sourdough starter isn’t the only thing on the rise. Reena just keeps making it to the next round and the more time she spends with Nadim, the more she realizes even with his secrets and close connection to her family, she likes him. It’s not the marriage her Indian parents imagine, but will their love be able to rise in such a cramped proofing drawer?
Love & Other Disasters by Anita Kelly
Content warning: transphobia
When Dahlia divorces her husband, quits her job, and makes it on a cooking competition show, she meets a competitor who changes her approach to love. London has come on the show to share their experience as a nonbinary person on national TV and use their winnings to fund a queer nonprofit organization. They do not take their responsibility or the competition lightly, but when they meet Dahlia, it is impossible to ignore how cute her chaotic energy is. In between tapings, Dahlia and London connect over spontaneous trips around L.A., and during the competition, their growing attraction and natural chemistry is impossible to hide. But, even though they are swiftly falling for each other, it is still a competition at the end of the day, and they must navigate the perils of televised culinary criticism if they want to cook up a lasting relationship.
For Butter or Worse by Erin La Rosa
Content warning: parental death, abusive past relationship, misogyny
After celebrity chef, Nina Lyon, announces her resignation as a judge on a reality cooking show on live TV, everyone wants to know why, including the lovable judge on the show who she cannot stand, Leo O’Donnell. Nina and Leo have always had an antagonistic working relationship obscured by careful editing, but during a live taping of the show, Leo let a sexist nickname slip, and that was Nina’s breaking point. When Leo arrives at her restaurant to ask her about it, the paparazzi get a shot that fuels dating rumors. Publicity from a fake dating scheme could save both of their businesses. But when their fake dates heat up, not even an ice bath can cool down the feelings that begin to boil up.
A Proposal They Can’t Refuse by Natalie Caña
Content warning: death of a loved one
With her Chicago neighborhood quickly gentrifying, Kamilah knows her best chance at saving her family’s Puerto Rican restaurant is by entering a food tour, but she has to convince her Abuelo first. He agrees to the tour if Kamilah will marry his best friend’s grandson. Working for the family’s Irish distillery, Liam knows how to handle family expectations. But his grandfather’s cancer diagnosis and his final wish to see him marry Kamilah before he passes throws him for a loop. Kamilah and Liam can’t stand each other these days, but that doesn’t change the fact that if they don’t get married, their grandfathers will sell both their businesses. Instead, they agree to fake an engagement to solve both their problems, but we all know what happens when real feelings mess up a careful plan.
So We Meet Again by Suzanne Park
Content warnings: misogyny, racism
When Jess Kim is group-fired from a job full of finance bros via Zoom for lacking leadership potential, she moves back to her parent’s home in Nashville. Working for a Wall Street investment bank for seven years hasn’t prepared her for figuring out what she wants to do next. To add fuel to the fire, her high school rival, Daniel Choi is on sabbatical from his job as a lawyer for Silicon Valley startups and he appears to know someone in every tech industry. So, when Jess starts a Korean cooking channel and tech startup, she cannot refuse Daniel’s help, especially since she cannot seem to resist him. Now opportunities are opening up to her that she could never have imagined and she will have to face all the challenges that come with chasing your dreams.
The Romance Recipe by Ruby Barrett
Content warning: death of a loved one, biphobia
A type-A restaurant owner hires a chef whose celebrity might just save her restaurant, especially when the opportunity to be on a new foodie TV show comes their way. Sophie is done with social media, her dwindling reality TV fame, and her micromanaging boss, but she is willing to make another television appearance to keep Amy’s restaurant open. Amy and Sophie just keep butting heads, but their mutual attraction simmers beneath their debates over how the restaurant should be run. In this sapphic romance, will they be able to work together long enough to find success in and out of the kitchen?