Cooking for Picasso

Written by Camille Aubray
Review by Kate Braithwaite

In the spring of 1936, Pablo Picasso is living under an assumed name in the village of Juan-les-Pins and seventeen-year-old Ondine has been tasked by her parents, who run the local eatery, to cook lunch for the stranger every day in his home. As Ondine records the culinary likes and dislikes of the man she calls “Patron,” she is gradually drawn into a relationship with him, despite fully understanding who he is and how complex his romantic life is already.

Intertwined in this story is a second, modern-day narrative, following Ondine’s granddaughter, Celine, as she travels to France with her aunt, trying to find the truth about this relationship, while ostensibly taking a cooking course run by the famously fractious British chef, Gilby Halliwell.

Aubray produces a vivid and interesting picture of Picasso and doesn’t shy away from his personal entanglements. The parts of the novel set in Juan-les-Pins are full of enjoyable descriptions, particularly of Picasso’s painting and of French cuisine, although at times some stilted dialogue makes the relationship between Picasso and Ondine feel rather unlikely.

The historical chapters however, are much more convincing than the modern story, which is dominated by Celine’s predictable romance with a character all too clearly modeled on Gordon Ramsay. Readers who stay the course will be rewarded by a neat tie-up between the historical story and Celine’s search for a missing painting, but for me both the modern story and the section following Ondine to America detracted from the sections concerning Picasso.