Friday, July 09, 2021

The Last Super Chef

Negron, Chris. The Last Super Chef
July 6th 2021 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Curtis loves watching the television show The Last Super Chef, especially since he has a secret-- his mother told him in second grade that his father is Lucas Taylor, although he's never met the man. When a contest is announced that will lead to five children being on the show, Curtis and his friend Tre decide to send in a video. Curtis' family- his mother and younger sister Paige- struggle financially, especially after his mother loses her job. Curtis is worried that they won't be able to buy ingredients for him to continue practicing, and in order to make his video, he breaks into the house of his landlord, Mr. Pettynose, and uses his cheese to make a souffle. He's almost caught because Mr. Pettynose misses the cheese and realizes the oven is warm, but attributes both of these things to a ghostly visit. Curtis is a bit worried that the kitchen will be recognized on his audition video, because he is one of the five contestants! The film crew show up at his door as he is watching the program, and present him with the invitation. Since he failed to inform his mother he was entering, she is a bit surprised, but before long Curtis is on the set of the program with Kiko from Japan, Pepper from Boston, Bonifacio from Mexico City and Joey from Chicago. All have great skills in the kitchen, and all will stay on the program until the end, at Thanksgiving, and will be awarded points to see who the winner is. There are a lot of competitions involving different techniques and types of food, and Curtis holds his own. He doesn't do too well with his one on one interview dinner with Taylor, because he can't believe the man won't acknowledge their relationship. 
Strengths: Negron's Dan Unmasked was great fun, and this book starts with an ill-conceived bake sale that will draw students right in. Curtis' love of cooking is evident, and is set within the context of his somewhat straightened reality. I really enjoyed the fact that he got along well with his mother and younger sister, and that all of the diverse contestants are shown working together rather than sniping at each other, which seems to be the pull of many reality shows. Middle school students are ALWAYS hungry, and always glad to read about food. There are some great twists I don't want to give away, and an interesting depiction of a character with Parkinson's (something with which Mr. Negron's is dealing) that is handled in a realistic way. (My mother had Parkinson's for over twenty years and did quite well until she was 84, at which point not all of her problems were related to that disease!)
Weaknesses: There's a LOT of information about serious cooking with unusual ingredients, and even though I have a great cookbook collection, few of my students have exhibited any interest in cooking. I was also uncomfortable with Curtis breaking into Mr. Pettynose's house with no repercussions.
What I really think: This is another excellent example of a child involved in a cooking show competition for readers who enjoyed Ganeshram Stir it Up!, (2011)Williams' Pizza, Love and Other Stuff That Made Me Famous (2012), Fiore's Taste Test (2013), Littlewood's A Dash of Magic (2013), Harper's Lights! Cameras! Cook! (2017), Nail's One Hundred Spaghetti Strings (2017), Janowitz's The Doughnut King (The Doughnut Fix #2) (2019), LaRocca's Midsummer's Mayhem (2019) and LaMotte's Measuring Up (2020), and Delaney's Alice Fleck's Recipe for Disaster (2021).

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