Author Anthony Capella exploded onto the scene with his novel “The Food of Love”. This novel was a sensual experience rather than just a book. His next two novels, “The Wedding Officer” and “The Various Flavours of Coffee” both followed in his debuts footsteps by combing stories with food. In Capella’s writing food is one of the most important characters, and one of the main ways of moving the story forward and setting the tone.
Capella’s newest novel is “The Empress of Ice Cream”. This is both a foodie novel and an historical novel. The story revolves around two main characters. The first is Carlo Demirco. As a boy in service (almost a slave) in Italy, he learns the secret of making ices from his master. He gains the opportunity to escape and make his own career, and gains eminence in the French court under King Louis XIV. There he has the freedom to explore new techniques and flavours, and develops a unique style of frozen desserts that become the fashion for upper class France.
While in service to the King, Carlo meets a young lady-in-waiting, Louise de Keroualle. He is drawn to her not just for her beauty, but for her intelligence and personality as well. Although she turns his advances down, he is still increasingly drawn to her. Eventually they are both sent to England and the court of Charles II. There politics and intrigues force them into new roles.
Despite her moral hesitations, Louise becomes Charles II’s mistress. She yields increasing power in the country and is able to further her political agenda. For her, politics are her true love affair. However, ice make Carlo is still in love with her, and is always near the king and his mistress. While in England Carlo also meets scientists and an enigmatic pie maker who help him to better understand his vocation, and as a result Carlo perfects the art of making ice cream.
Although not strictly historically accurate, the story line is historically plausible. The history of ice cream is fascinating, and there are a lot of insights into different techniques and flavours. Throughout the story is the ever-present chill of frozen desserts. It is the tastes and textures of the ice desserts that are far more seductive than any of the love affairs and liaisons within the novel (although there are plenty of those as well). Yet the ice cream is not purely sensual in its descriptions (as, for example, the food in “Food of Love” is). The ice cream becomes symbolic of characters, politics, and even culture and class struggles. The role of ice cream is as fascinating as the description of its tastes. Still, it made me want to try making ice cream, by hand, with fresh ingredients.
Make sure when you read this novel that you have a tub of ice cream nearby.