In sunny Los Angeles, in the heart of Koreatown, you’ll find Guelaguetza, a James Beard Award-winning restaurant that has been the epicenter of Oaxacan cuisine and culture for the last 25 years. In Zapotec, Guelaguetza means “offering.” It is a yearly festival that celebrates both the corn goddess, Centeotl, and the Catholic feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. But Guelaguetza also describes the offering each person in an Oaxacan town or village would share with neighbors for celebrations like saint’s days, baptisms, or weddings.
Much like the festive sharing tradition that Guelaguetza represents, the Lopez family has also become an LA institution responsible for the spread and preservation of the Oaxacan spirit. Bricia, Paulina, and Fernando Lopez Jr. have ensured the continued success of their beloved restaurant, while at the same time launching their flourishing side projects — I Love Micheladas and the Super Mama’s Podcast that has grown into a yearly social, hosting hundreds of guests.
At the helm of the Lopez family’s business and cultural efforts is Bricia Lopez, a busy woman making a name for herself as an expert on Oaxacan cuisine and an ambassador for Oaxacan traditions. This month she launched her cookbook Oaxaca: Home Cooking from the Heart of Mexico, which surprisingly enough is the first cookbook about Oaxacan cuisine written by an Oaxacan author or told through the lens of an Oaxacan family.
“I think it’s such an important story because it’s not just our story, it’s the story of so many immigrant families and just recipes that we grew up eating. I think that there have been Oaxacan cookbooks here in the U.S. but there haven’t been any by Oaxacan natives and it blows my mind that it took this long,” Lopez tells HipLatina. “I feel so proud that it had to be us, I think it’s going to be so important for every immigrant family to read it and cook from it.”
The cookbook serves two functions, one as the story of the Lopez family and two, as a record of recipes that have been passed down through generations. Readers will learn all of the trials and hardships the Lopez family faced as immigrants looking for their place, trying to run a business, and raising kids in the process.
“The first pages of the book is the story of how we moved to L.A. [and] the true story of my family of how we are here, when we lived in Oaxaca, growing up, [and] how we almost lost everything when we took over the restaurant. Then it goes into these recipes that we grew up eating,” she says. “It’s everything from frijoles de la olla to huevos rancheros to things that I guess you could say more Oaxacan. All our mole recipes are in there, pollo frito con oregano is a big Oaxacan staple — and all these beautiful recipes passed down from my grandma that we never want to lose. I think to myself, one day my kid is going to cook these and he’s going to remember me.”
The most beautiful thing about this book, aside from the story and photography, is the imprint that it will leave on the future. As a Mexican immigrant, business owner, chef, mother, and now published author, the gravity of being the first and being visible is not lost on Lopez. Having the story of her family bound in a book solidifies their legacy and opens the door for whoever is next. It’s something that Lopez says is lost when the story of their culture is told by those outside of it. “I think what is lost when it comes from outside of the community is that hope that you can do it too. I think it’s every girl that looks like me believing that one day she can do that because someone like her did it first. People that are out there doing it, you need to see yourself in them,” she says.
This year Lopez also helped bring a little piece of Oaxaca to Las Vegas with the opening of Mama Rabbit, a mezcal and tequila bar she curated at Park MGM. “It really was a collective vision between Park MGM and myself, and making sure that the culture gets represented and that everything gets done the right way. We went above and beyond to get a lot of the mezcals and tequilas that we wanted to get and just give the place a spirit. When you walk into a place it can just be a place or you can walk into a place and feel like you’ve arrived somewhere. I think that’s what Mama Rabbit has, that essence — it feels like home,” Lopez stated
Anthony Bourdain once said “you learn a lot about someone when you share a meal together.” With Guelaguetza, Mama Rabbit, and now the cookbook — everyone will be able to learn about Oaxaca, Los Angeles, and the family that loves them both.
You can order Oaxaca: Home Cooking from the Heart of Mexico now.