I love to cook. Oh, my goodness, do I. Choosing a recipe, shopping for the ingredients, preparing the food, watching it simmer, boil, or bake away, and (above all) enjoying my creation – it’s something that I can’t get enough of doing. It’s just an art form, something that you put your heart and soul into and that overall represents you. It’s like writing – only that, well, you can’t eat your writing, you know.
In the film, Like Water for Chocolate, Tita is the protagonist doomed to a loveless life because she, as the youngest daughter of the family, must uphold the family tradition of being the one to care for her mother until her mother’s dying day. Of course this creates a bit of a problem when Tita falls for the young and handsome, Pedro. Literally born in the kitchen and raised by the family cook, Nacha, Tita is a natural cook who concocts creations that embody her repressed emotions: Her tears falling into the cake batter cause pain and nausea, her passion and lust infused within her rose petal sauce cause her sister to runaway with a soldier, her lovingly made stuffed chili peppers make everyone fall for each other, and so on and so forth.
The story seems to be a fairy-tale in a sense that it conjures up images of the lowly Cinderella who is doomed by her evil stepmother to an existence of misery. Laura Esquivel (the author of the original book and the screenwriter of the adapted screenplay) enhances this fairy-tale sense even more by having the story narrated by one of Tita’s descendants, so you, as the viewer, are in effect being “told” this story.
I’m going to be honest, the fairy-tale like quality of the story intrigued me enough to get me to do a little digging to see if Esquivel was modeling her tale off of a Mexican fable that she had perhaps grown up with. However, it turns out that Esquivel was actually recounting the story of her great-aunt, Tita, who was forbidden to marry because she had to care for her mother. Altogether, in the case of Like Water for Chocolate, it seems that the story of someone else’s life had cooked up Esquivel’s story, and thus we are presented with another story as a result. Perhaps cooking is rather like writing after all. I mean, recipes are passed down, ingredients are added or removed over time, revisions are made, planning is to be done, and the actual cooking must commence before the masterpiece is revealed. Doesn’t this seem rather like the writing process we all go through to get to the end result?
There’s a line in the film that truly stuck with me: “Each of us is born with a box of matches inside us but we can’t strike them all by ourselves.” Look to life to cook up your next story; to strike that next match. It doesn’t matter if you represent true events or cook up some fable. Don’t worry about following the recipe exactly and don’t get stuck on presentation and plating. When writing, add a dash of your emotions, a pinch of your experience, stir in some family and cultural history, bake up something sweet, cook up something hot, be adventurous – trust me, you’ll know when you’ve hit the spot.