Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
When Claire first walks into Lillian's, she reflects: "When was the last
time she had been someplace where no one knew who she was?" Is the anonymity
of the kitchen a lure for Lillian's students?
How did you respond to the story of Lillian's upbringing? Would Lillian
have been better off with a more traditional home life, like those of her
school friends? Do you agree with Abuelita's statement that "sometimes our
greatest gifts grow from what we are not given"?
Besides scenes from her childhood, the author discloses very little
about Lillian. Why do you think she did this? How would the book be
different if we knew more about Lillian's day-to-day life?
As a general rule, Lillian doesn't give her students recipes. Why do you
think she does this? What are the pros and cons of this approach to cooking?
Did Helen do the right thing by telling Carl about her affair? How would
their marriageand Helen and Carl themselveshave evolved had he never
learned the truth?
Each of the character's stories centers on a dish or an ingredient that
has a profound effect upon how they see themselves or the world. What
connections do you see between Claire and the crabs? Between Chloe and
tortillas? Tom and the pasta sauce?
Although we only see Charlie, Tom's wife, in flashback, she seems to
share Lillian's love of essential ingredients. What do you make of
Charlie's statement that "We're all just ingredients. What matters is the
grace with which you cook the meal"?
Chloe observes that Thanksgiving at her house is "about everyone being
the same, and if you're not, eating enough so you won't notice." Is this
something that our culture buys into in a larger sense? How does Lillian's
approach to food fly in the face of this idea?
Isaac says to Isabelle that he thinks "we are each a chair and a ladder
for the other." What do you think he means? Are there people in your life
who are or have been that for you?
Lillian tells the class that "a holiday is a lot like a kitchen. What's
important is what comes out of it." In what way do the kitchens in this
bookLillian's childhood kitchen, the greasy spoon where Tom meets Charlie,
the kitchen that Antonia saves from demolitionrepresent different
celebrations of life? Is there a kitchen in your life that you associate
with a particular celebration or emotional milestone?
At the end of the novel, Lillian reflects that: "She saw how connected
[the students'] lives had become and would remain. Where did a teacher fit
in the picture, she wondered, when there was no longer a class?" What does
happen to Lillian once her class is disbanded? Do you feel that each
character's story is resolved? What do you imagine happens in these
characters' lives after the book ends?
What would be your essential ingredients?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Berkley Books.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.
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