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Petra Delicado and the Case of the Soufflé

Petra Delicado and the Case of the Soufflé

Are you a real fan of Petra Delicado, the detective created by Alicia Giménez-Bartlett? What was her favourite food?

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It’s not easy to describe Petra Delicado, even starting from her name, which is already an oxymoron. She’s a woman of a million contradictions, like all special people. And it’s exactly this complexity that makes her so fascinating and paradoxically coherent.

I met her more than a decade ago in Poblenou, where she moved after the end of her second marriage and where we received our first case together. She, up until that moment, had been mainly responsible for the archives, books, documents and general paperwork. I’ll let you imagine my surprise when I learned that she’d was assigned to be my boss: she, Petra Delicada, had become the Police Inspector of Barcelona, and I, Fermin Garzòn, her vice.

In order to understand how damn talented this woman was, we had to sit down at a table in front of a beer and something to eat. Still today, we often stop in some dingy dive – the shadier the better – the kind that most women wouldn’t even let their shadows go into. Delicado, instead, doesn’t bat an eyelash. She’ll sometimes order the sweet chinchòn dolce, that sickly sweet anise-flavoured dish, but we’ll usually just order a couple of beers or a small glass of cognac.

At the table, her contradictions become even more evident. When she arrived there alone, leaving two ex-husbands in her wake, she seemed as though the only thing she truly loved was her little home with its garden, and most of all, its charming kitchen.

It was there, she thought, that her own personal revolution would take place: she would say good-bye to junk food, and hello to home-cooked meals. She bragged about her wonderful ceramic stove, where she dreamed of cooking tender stews and ollas podridas cooked so slow that even the most devoted housewife would have lost her patience. But the truth is, she continued to eat ready-made foods, delivered pizzas, Mexican tacos and take-away containers of chop-suey.

I think that up until now, she’s used that kitchen maybe a couple of times. And now that Petra has gotten married again, this time with Marcos – an architect with four children, nothing about her eating habits changed.

Changing our own way of eating is a personal metaphor that often symbolizes a deeper, more existential change. For Delicado, eating what she made for herself is an almost spiritual exercise. But the more she desires it, the less time she seems to have – to the point that this eating-food-prepared-with-love issue has become a kind of constant emotional investment.

A bit like the soufflé problem. Yes, that’s right, the soufflé – one of her strongest obsessions that she’s never managed to overcome. She barely talks about anything else but being able to, one day, make this dish – the dish that makes even an expert chef tremble in fear. I’d bet anything that she’d prefer a good soufflé even to the name of a guilty criminal.

One thing is certain, she’s trying to convert me too – as it often happens with those who never manage to practice what they preach. But it’s a lost cause with me: I eat what I like, and what I like just happens to be bad for my health. Even if I’ve now remarried, and my wife is an angel who has my tender little body always in mind (Ok, I weigh about a ton), I have to admit that I still take advantage of my coffee break to order a salami sandwich, café au lait and a croissant. Because, let’s be honest: I’ve had it up to here with the bean sprouts my wife makes me eat.

Fermin Garzòn

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