Vanilla Salt is the debut novel by Ada Parellada. Born in Granollers near to Barcelona, she is a qualified chef and opened both Semproniana and Coses de Menjar in Barcelona with her husband. She also opened Acontecimiento in Lisbon. Having written several cookery books, this is her first attempt at fiction.
Translated by Julie Wark, Vanilla Salt tells the tale of Alex, a renowned chef who is set in his ways and Annette who has run away from Canada with a deep, dark secret. With their conflicting personalities, can they find a way to muddle through?
I sometimes find that books translated from another language can lose a lot of meaning and emotion but that is not the case with Wark’s translation. Parellada writes both characters with such personality and vivaciousness and this translates well.
Alex is a fantastic Catalan chef but very stubborn and eccentric. When his friend and prolific food blogger Oscar asks him to hire Annette, he soon finds her ways tiresome and odd in comparison to what he is used to. His restaurant is starting to struggle and the arrival of Annette starts to see a new era for the Antic Mon with people raving about the food via such concepts as social media, something Alex can’t get his head around. But with plenty of twists and turns, conspiracies and betrayals, this book definitely keeps you reading.
I loved Alex’s character as a whole but found him a little frustrating at times – he was just so mean when he really didn’t need to be. Of course, we, the reader, do find out why as we delve deeper into the book but sometimes his anger is directed at the wrong people. Annette was portrayed as weak the majority of the time too which annoyed me a little – in some scenes, she was anything but. Supporting characters such as Carol and Oscar left me conflicted – I definitely wanted to see more of Oscar but I found Carol vile and manipulative and could quite happily have done without the character as a whole – but that would have torn a lot of holes in the story as she is quite central.
Other characters were mentioned often in passing – Graca and her family and various delivery men who visit the restaurant often – I do feel that some of the characters could have been built up a little more but in not doing so, it didn’t take away anything from the story. I just love finding out a little more about different characters.
The story was very well written and translated and I found myself feeling the emotions both Alex and Annette felt throughout the book. From gratitude to betrayal, from love to hate – this book certainly went through the motions. I would be interested in reading more about Alex and Annette if the author decided to expand on their story after the end of this book and I am very keen to check out any future novels she may put out. Whilst I wouldn’t necessarily categorise this in with my favourite genre to read, it was a nice escape and I’m intrigued to read more.