Review: Elza’s Kitchen by Marc Fitten

 

Title: Elza’s Kitchen

Author: Marc Fitten

Published: Bloomsbury September 2012

Synopsis: For years, Elza has managed to get by. She has her own little restaurant in the Hungarian city of Delibab cooking quality versions of her country’s classics and serving them with a smile. But lately her smile has become tired. She is weary of serving the same customers the same dishes, and the loveless affair with her sous-chef is now an irritation. With her country in a state of transition from communism to capitalism, Elza embarks upon her own change. She decides to woo The Critic, one of the harshest, most powerful restaurant columnists in Europe, in the hope of landing a glowing review that will push her above the competition. But as relationships in the kitchen sour, the food threatens to turn with them, and not even Elza’s strained composure can prevent the chaos that seems fated to engulf her.

Status:  Read from November 19 to 20, 2012 — I own a copy {Courtesy BloomsburyANZ}

My Thoughts:

Elza’s Kitchen is the story of a Hungarian woman in the grip of a mid life crisis. Her restaurant is a success, she entertains a virile young lover and she enjoys bourgeois comfort but her passion for life has faded, much like her youth. Casting around for inspiration she seizes upon the idea of attracting a well known Parisian food critic to her restaurant in the hopes that he will recommend it for the prestigious Silver Spoon Award but change will not come easily and Elza stands to lose it all.

In many ways I feel like this novel didn’t quite come together, I thought the focus was too often pulled away from Elza, by the Critic mourning his dog, the Sous-Chef and Dora’s new venture and the mischievous Gypsy family. It didn’t help that I found it difficult to care much for Elza whose dissatisfaction seems selfish, all the more so when she discards her besotted lover, her Sous-Chef, but objects to his developing relationship with Dora. She is oblivious to his hurt feelings and, it seems, deliberately obtuse about the impact of her rejection on their working relationship. As a result the kitchen begins to fall apart, yet Elza accepts no blame for it.

For me the strength of this novel lies in the description of dining on Elza’s simple Hungarian fare with a creative twist, a Paprika Chicken that is both tangy and sweet, pork tenderloin marinated in white wine with a paprika and dill sauce. Elza’s menu is mouthwatering, especially when dessert pastries are added.

An interesting yet inexplicable, aspect of the novel involves the naming of the characters. While the women in the story are referred to by their first names – Elza, Dora and Eva, all the men (excepting the young Gypsy boy, Pisti) are referred to by description – the Sous-Chef, the Dishwasher, The Critic, The Motorcycle Man etc. It is clearly a deliberate choice made by the author and I wonder at its significance.

I am left feeling fairly ambivalent about Elza’s Kitchen, while I thought the writing was stylish and I was interested by the unfamiliar setting of post communist Hungary, I didn’t really connect with the characters or the story. Still, I was glad when Elza rediscovered her passion for her restaurant and I headed for my recipe books looking for a recipe for paprika chicken when I had finished the last page.

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. 1girl2manybooks
    Nov 28, 2012 @ 08:44:56

    Like you, I loved the descriptions of food in this book! It made me so hungry reading it. I liked the story up until the gypsies….that just seemed so random and out of left field and they were all so unpleasant I wasn’t sure why so much time was spent on them. I just wanted them all to go away so we could get back to the food!

    Reply

  2. Leeswammes
    Nov 29, 2012 @ 01:25:58

    Well, it’s nice that you were inspired to do some cooking of your own, but a pity you didn’t like the book better. It sounds interesting…

    Reply

  3. Kate Loveday
    Nov 29, 2012 @ 19:11:58

    The story is probably not for me, but I’m intrigued to know why it has 2 covers? did the author get tired of the first and go for another?

    Reply

    • shelleyrae @ Book'd Out
      Nov 29, 2012 @ 21:46:57

      I couldnt quite tell if the alternate cover is the US version or because of a change in format (trade to paperback) Kate. Authors rarely get much of a say in their cover design.

      Reply

  4. Stephanie @ Read in a Single Sitting
    Dec 02, 2012 @ 16:52:52

    The Hungarian is one of my favourite restaurants in Melbourne, so I’d be on-board with this one just for the food! It’s a shame that the rest of it didn’t quite come together: I find that this often the case with books in this genre.

    Reply

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