Sunday, August 5, 2012

Kansas Authors First: Secrets of the Tsil Cafe

Book by Thomas Fox Averill of Topeka

“You’ve cooked until your food is you and you are your food.” She was right. Food had been everything in my family: from seduction, to individuality, to anger, to love. Now it was me.

Part recipe book, part crash course in the history of New Mexican cuisine, and part tumultuous family chronicle, Secrets of the Tsil Café leaves few rocks unturned.

Thomas Fox Averill tells the story of two successful Kansas City restaurants: Buen AppeTito is a universally loved catering company run by Maria Tito Hingler; the Tsil Café is run by her husband Robert Hingler. Buen AppeTito caters to its clients tastes while the Tsil challenges its patrons as much as it pleases them. Maria knows the Old World, garlic and pasta, while Robert uses only ingredients indigenous to the New World at the time of Christopher Columbus’s voyage. This is the set up. What follows is a rich exploration of two families becoming one, all told through the eyes of their son, Wes, a budding cook in his own right.

Averill incorporates the entire world of the two restaurants from the Tito and Hingler families to the rich lives of the restaurant help, regulars, and even a local food columnist, Carson Flinn. The ingredients and meals are well incorporated as well. Food becomes a dynamic character all its own. It informs the way Wes and his family experience and understand the world around them. Furthermore, Averill gives us a chance to become part of the narrative by including the very recipes Wes creates throughout the novel.

Carson Flinn at one point writes of the Tsil, “Good food will always find its diners.” I’d amend this for Averill by saying, Good fiction will always find its readers. The world of the Tsil might not be for every reader under the sun, but for those who enjoy straying from the beaten path, it will provide a pleasant journey. But don’t be surprised if the next time you leave the grocery store, you find yourself carrying arm loads of quinoa, masa flour, buffalo meat and prickly pear cactus pads!

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