Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel’s first novel, was a runaway best-seller in both the Spanish original and in English translation. In addition to its wide acclaim among nonacademic audiences, the novel was embraced by feminist scholars as a unique and significant contribution to the burgeoning field of Latin American women’s writing. In its focus on the kitchen, Esquivel’s work finds antecedents in her compatriot Rosario Castellanos’s 1971 short story “Cooking Lesson,” which denounces how the kitchen imprisons and stereotypes women, and in Puerto Rican writer Rosario Ferré’s 1984 essay “The Writer’s Kitchen,” in which she acknowledges the parallels between recipes for cooking and for creative writing. Esquivel’s book introduces novelty both in her narrative technique, which artfully blends recipes into an archetypal love-story plot, and in her lighthearted appropriation of literary genres typically associated with women, the recipe collection and the romance. Other writers who explore the similarities in the creative processes of writing and cooking have not achieved the widespread appeal among diverse audiences that Esquivel enjoys; however, this topic has attracted the attention of female writers both in Latin America and in the United States. Esquivel joins these women in marking a new phase in feminist thought. Instead of rejecting the kitchen as a space that impedes women’s freedom, they adapt the kitchen’s secrets to literary production.
Esquivel established her reputation as a screenwriter before embarking on her successful foray into fiction writing. In 1985, her screenplay for Chido One received a nomination for the Ariel Award from the Mexican Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Esquivel also collaborated with her husband on the screenplay for the film based on Like Water for Chocolate, which has also enjoyed great praise, capturing eleven awards in Mexico in 1992.