Home > Sugar and Salt (Bella Vista Chronicles #4)

Sugar and Salt (Bella Vista Chronicles #4)
Author: Susan Wiggs

 

Prologue

 

 

San Francisco 2019

 

Margot Salton wondered if there was a way to capture this moment and hold it forever. Could she freeze each detail in amber, encased for eternity like a keepsake to be taken out and held close whenever she needed it? Because this was the kind of rare moment she never wanted to forget.

The man she loved was in the audience along with the family she never thought she would have, and still couldn’t quite believe she deserved. Her heart melted at the sight of him—self-assured, beaming with pride. She wasn’t sure what she’d done to deserve him. There were friends and well-wishers, colleagues and customers, critics and admirers, all gathered to applaud her achievement.

Maybe it wasn’t the biggest moment in her life—that of course stayed buried in the past—but this felt huge, perhaps too big to belong to someone like her, a girl who had come from nothing but secrets and trouble.

After everything that had brought her to this point, she was not a person who scared easily. Yet it was daunting to contemplate the notion that all her dreams—and several things she hadn’t even dared to dream about—were finally coming true in the most magical way. But like all magical things, her dreams felt impossibly friable and apt to disappear at the slightest breath of wind.

Until recently, she had not been the sort of person to whom good things tended to happen. She was still getting used to the gentle smile of fortune.

Around her neck she wore a wide, colorful ribbon with a heavy medallion that bumped against her chest when she moved. The medal was almost embarrassingly conspicuous, but she wore it with pride as the newest recipient of the Divina Award, one of the country’s highest culinary prizes. It was particularly meaningful to Margot, because it not only recognized a restauranteur’s skill and vision; it also acknowledged her contributions to her employees and community.

Still, a medal? Really? A medal was supposed to signify an act of heroism, and she was no hero. Even so, this moment belonged to her. Cooking had saved her. Reading books had saved her. Raw determination had saved her. She’d worked her ass off to get here.

And finally, the right people had noticed. Applause and a few happy shouts crescendoed as she descended from the podium. Camera flashes went off, and people held up phones to capture the moment. Special attention was paid to her signature cowboy boots. Under glittering lights, servers crisscrossed the outdoor banquet area, their trays laden with her finest amuse-bouches and tasty bites, flutes of bubbly and jars of lavender lemonade.

After pictures, she made her way back down to a group of well-wishers who awaited her, along with a bottle of champagne in an ice bucket.

She hugged and high-fived her way through a gauntlet of people—her investors from the Privé Group, who had taken a chance on her. The GM and sous-chefs, line cooks, bartenders, and servers, all of whom had a hand in her success, were there to celebrate her. Food journalists and bloggers, even the skeptics who didn’t think she’d make it and who had given her plenty of nervous indigestion, now raised their glasses and beamed with pride.

She paused for another picture with Buckley DeWitt, a senior writer and editor with Texas Monthly. He had been the first journalist to notice her back when he was a stringer for the magazine, years before. He wore his considerable girth with good cheer, having built a reputation for finding and extolling the best barbecue in the country. He was the only one present today who knew her from her other life.

He leaned close to Margot and lowered his voice. “We need to talk. It’s about Jimmy Hunt.”

Just the mention of his name turned her blood to ice. “I already told you everything and you published it,” she said. “I’ve got nothing more to say about the Hunts.”

“But—”

“But nothing, Buckley. I’m done with all that.” She gathered her composure and turned to greet some of the other guests. In reality, she would never truly be done. But she had moved on, and she intended to keep some distance between past and present.

One woman, a stranger, wove and bobbed through the crowd as if particularly keen to connect with Margot. She waved a commemorative menu in one hand and held a manila envelope and a Sharpie marker in the other. She didn’t quite fit in with the earnest civic leaders, tattooed kitchen workers, and fellow Perdita Street merchants. This woman wore battered denim and dirty sneakers. She had long straight hair, streaked with gray. Tobacco stains shaded her fingers and teeth.

With a burst of energy, she darted forward and favored Margot with a giddy smile that didn’t quite match the sharp look in her eyes.

“Margie Salinas?” She intoned it as a question.

Margot paused, unused to hearing the name. She frowned, looking from side to side. Her heart skipped a beat. “Sorry, what?”

“Margie Salinas aka Margot Salton,” the woman said.

Margot had not heard that name in years. She never thought she would hear it again. She never wanted to hear it again.

The world slowed down. The noise of the crowd roared in her ears and then faded to a muffled, undifferentiated babble. She could see a raft of tiny details in sharp relief—the gorgeous setting overlooking the bay, the twinkling lights, the lavish tables, the smiling faces—all the things she wanted to hold forever in her heart. Then, in the blink of an eye, the details resolved into the discomfiting, unfamiliar face before her.

“Who the hell are you?” she asked.

The woman passed her the manila envelope, pressing it firmly into her hand. “You’ve been served.”

 

 

Part One

 


I’m always nattering on about cooking, and about what it brings to your life and your mood, about how it’s a force for tranquility in the face of the strange. It’s a craft, done with your hands, that forces you to think differently than when you’re doing whatever it is you do for work, or to fill your days. Cooking helps turn off your brain for a while. Cooking allows you to heal.

—Sam Sifton

 

 

1

 

 

San Francisco 2017

 

The proper balance of sugar and salt was the key to perfect barbecue sauce. Of course, when it came to barbecue sauce, everybody had an opinion about the combination of acid, aromatics, fruit, and flavorings—the ineffable umami—that made each bite so satisfying.

But Margot Salton knew with utter certainty that it all started with sugar and salt. She’d even named her signature product after it: sugar+salt. This sauce was her superpower. Her secret. Her stock-in-trade. When she’d had nothing—no home, no education, no family, no means of support—she had created the powerful alchemy of flavors that made grown men moan with pleasure, cautious women ignore their diets, and skeptical foodies beg for more.

She’d come a long way from the humble home-canned jars she’d started out with back in Texas. These days, a brand expert and designer had created the label and packaging, giving her a high-end, distinctive look. Today she took special care to make sure the gift pack of samples was flawless, because everything was riding on today’s meeting. And Margot knew the best calling card in the world was a sample.

Today was the day. Today, her hopes were pinned on the ultimate goal—launching her own restaurant.

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