Authors: Josefina López
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are
used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2009 by Josefina López
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced,
distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written
permission of the publisher.
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This book is dedicated to my parents, Catalina and Rosendo López, who lived their lives in the United States as immigrants
with dignity and sacrificed so much to give their children an education and a better life; and to my brothers and sisters,
who all have become exemplary models of successful American citizens.
This book is also dedicated to all the women I met at cooking school—in particular, Amy Whitman, Carla Trujillo, Kate Moffet,
Myra Coca, Ingrid Wright, Sofia Sarabia—and to all the women in cooking schools who aspire to be taken seriously as chefs.
May the fire in their hearts continue to burn bright.
To my husband, Emmanuel, who gave me a wonderful introduction to French culture and continues to surprise me by aspiring to
be the man of my dreams.
To my dear cousin Marina, whom I never got to know because there was a border between us, but whose tragic passing haunts
This novel and my career were made possible by my wonderful and passionate manager, Marilyn Atlas.
I would also like to thank my literary agent Barbara Hogenson for being so lovely to work with.
My editor, Selina, took my underwritten and overplotted story and helped shape it into a real novel. Thank you!
I also want to thank all the other editors who worked on my novel for helping me clarify my story and making me sound articulate
in three languages. Gracias! Merci! Thank you!
I couldn’t have survived Le Cordon Bleu cooking school without the kindness and support of Kate Moffet, Myra Coca, Carla Trujillo,
and Christopher Carlos.
I also want to acknowledge all the sweet ladies in administration at Le Cordon Bleu for being extra kind to Americans, as
well as Chef Didier, for always bringing joy and passion to the kitchen.
Thank you to all my muses and friends who encouraged me along the way: my sweet mother, Miles Brandman, Luz Vasquez, Hector
Rodriguez, Mercedes Floresislas, Patricia Zamorano, Margarita Medina, Elizabeth Andrews, Angela Wu, Anthony Villareal, Jay
Vincent, Rafael Rubalcava, Jeremy Ackers, Anaïs Nin, Stephen Clarke for writing
A Year in the Merde,
Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez for showing me it could be done, and Sandra Cisneros for clearing the path for Latina writers like
Thank you to all the Latina journalists who serve as inspiration for this novel, in particular Yvette Cabrera, Christina Gonzalez,
Lorena Mendez, and Elizabeth Espinoza.
A very special thanks to Angel Alcala, who planted the seed in my mind to go to Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, as well as Jennifer
Ladder, who had the courage to follow her heart and inspired me to enroll in cooking school too.
his is either the longest suicide note in history or the juiciest, dirtiest, most delicious confession you’ll ever hear. Call
me Canela. That’s Spanish for Cinnamon, but don’t call me Cinnamon; that’s a stripper’s name. Not that there is anything wrong
with being an exotic dancer. With my lifestyle, I’m the last one to throw stones. Thank God I’m a modern woman living in a
so-called democracy and—aside from in Nigeria and some Middle Eastern countries I would be too scared to visit—getting killed
by stones is a thing of the past. My mother named me Canela because she loved to make buñuelos and add lots of sugar and cinnamon
to them. She would make them from scratch, using none of the shortcuts, like taking flour tortillas and frying them. You do
know what a tortilla is, don’t you? By now who doesn’t? No, she did them by hand,
It was probably her sweat and tears that made them tasty. When she saw me for the first time, she was disappointed that I
was so pale. Unlike some Mexicans with internalized racism, she thought being dark and indigenous- looking was beautiful,
but she wondered if people gossiped about whether she had cheated on my father with an American to get such a white-looking
child. I did get her high cheekbones, big eyes, big breasts, black hair, and love of smells. I also got her propensity to
be fat, but let’s not talk about that right now. My mother spent most of her time in the kitchen and in the bedroom. When
she wasn’t making beans, she was making babies. Her world was tiny, as was her kitchen, but she made it delicious. So by adding
cinnamon to a buñuelo she would make it even browner. With my name she spiced me up and made me brown. She didn’t want people
to mistake me for Italian or Irish—not that there’s anything wrong with that—so she gave me a Spanish name so people would
ask, “What is Canela?” More importantly, I hope you ask, Who is Canela? Who is Canela? Thanks for asking… My psychiatrist
might have an idea. My psychic might have a better idea. My mother probably has a good idea, but after thirty years in my
skin and in my soul, I’m still finding out…
re you ready to begin your exciting culinary career?” the cooking school admissions agent asked me in her French-accented
English. I stared blankly up at her, clutching my admissions application, not believing what I was about to do. Anyone who
knew me would think I had clearly gone insane. But what had brought me here? It had never been my dream to attend Le Coq Rouge,
the world’s most famous cooking school. Yet here I was in Paris about to lay down thirty thousand dollars to be in the kitchen
when I had sworn I would never go back there, ever.
Maybe my mother was right: I had gone crazy and I needed medication. Otherwise why would I have broken off my engagement to
a Latino surgeon, given up my journalism career, and run off to Paris by myself?
“Is there a problem?” Marie-Hélène, the admissions agent, asked with half a smile.
“Ah…” I tried to come up with a line to buy me a few more seconds. I needed to think about my past and whether I was
making the right decision.
Maybe it was Luna’s suicide that had shaken me out of my senses, or the Iraq war, or the fight with the editor, or the fight
with my fiancé, or my mother and father fighting… yes, when all else fails blame it on my childhood. All I knew was that
I didn’t want to go back to the United States, to my home in Los Angeles, and this was the only way to stay in France.
It must have been the fight at the wake that made me realize I was exhausted from fighting everyone, including myself.
Why is it that when someone dies everyone only says good things about her at the funeral? Death makes angels of everyone,
I suppose. No, I think it’s out of superstition. At the root of every fear is death, so if you speak badly of someone who
is dead and they can’t defend themselves, then death might strike you. At my funeral I want people to say I was a bitch if
I truly was one to them. All I hope is that the people who experienced my kindness will speak up and say, “Yes, but…”
Maybe then people can have authentic conversations instead of the stupid ones in which everyone knows the person is dead but,
aside from this exception, pretends death doesn’t really exist, thus freeing them to converse about silly things. Silly things
like my broken-off engagement.
“Is it true what I just heard?” asked my mother in her metiche mode. My mother was usually my favorite person on the planet,
but also the one that drove me to tears and insanity at the push of an emotional button whose location only she knew.
“You hear a lot of things, including ghosts, so it depends on what you heard,” I replied.
“You and Armando—what’s going on?” she demanded to know. “Your sister told me she thinks you are depressed. I think you should
get on medication. You are not thinking straight. You can’t break it off. He’s a doctor and he loves you! Do you realize how
hard it is to get a good man in Los Angeles? Es una locura!” she hissed at me like a cat about to get mauled by a dog.