The 52-year-old English professor at Washburn University chose the 39th Street neighborhood as the setting for his culinary novel about a familys secrets and betrayals because, he says, I needed a location that was cosmopolitan enough for my characters to have opened a restaurant, but in the Midwest. And that wouldnt be Topeka.
Averill has a personal connection to the neighborhood: He attended Topeka West High School with restaurateur Steve Cole, who owns Cafe Allegro. Cole almost single-handedly changed the future of 39th Street in the early 1980s by opening an elegant, upscale restaurant in a rough-and-tumble neighborhood better known for biker bars than eating establishments.
I had Steves story in the back of my mind when I sat down to write the story of my own characters, says Averill, who did not know that another local author, Lou Jane Temple, had used the same stretch of 39th Street for her own mystery novels until a reporter in Texas pointed it out to him. I guess 39th Street is getting legendary, Averill concludes.
The inspiration for Secrets of the Tsil Cafe (tsil, pronounced cheel, is the Hopi word for chili pepper) has everything to do with food. I like to cook very much. I had been teaching a class on folklore and talking about regional American foods when I took a trip to Santa Fe and fell in love with the spices and culinary traditions of the Southwest, Averill says. Before I even completed the book, I was trying out the recipes on my friends and family.
Averill tested all the recipes himself, finally deciding that Habanero Pumpkin Pudding deserved a retest before going to print: God, it was hot, he says. I had to suggest using a lot less chili powder.