Philip Kazan’s first novel Appetite is a luscious feast for the imagination set in late 15th-century Florence.
Nino Latini has inherited his twin passions for food and art from his butcher father and his uncle, painter Filippo Lippi. As the story opens in 1466, 14-year-old Nino has just lost his mother, but he remembers her smell. Every smell, every taste calls to mind the people and places he loves. As the years pass Nino becomes an illustrious chef, creating elaborate allegorical banquets for the de’ Medicis, the Borgias, a cardinal and the Pope himself.
Over-the-top aphrodisiac meals mask the fact that his own desire seems destined to remain unsatisfied: his sweetheart Tessina is betrothed to a nobleman old enough to be her grandfather. Nino’s search for love – and for the perfect dish – will take him to Rome, on pilgrimages, through brothels and back to a Florence torn apart by coups.
Kazan brings medieval Italy to life with an astonishing degree of historical detail. Appetite has the vivid colours of Tracy Chevalier’s Girl With a Pearl Earring and the sharp odours of Patrick Süskind’s Perfume. The tale of a chef’s development, revealing the inextricable links between food and emotional memory, echoes other recent works of historical fiction like John Saturnall’s Feast by Lawrence Norfolk and White Truffles in Winter by N. M. Kelby.
A few historical characters seem shoehorned into a somewhat bloated plot, and the novel may have worked better with a third person omniscient narrator, but this is an impressive debut. Readers will certainly come away with an appetite for more.