Book Bag: ‘Onward Kitchen Soldiers’ by Rob Chirico; ‘A is for Astigmatism’ by Frederick H. Bloom

Staff Writer
Published: 7/13/2021 3:54:04 PM

Onward Kitchen Soldiers, by Rob Chirico

 

When Charles Mitello, a promising young chef in a chic New York restaurant, loses his job because of food allergies, he figures his life is pretty much over. Charles has eaten a small piece of crab to make sure the shellfish is still good, and he goes into anaphylactic shock; a doctor who happens to be in the restaurant saves him by sticking him with an EpiPen, then asks Charles if he has any other questions.

“Yeah, sure,” says Charles, whose boss has just told him he has to let him go. “Do you have any cyanide capsules in your bag?”

So begins Rob Chirico’s satirical novel “Onward Kitchen Soldiers,” a send-up of food media, reality TV, and public relations. Since he can’t work in a kitchen anymore, Charles takes a post at a New York PR firm that represents cookbook authors. As Chirico writes, Charles and his coworkers all have an “assortment of egos to boost, backs to scratch, and butts to kiss” in shilling cookbooks to the media. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it.

Chirico, of Greenfield, brings a varied background to his work. In addition to his writing, he’s a painter and former art history teacher, and he’s also worked as a bartender; among his previous books are “Field Guide to Cocktails” and “Martini Madness.” He’s a self-taught foodie to boot who’s published a cookbook and once won a $10,000 prize in the Sutter Home “Build a Better Burger” contest.

“Onward Kitchen Soldiers” finds our hero in a tough spot. Charles is responsible for his agency’s biggest client, cookbook author Victor Buzzone, a tiresome narcissist who’s sold lots of books but alienated more than a few people in the media. Victor is demanding more screen time — “I want Oprah!” — but Charles can’t get anyone in television to return his calls and emails.

But then, cashing in on a favor he’s owed by one contact at ABC, Charles pitches Victor to the network for a role on their upcoming cooking competition, “The Great American Food Fight,” a show in which four “Gladiator Chefs” will face off against each other.

As Charles tells his ABC contact, Ryan, “The doomsayers are comparing America to ancient Rome on the brink of disaster … you clearly need a great chef with a big name who is not afraid of being a gutsy, talented egomaniac willing to take on the barbarians and go down fighting.” Victor, Charles says, is just the kind of brawler needed for the kind of cooking show ABC wants to deliver, one that will give audiences “adventure, competition, blood.”

Ryan is skeptical about Vic at first — “Everybody hates him. Even I hate him, and I never even met him” — but he convinces his boss at ABC to interview the chef for the show. There’s just one small problem, Charles discovers, when he calls Victor to tell him the good news: The hotshot cook doesn’t actually cook anymore. Food stylists prepare his dishes, he admits, which he then presents to the public.

“Let’s just say I’m a little rusty,” says Vic.

Charles’ job might be on the line here, so he needs to take drastic steps ASAP and find Victor some people in New York who can give him a crash course in food prep, though the teachers are a bit unorthodox — a pork butcher in Manhattan, a pasta maker in Queens, a retired firefighter, and Charles’ own grandmother.

And even if Vic wins a slot on “The Great American Food Fight,” Charles wonders if the chef will be able to handle the pressure and keep his personality flaws in check. Charles will also have to deal with Vic’s combative wife, Davida, who can make her husband look like an exercise in restraint.

Chirico keeps the laughs coming as he takes aim at the craziness surrounding so much of the food media scene. And as a pragmatic measure, “Onward Kitchen Soldiers” also includes several real recipes for pasta, salads, desserts and other meals if reading about food makes you hungry.

More information about Rob Chrico’s work can be found at robchirico.homestead.com and charlesbridge.com/pages/rob-chirico.

 

A is for Astigmatism: The ABCs of Vision and Optics for Kids

by Frederick H. Bloom, Illustrations by Jason Bloom, Editing by Alex Bloom

 

Frederick Bloom has spent 46 years as an optometrist in the Valley, including a past stint of over 35 years in which he was director of Eye Care Services for University Health Services at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

To mark that career, Bloom has combined forces with his sons, Jason and Alex, to write a children’s book on the ins and outs of eye care and vision. “A is for Astigmatism” tackles the subject using the full range of the alphabet, including Z, which stands for zonules — the circular rings in each eye “that hold the lenses in place so that you can see well.”

Bloom says he was inspired to write the book by his grandchildren, Jackson and Owen, because both are “deep thinkers with amazing vision.” And to make the book even more of a family affair, his sons also took part in its creation: Jason contributed numerous illustrations, and Alex served as the book’s editor.

In a brief forward, Frederick Bloom writes that “A is for Astigmatism” has been written for “children of all ages, 0 to 100+, who are interested in the ABCs of vision and optics.” And indeed, the book touches on subjects and terms likely not that well known by the average adult, such as Hyperopia — seeing better at a distance than close up, or farsightedness — and Xanthelasma, yellow patches that can occur on and around the eyelids of older people.

“A is for Astigmatism” is available at a number of sites, including store.bookbaby.com/book/a-is-for-astigmatism.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.




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