New culinary mystery series — Q&A with the authors

French writers Noël Balen and Vanessa Barrot

French writers Noël Balen and Vanessa Barrot

The Frenchman Noël Balen, author of the made-for-TV Winemaker Detective series, wanted to expand from the wine cellar to the kitchen. To do so, he teamed up with Vanessa Barrot, a lawyer, writer, and inveterate food lover. Together, they cooked up the new culinary mystery series Gourmet Crimes, starting with Minced, Marinated, and Murdered, which will be available in English on February 20. Below we asked them a few questions.

Can you explain how you chose your main characters?
We wanted a female sleuth as the main character because the first memories we all generally have about food are linked to our mother’s cooking. Laure Grenadier is a fortysomething, dynamic, urban woman with high standards in her personal and professional life. Her sidekick, Paco, provides another perspective on French cooking and, of course, adds to the suspense and depth of the story.

Many of the restaurants you mention really exist. How do you choose the ones you include?
We test them. We spend a lot of time with the chefs, talking about how they see their job and about their cooking philosophy. We are struck by the humanity and humility of the chefs we speak to, and their awareness of being part of a lineage, a link in a global chain, along with those who produce the food. We also hear about the darker sides, the sterile rivalries, the toughness of the job and the cruelty you sometimes find behind the scenes.

How do you co-write these books?
We write about half the chapters each. We first come up with a plot line, and then based on our affinities with the story, we each write the chapters we want to write. We write alone, but discuss all the key decisions… in the kitchen. And that’s the only place we manage to do it.

What defines a good restaurant?
A good restaurant is not about price, but about wanting to share cuisine. It’s a place where you feel welcomed as a person and not just a customer. It offers an encounter. Based on these encounters, our books evolve. “These are thoughtful books… through gastronomy, you can tell so much truth about a city or a culture.”