Looking to add a little “sizzle” to your Summer reading? If so, then add Mark Spivak’s “Friend of the Devil” to your reading list! This devilishly delicious “culinary thriller” is the first novel from acclaimed food, wine & travel writer Mark Spivak and can best be summed up as: two parts Anthony Bourdain and one part Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous, garnished with a dash of The Demon Files.
“Friend of the Devil” features a racy romp through Palm Beach’s 1990’s society scene and centers around the glamorous, yet illustrious, Chateau de la Mer restaurant. Aspiring journalist, David Fox, is in town to cover the restaurant’s silver jubilee, but quickly becomes obsessed with its owner, America’s most celebrated chef, Joseph Soderini di Avenzano. Fox is convinced that Avenzano has entered into a Faustian pact with the devil himself to achieve his vast fame and fortune. The ensuing drama centers around the conflict of good vs. evil and entrances with a rich tapestry of food, wine, lust, honor and betrayal. His journey to the edge of obsession provides an exhilarating view into the mental cat and mouse game between he and the Chef, who also becomes his romantic rival. Fox’s sexual escapades with the temptress Alessandra and the sumptuous descriptions of mouth-watering dishes such as Fettuce Carota, Vitello Cruja and the Chef’s pièce de résistance, Bedouin Stuffed Poussin, make this book a sensuously satisfying read.
An award-winning writer specializing in wine, spirits, food and culinary travel, Spivak is already the author of two non-fiction books, Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (2012) and Moonshine Nation (2014). So why change course with a novel now? Spivak was kind enough to indulge my questions over lunch at 50 Ocean in Delray Beach.
“Becoming a novelist was the end game from the beginning,” Spivak shared. For the inspiration to make the leap, he credits Ernest Hemingway and Studs Terkel, “Hemingway was my biggest inspiration, I even had his poster up in my room.”
Spivak’s interest in the Faustian pact as the underlying theme for “Friend of the Devil” was inspired by 1930’s American blues singer-songwriter and musician, Robert Johnson. Also from rural Mississippi, the novel’s opening location, Johnson is believed to have made a Faustian pact with the devil to achieve success. While he received little commercial success during his short lifetime, Johnson was ultimately inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and is widely recognized as a master of the Mississippi Delta Blues style. To this day, many legendary rock musicians, including Eric Clapton, cite his work as a great source of inspiration. “The paranormal aspect of that story really intrigued me,” Spivak explained, “the fact that Satan could be the salesman next door.”
When asked for an inspiring quote, Spivak referenced the song, “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who. “I love the concept of being liberated from the need of sounding smart and stylish and just communicating.” The hardest part of writing this book? “You have to decide if you’re writing to express yourself or for people to read you. The hardest part was putting [the book] into the format to be read, you have to make some compromises and that was hard.”
In addition to dedicating “Friend of the Devil” to his wife, Carolann, Spivak includes a posthumous, “long overdue tip of the hat,” to novelist and former professor Frederick Busch followed by the quote, “Il miglior fabbro.” The Italian phrase translates as, “the better craftsman,” and while originally from Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” Spivak had other reasons for using it. “It was T.S. Eliot’s dedication to Ezra Pound for helping him edit The Waste Land,” he explained. While not directly involved in the editing of the book, Busch greatly influenced Spivak’s writing style and the book, “wouldn’t have turned out the way it did without his influence.”
When pressed on whether we’ll be seeing journalist David Fox or the enigmatic Chef Joseph Soderini di Avenzano again? “No I think I’ve already told that story, but I’ve got other things in the works.” Let’s hope so, we really look forward to seeing what Mark Spivak cooks up next!
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