As with many large, traditional families, it is the youngest daughter’s responsibility to never marry and to live with and care for her parents in their declining years. And that is how Tita, youngest daughter, the cook for her family, and the protagonist of Laura Esquivel’s book Like Water for Chocolate found herself in the sad position of preparing the wedding feast for her lover Pedro and his bride. He had married her very own older sister. Understandably, tears were flowing in the kitchen on that day. The groom managed a quick visit to the kitchen to present Tita with a bouquet of roses and declared his undying love in spite of being caught up in a marriage of convenience with her sister. Tita knew no one could be allowed to see those roses as there would be questions, so she stirred them into a sauce for the quail she was preparing, creating on the spot Codorniz en Salsa de Pétalos de Rosas, or Quail in Rose Sauce.
The dish she created, infused with her tears, the roses given to her by her lover, and her voluptuous and unfulfilled sexual longing, had quite an effect on the guests at the wedding banquet. In fact, Tita’s Codorniz en Salsa de Pétalos de Rosas served as an aphrodisiac for them, and they ended up behaving in ways that were quiet a departure from their normal sedate lives.
The idea of the mood of the chef influencing the mood of the diner is not new and certainly not just another example of Laura Esquivel’s delightful story telling ability, known in painting as well as writing as “Magical Realism.” In this case she is drawing deep into the well of her heritage. In times gone by many an indigenous man would see his wife or mother pounding her frustrations into the masa, or stirring her anger into the beans and the man would refuse to eat, perhaps feigning indigestion, for fear the frustration and anger would be transmitted to him through the food. And the women also knew to take some quiet time to sort things out before heading for the kitchen. It’s a good thing Warren Hardy’s staff is always in a good mood when they present coffee, tea, and cookies at the morning break to the students taking the Warren Hardy Foundation Course.
In most traditional indigenous tribes in the United States, women to this day do not prepare food for their families when they are “on their moon,” or menstruating. This is not because they are “unclean” as some have supposed, but rather an ancient and profound understanding of the mood swings caused by hormonal changes at this time. Maybe this is the origin of the custom in some restaurants when a smiling chef comes out of the kitchen and greet the diners. Reassurance. Maybe it is more important for our digestion to meet the chef of our favorite restaurant than it is to be on good terms with the waiters! Magical Realism lives.
Did you know that at one time drunkenness was punishable by death in Mexico? Find out more in next weeks Comida Mexicana.