“Cooking For Picasso” by Camille Aubray is a novel set in two time periods. The story opens 80 years ago with a very brief and little-known period of Picasso’s life. At that time, Picasso has separated from his aristocratic Russian-born wife and has come to the French Riviera, incognito, while his lawyers work out a separation agreement. His mistress is also making demands on him and all this turmoil has left him unable to paint.
This novel looks into the painter’s life of during an interlude in 1936 in the seaside village of Juan-les-Pins. His fame had been growing even as Hitler condemned his style of art as “degenerate.” Picasso was a brilliant artist but faced challenges in his personal life. He believed that “no one could create without destroying something dear.”
Ondine Belange is the 17-year-old daughter of the owners of a nearby café. Picasso has eaten there and found the cuisine to his liking. Seeking anonymity, he takes an assumed name and has made arrangements to have the midday meal delivered to him daily. When Ondine’s parents assign their daughter the job of bicycling up the hill to deliver the meal, they tell her to never disturb him – just leave the meal on the table and leave. They know who he is and swear Ondine to secrecy.
Of course Picasso encounters her heating up the meals and finds her presence and the cooking aromas soothing. Ondine meets his artist friends, witnesses jealous fights, and even poses for a series of portraits, all of which leave a lasting impact on her life. Then Picasso disappears as quietly as he appeared.
Fast forward to New York, 2016. Ondine’s granddaughter, Celine, a makeup artist, discovers a notebook kept by her grandmother. In it are the recipes and comments made by Picasso about each meal she served. And there are hints that maybe Picasso gave Ondine a painting that might still be hidden in her parents’ cafe. Celine decides to travel to the French Riviera to find out what really happened when her grandmother met and delivered meals to Picasso and perhaps recover a lost family treasure..
This novel is alive with the smells of Provencal cooking, the power of creating art, and the visual impact of the Mediterranean Sea.