When an invitation to review a lighthearted novel about a Catalan chef who gets together with a mysterious Canadian, I first laughed – I’m Canadian and my husband is Catalan and ha, what are the chances of that. So yup, I thought I’d give my first book review a go. Unfortunately the Catalan chef was a right wanker while the Canadian struck me as a bit of a hippie so there’s really no real resemblance to us whatsoever (I hope!).

The novel is the first by Ada Parellada, a Catalan chef who’s based in Barcelona. She has opened a few restaurants and written a few cookery books but this is her first venture into the world of fiction. I wasn’t familiar with her or her restaurants prior to this so it’s my first introduction to her work.

Vanilla Salt

As I mentioned previously, the novel focuses on a Catalan chef: Àlex. Annette, the Canadian with a secret, enters his life via a blogger friend (his only friend – remember how I said he was a bit unpleasant?) and works for him at his restaurant. Despite being critically acclaimed, the restaurant is on its last legs – Àlex refuses to cook anything other than foods native to Europe (yes, that leaves out tomatoes and potatoes) and there aren’t as many customers as there used to be. Annette’s arrival triggers a lot of events, the rebirth of the restaurant and there’s some love thrown in too. It’s a love story set in a restaurant background.

While descriptions of the food are brilliant, the plot is a bit jumpy and highly improbable. And it’s not the easiest to read as the text doesn’t always flow well but I’m not sure whether the fault lies with the author or the translator here. For example, there’s a literal translation of a word used in Catalonia on the first page: ‘Crisis’. In Catalan, ‘crisi’ refers to the current state of the economy and the translation doesn’t make this context clear. It just looks odd there on the page.

I guess it’s not exactly what I was expecting. If you’d like to read it for yourself, the book is available at all good booksellers. Thank you to Alma Books for the review copy.

I’d been aware of Hot-Headz, an online hot sauce vendor, for a while but had never ordered hot sauces online, preferring instead to pick up a bottle here and there when I was at markets or on my travels. I think I was of the impression that they only sold those crazy hot sauces but they’ve actually also got a good range of Mexican classics that I’ve been looking for.

I need to say this upfront but I wasn’t fond of their press release they sent out for Christmas: it was geared towards men, suggesting that men might enjoy receiving hot sauces in their stockings (wait, that’s not how it should sound…). Well, I will stand up for everyone, male or female, and say that anybody of any gender will enjoy hot sauces and do enjoy hot sauces! Anyway, Hot-Headz sent me five bottles to try and from first impressions, they ranged from very mild to incredibly terrifying.

Tasting

With five bottles, I thought a little tasting was in order. This was set up in my office and well….here are the results. Comments from my colleagues are in bullet points.

Brother Bru-Bru’s Mild African Pepper Sauce
This was the mildest of the bunch and one of the tastiest too. Family friendly.

  • More about taste rather than being hot – good.
  • Tasty!
  • Nice flavour.

Tapatío
Ah, a classic that I thought was made in Mexico but is actually American (and they export to Mexico). I slathered some on my burrito today.

  • Very tasty.
  • I can’t determine the taste. A bit sour? Not hot.

Pyromania!
Looks scarier than it is. I mean, a she-devil? Its name even sports an exclamation mark. Texturally, it’s lumpy, like one of those posh ketchups.

  • Nice smoky flavour.
  • Like barbecue sauce with a hint of spice.

Who Dares Burns Crushed Naga Bhut Jolokia Chilli Sauce
I originally thought this was going to be the hottest sauce as I’d read about the naga bhut jolokia – supposedly the hottest chilli in the world.

  • Good amount of spice.
  • It’s very hot!
  • Still has flavour. It is hot but manageable.

Mad Dog 357 Hot Sauce
Oh geez, this hot sauce is not actually meant to be eaten, is it? Our tongues BURNED for a good long while after tasting it. It is stupidly hot and it incapacitated some of my colleagues. I picture it more as a sauce to add a bit of to a chilli con carne to give it heat or one just to buy if you feel you need to prove something.

  • Owwww! My tongue! It delivers the desired effect.
  • OMG! Crazy spicy.
  • Well eating a healthy dose of this certainly changed the course of my morning for the worse.
  • It has no flavour – it’s just hot.
  • I thought the flavour was fire.

The five sent turned out to be a great range with four definitely usable sauces and one um… jokey one? I know it’s the Christmas season and you’d probably expect to hear that hot sauces are great as stocking fillers (each bottle is about £4 with the exception of the 357 which is about £7) and all that jazz but you know what, if I received a selection like this for my birthday (in the summer), I’d be quite thrilled!

Do you like hot sauces? What’s your favourite and what do you put it on or in?