While in many ways this is a predictable romance between a chef, Julien Dax, 38, and his sous chef, Illuminada (“Lumi”) Santana, 32, there are some unique elements that add spice to this cooking story.
Lumi, who grew up in Miami with her single mom and plenty of Dominican cuisine, tries to integrate her heritage into her cooking. She started her own restaurant, Caraluna, creating a vivid array of colors, tastes, and textures for customers, but the venture failed. Thus she took a job in Julien’s restaurant DAX. Julien was a perfectionist who didn’t believe in deviating from recipes the way Lumi liked to do; at first Lumi balked, but she could see that many customers preferred the predictability DAX offered.
Lumi is not only willing to learn from experience, but she has a more unique way of assessing the flavors of her environment. She has synesthesia, a neurological condition in which information meant to stimulate one of your senses stimulates several of your senses. This sensory enhancement which affects some people manifests itself in Lumi through taste. As one woman explained to Lumi’s mother, “Upon tasting food, she can discern the emotions of the person who cooked it at the time they made the food.” Lumi later elaborates:
“Whether people are aware of it or not, they actually transfer that energy (of what they were feeling when they cooked) into the food. And by eating it, I transfer that energy into me. With just one bite, I’ll know if they were happy, sad, angry, disappointed, any emotion really.”
This gift of Lumi’s leads to a tragic accident however, which causes Julien and Lumi to figure out how they feel about each other, whether their feelings can transcend the trials of “for better or worse,” and what they want for their futures.
Recipes that feature in the story are interspersed throughout the text. Some of them are from Lumi and represent Dominican fusion cuisine, and some are from Dax.
Evaluation: This is a sweet story that will appeal both to romantics and to food lovers. The descriptions of sex got a little purple at times. But there are many more descriptions of food, and while they sometimes wax rhapsodic, they tend to be more palatable.
Published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2020