In this debut novel from screenwriter López (Real Women Have Curves), a Latina journalist breaks up with her dull fiancé and flees to Paris to enroll in a prestigious cooking school.
Finding herself shaken after her beloved diabetic cousin Luna dies in a likely suicide, Canela (cinnamon, in Spanish) knows she needs a change of scenery. She already ended her engagement to handsome Doctor Armando, to her mother’s horror, after a fight over the dinner menu for their reception. Figuring the trip would go to waste otherwise, she takes their prepaid Parisian honeymoon alone and realizes she doesn’t want to go back to Los Angeles. She crashes with her pal Rosemary in her tiny apartment and discovers that she can extend her tourist visa by taking a cooking course at Le Coq Rouge, a Cordon Bleu–like school for would-be chefs. At Le Coq Rouge, which is mostly filled with other foreigners, Canela learns classic techniques and bonds with her fellow students, many of whom hope for professional cooking careers. And, this being Paris, she meets men. The voluptuous beauty’s conquests include a naughty British interpreter, a soulful young Muslim and a suave chef from the school who buys her a Louis Vuitton bag as a breakup token. In between the explicit sex and the cooking (Canela has a great appetite for both), she is haunted by unresolved issues from back home, such as her traumatic childhood as an undocumented Mexican immigrant, her history of depression and her abandoned writing career. When her course eventually ends, she is left with a choice between facing the demons still waiting in Los Angeles, or remaining in France with one of her lovers. It’s a tough one.
Alternating in tone from sexy to serious, the book is not always successful in melding Canela’s different worlds, and some of the flashback passages are awkward, but the cooking scenes feel authentic. Here’s hoping López’s next effort is even tastier.