Catherine Stewart is a successful British caterer who has everything but love, the missing ingredient in her life. Her quest for love takes her across the world, ending in the Canary Islands where a chance encounter leads to that main ingredient and to a surprising discovery about herself.
It was a bold move for someone like Catherine Stewart: to ride South West Trains some eighty miles north from the security of her birthplace in Hampshire in the south of England to an unknown life in London. Thanks to the financial aid from affluent mummy and daddy, she was able to purchase a smashing flat in Kensington and enroll in the London branch of Le Cordon Bleu for two years. No one in the family had ever demonstrated any aptitude for cooking, and while support was forthcoming for this decision, her news was a mixture of shock and surprise to her parents, with whom she had lived all her twenty-four years.
Overlooking a lush green park, the first floor Kensington flat comprised a sitting room/dining area, two bedrooms, one and a half baths, and a huge kitchen that had been modernized by the previous owner, a former Pakistanian Ambassador to Canada. The flat was a particularly good choice and a timely and lucky find as it provided ample space for living, a home office, and more than enough room for stewing, frying, roasting, baking, and storing pots and pans and miscellaneous equipment required for the day to day running of a catering establishment; all perfectly legal. And another bonus: The ground floor flat below was occupied by a woman who was extremely hard of hearing; while the flat above was occupied by two gentlemen who spent six months of the year in Majorca.
What bits and pieces in the way of antiquities and furniture that weren’t cherry-picked and moved from the house in Hampshire, she managed to find at the Portobello Market in Notting Hill with its enormous selection of everything imaginable. Particularly fond of the very costly 3’x5’ Persian rugs on display, she purchased four different styles in her favorite colors: azure, crimson, gold, dark green, cream, royal blue, rust, rose. She took her time placing each rug on the flat’s parquet flooring, knowing that periodically she would shift their positions as it might suit her mood. The muted patterns gave her a sense of peace; maybe because genuine Persian rugs lasted forever. She was fond of whatever lasted.
Elegant Tastes officially began when a friend of a friend hired her to cater a luncheon for his soliciting firm in the city. It became an ongoing weekly event and led to other high profile lunches commissioned by directors of banks and law firms. Referrals began to come in for business dinners from bankers, solicitors, physicians. Soon, she was hired to cater dinner parties in Mayfair and Hampstead and it wasn’t long before she hit the jackpot with parties in Belgravia. Mayfair, Hampstead, Belgravia: prime locales where the crème de la crème resided. Her reputation was growing. Then came the occasional wedding of the daughter or son of an existing client. It wasn’t unusual for a customer, as she sometimes liked to call clients, to invite her to join his or her family at their country house for a weekend, thereby freeing them up to do whatever took their fancy. She planned and prepared all the house meals. And when the family ventured out for a day, an elaborate picnic basket was arranged.
Catherine Stewart could be trusted to give her customers the utmost quality and service. As sole proprietor, with three on-call assistants, it appeared that she had it all, appeared being the operative word. The truth was, there was one missing ingredient; a major missing ingredient. She was thirty-three. She was single. She was a successful business woman. Shifts in the economy didn’t touch her. So what was wrong with this picture? It wasn’t a new concept, but it was new to her. The old clock was ticking away and, before it was too late, she desperately wanted a family of her own.
Catherine knew it took time to find the right person, to cultivate a long-term relationship and all that. While she knew a lot of people, they were business acquaintances, and her rule was not to become socially involved with a client. She knew she would have to put the same kind of attention on her personal life as she placed on Elegant Tastes. To do it right, she was going to have to temporarily switch her focus. She had more than a few sleepless nights wondering if the business would suffer. She would just have to trust that it wouldn’t. She’d worked hard in her professional life. Now it was time to work just as diligently in her personal life. Treat it like a business, as it were. And so began the serious quest for a mate. A suitable mate, not just a great date. A vast difference.
Boston-born Susan Surman lived abroad for over twenty years in London and Sydney as an actress and playwright (Gracie Luck / Susan Kramer), performing on stage, radio, and TV. Author of Dancing at all the Weddings, Max and Friends, Sacha: The Dog Who Made it to the Palace, and numerous short stories, she lives in North Carolina where she is working on her new novel.