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Aftertaste: A Novel in Five Courses Paperback – September 1, 2011

4.6 out of 5 stars 59 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"A delicious debut."--Jamie Cat Callan, author of French Women Don't Sleep Alone and Bonjour, Happiness!

"In Aftertaste, Meredith Mileti dishes up a smart, gripping novel rich with the right ingredients - an honest telling of love, anger, forgiveness and the binding power of food.  I finished this book wonderfully satisfied and yet still wanting more, the perfect meal!"--Susan Gregg Gilmore, author of  The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove

"Serving up not only delectable cuisine but magnificent prose, Meredith Mileti's Aftertaste lingered on my tongue long after devouring the last page. Surely she is a writer destined for greatness!"
--Lisa Patton, author of Whistlin' Dixie in a Nor'easter

"Meredith Mileti's Aftertaste is as honest, hearty, and deeply satisfying as the Italian peasant fare cooked by her heroine. A delightful debut novel about the important things in life: food, family, and love."--Ann Mah, author of Kitchen Chinese

"To say that Aftertaste is a story about food and love and resilience is like calling Anthony Bourdain a "cook."  Readers are going to fall in love with Mira and Meredith Mileti."--Jo-Ann Mapson, author of Solomon's Oak and The Owl & Moon Cafe

"Meredith Mileti's debut novel serves up a satisfying and delicious story of rebuilding a life after everything is suddenly and cruelly taken away...a keenly observed novel that is, in part, a comedy of manners...There are scores of wonderful scenes of Mira either cooking up a storm or eating her way through Pittsburgh from the perfect biscotti at Bruno's Bakery, to Italian sausages and cheese from The Pennsylvania Macaroni Factory to oversized sandwiches at Primanti Brothers (it's enough to make you want to hop on the next plane to Pittsburgh)...Meredith Mileti's debut novel is as thoughtful and poignant as it is wickedly funny. It is one to savor-recipes included." – New York Journal of Books

Mileti’s debut will be inspiring to women in all stages of their lives and careers. The sometimes spicy and temperamental main character undergoes great changes that accurately reflect the experiences one has while recovering from major life events. With in-depth descriptions of food and gourmet cooking, not only will this novel make you salivate, but the story itself is startlingly realistic without any of the expected melodrama, making for a moving and unforgettable read. (KENSINGTON, Sep., 384 pp., $15.00) – RT Book Reviews, 4.5 Stars

--Judith Ryan Hendricks Interviews Meredith Mileti--

1. The dictionary defines aftertaste as “what is left at the end.”  How did you choose Aftertaste for your title and what does it mean to you?

In gustatory terms an aftertaste can be good or bad, either a lovely surprise or a bitter disappointment. I think the same is true for life. Sometimes what you taste initially develops into something quite different, often revealing a surprising endnote. It seemed a nice way to describe this defining period in Mira’s life. Things don’t always turn out the way your first expect.

2. I love the way Aftertaste is constructed.  Can you talk about how you devised the structure and how you fitted the story into the five courses? 

I am an early morning writer, so by the time lunchtime rolls around I am ready for a break. One day during the writing of an early draft of the book, I was eating my lunch and mulling over an issue with one of the supporting characters. I thought the plot was getting too complex.  I said to myself,” No, you’ve got to keep this story line simple. It is really just the side dish to the story.”  It got the wheels turning.  Having the meal as a framework actually helped guide the rest of the novel.

3. Mira has a theory about cooks versus bakers.  Is that Mira’s theory, or yours?  Which are you? 

Mira’s theory is that bakers are more rule-bound than cooks.  They respond to order and precision while cooks are more creative and thrive on improvisation. I think that’s a bit oversimplified. I’m actually both a cook and a baker, although I think perhaps I’m more of a natural cook.  I often have trouble following directions.  The exception is bread.  I love making bread.  In particular, I love that moment when the gluten reaches a certain level of development and you can actually feel the dough come alive under your hands.  It thrills me every time.

4. At one point in the story, Mira tells us that she believes her only chance for happiness is in a kitchen, a place where things both tragic and wonderful have taken place and that it is really, the only place she knows how to be herself.  Is there a room in your house where you feel most yourself?

I love my kitchen and I do feel very much myself when I’m in it.  Next to my office, it’s where I spend most of my time. It’s painted orange, my favorite color and we have a big, comfy couch in there that is perfect for sprawling. I love to work in there while my husband or kids lounge around reading or chatting with me.  It’s also one of my favorite spots in the house for snuggling up with a book.

5. Tell us a little bit about your process.  What does a typical working day look like for you?  Are you an organized, linear writer who plans everything and then writes to the plan, or do you need to discover the story through writing it?

I get up around 6, (earlier, if I’m deep into the work or if I have a looming deadline) make some coffee and settle into my office.  I try not to check email or any other social media. I just dive in, and usually spend a few minutes rereading and tightening what I’ve written the day before.  The first draft of Aftertaste was very much a journey of discovery.  I really didn’t know the characters yet and was sometimes surprised by what they did. Subsequent drafts involved shaping and tightening the story in a much more structured, linear way. I have found that I can’t skip around and write later scenes before I’ve worked out the previous ones. 

When I initially read Aftertaste, I could hardly believe it was a first novel.  The graceful prose and spot-on pacing seem more like the work of a veteran craftsperson.  How long did it take you to write the book, start to finish? 

Thank you so much for the lovely compliment!  I wrote the first chapter about ten years ago while I was writing my dissertation in developmental and educational psychology.  I put it in the drawer and didn’t touch it for several years.  Eventually, I picked it back up and began chipping away at it a couple of days a week.  As you might imagine, I didn’t get too far too fast.  It really took me about 3 years of full time writing and rewriting to produce the draft of Aftertaste that sold.

7. Rewriting, to me, is where the real writing comes into play.  How do you view rewriting?  Do you normally rewrite short sections as you go along or blast out a whole draft, then go back and revise?  What kinds of ideas did you initially embrace and later drop or change?

I couldn’t agree with you more. I do some revising as I write, but most of the work takes place after I have a whole draft to work with and most of the work for me has been cutting. In early drafts I included things that as the writer I needed to know, but weren’t necessarily critical for the reader.  A big part of writing a book, for me, anyway, is deciding what to leave out.  I view the process of rewriting a little like sculpture.  My draft is a big block of marble that contains the essential story.  I have to chip away until I reveal its form and then polish and polish until, hopefully, it gleams.

8. There are some pretty specific worlds portrayed very believably in this book—the New York food scene, the business of running a restaurant, the financial machinations of the syndicate that Jake gets involved with, and of course the knowledge and sensibilities of a professional chef.  Do you have personal experience with any of these métiers or how did you research them so you could write about them so convincingly?

I don’t have any personal experience working in restaurants unless you count a very brief stint as a fry cook at the campus grill during my college years. By interviewing several professional chefs and reading several non-fiction books—including Heat by Bill Buford and Michael Rhulman’s wonderful series of books (The Life of a Chef, The Soul of a Chef, etc.)— I gained some understanding about what kind of person is driven to become a chef, and what kinds of demands—physical, as well as emotional and intellectual—the work entails. And the demands are many. Early on in the writing, I took a cooking class with my father in Florence.  The teacher, Sharon Oddson, was a Canadian ex-pat and chef-owner of the wonderful Trattoria Garga in Florence.  She was very helpful in teaching me about what in particular in takes to be a successful woman chef.  For the legal scenes and the syndicate sub-plot, I was lucky to have a built-in consultant. My husband is a partner in a big international law firm.

9. Are there any similarities between cooking a meal and writing a novel?

I think there are lots of parallels between cooking a meal and writing a book. I take great pleasure in planning a menu, determining the theme, carrying it all the way through from the start of the meal to the finish, pairing flavors, and deciding which flavor notes to draw out in each course.  I followed many of the same steps in planning Aftertaste.  What is the theme, and how am I going to convey it through the plot, action and characters? Which characters will provide which of the ingredients necessary for a good story and how will they work together to reinforce the theme? In order to keep things flowing in the kitchen and on the page you have to be organized.  That said, I think there can also be a lot of spontaneity in both writing and cooking.  Give it a taste and see what it needs.  Throw in something unexpected. 

10. Do you prefer to cook or eat out?

They are very different experiences for me. While I always enjoy eating interesting, well-prepared food, and everything that goes along with the experience of dining out, there is something I find deeply satisfying about cooking a meal.  It’s certainly about the sensory experience of getting your hands in and preparing food, but more than that, it’s about nurturing the people you love with the gift of good food, thoughtfully and lovingly prepared.  It’s one of the ways I express my feeling for my friends and family, the people I care most about.

11. I smiled when Mira talked about the celebrity interviews in the back of Bon Appetit.  I used to flip straight to the back of that magazine to read that page first.  So…tell us, Meredith, what three things can always be found in your refrigerator?

A jar of my homemade salad dressing, salad greens and a block of Parmigianno Reggiano. We are big salad eaters!

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 373 pages
  • Publisher: Kensington; 1 edition (September 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0758259913
  • ISBN-13: 978-0758259912
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,089,100 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Meredith Mileti lives in Pittsburgh with her husband, David and their three, mostly grown children. Since taking her first home economics course in junior high, Meredith has loved cooking for her family and friends. She is an adventurous and eclectic diner, and appreciates any well-cooked meal, whether from a seaside lobster shack in Bar Harbor, Maine, a friggitorie in Naples, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris or an undiscovered little gem in her own Pittsburgh neighborhood. Aftertaste is her first novel. Visit her website at: www.meredithmileti.com

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
When she was seven months pregnant, Mira Rinaldi hired Nicola as the Maîtress d'hotel at her Manhattan Italian restaurant, Grappa. Two months later she gives birth to Chloe. However, Mira begins to think her spouse and restaurant co-owner Jake is having an affair with Nicola. When two months old Chloe wakes her up in the wee hours of the morning, she finds her spouse not home. Mira with Chloe walks to nearby Grappa; there she finds Jake and the Maîtress d'hotel having sex. She explodes attacking Nicola. Later Judge Wilcox places Mira on probation and makes her attend an anger management seminar.

Mira files for divorce and flees with her baby to her family in Pittsburgh. She knows she may lose her beloved Grappa but Mira refuses to retreat. Instead as her family and friends surround her with love she seeks a revised gourmet five course meal while Jake betrays her again even after their divorced.

This is a terrific drama due to the mercurial Mira's reactions to life changes (having a baby, a cheating husband, a divorce, a potential move and much more). Mindful of No Reservations but with its own five course story line, fans will enjoy Mira's heartfelt love of cooking as she seeks a new way to balance the loves of her life.

Harriet Klausner
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This is a wonderfully entertaining and delicious book. Living in Pittsburgh, it was especially exciting to be able to share Mira's experiences and the love for our city. When I realized the author lived in my neighborhood, I sent her an email inviting her to join us the night our book club met to discuss her book ~ and she came!!!! It was the BBCE -- Best Book Club Ever. Meredith is charming, engaging, lots of fun, and it was fascinating to hear about the challenges of writing a book! Aftertaste was a delightful experience ~ all 5 courses and then some.
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I was easily tempted to buy this book - after all, it combines food with an affectionate view of Pittsburgh, in the midst of Manhattan restaurant wrangling. You'll enjoy the behind-the-scenes peek at creating, minding, loving, and losing a beloved restaurant. But an unconventional family emerges - and with that support, the main character gains the strength to continue on, and do battle with her neglectful, cheating, and unresponsive ex-husband. At stake? Plenty ... Pittsburghers will appreciate the author's little touches - many women will relate to Mira's woes - and food-lovers will rejoice.
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I have given many friends this book since it came out, and each one devoured it and raved about it. Mileti's characters linger in your mind long after the pages are finished. I actually find myself missing Mira and wondering how she is doing (and wishing she could cook for me). The story is served up with a combination of humor and humanity that makes for a truly satisfying read.
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There are many kinds of Food-Lit, and really, I love them all. Aftertaste is Food-Lit in the sense that the story revolves around the life of a chef... and there are some nice recipes at the end of the novel (a la Barbara O'Neal). It's a novel of self-discovery through food, family, and friends.

It is a true testament to an author's writing skills when they can enthrall me with a tale even though I don't like the main character. Debut author Meredith Mileti reeled me right in. Mira is a woman scorned, and while she has every right to be angry, her rash behavior when she looses her temper continues to cost her dearly. She also continues to give her soon-to-be-ex-husband the benefit of the doubt time and again, repeatedly opening herself, and worse yet their daughter, up to heartache and rejection over and over. Quite frankly, I wanted to shake her throughout most of the book. She is slow to learn a lesson and oh, so naive. But Mira's true to life and her friendships are genuine and it is those traits that kept me engaged.

I liked the concept of 'a novel in five courses' but while I was reading, I honestly paid very little attention to the divisions as I was too engrossed with the story. In retrospect I think they were very fitting. The food and food preparation included is done seamlessly and is a warm, hearty part of the story. While there aren't a ton of twists and turns, it is a lovely read just for the relationships. I would have been happy to see Meredith Mileti dig even deeper into each character as they were all so different and so important in their own right. I was glad that Mira learned her lesson before she was clobbered over the head with it ~again; it was a relief.
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My wife and I each devoured this book - we competed for turns at reading. We enjoyed exploring our views of the vivid characters and situations. And we will never again sit down in a restaurant without observing and appreciating the process by which our meal experience is created!

The other reviewers have described the remarkable mix of elements. Of all the novels I've read in recent years, Aftertaste is the finest example of how to present beautiful, realistic imagery and character insights that flow within in a story plot that keeps moving - I couldn't put the book down. I add my voice to those of other male reviewers who found this to be a captivating story. I was hooked by the end of the first paragraph.

I suggest that the author rename the five courses from their present Italian form to: Egg Roll; Wonton Soup; General Tso Chicken; Orange Slices; Fortune Cookie. Why? An hour after I finished reading Aftertaste, I was desperately hungry for more fiction from Meredith Mileti!
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