Diana Kennedy dies: Author of celebrated books on Mexican cooking

Diana Kennedy, the British author who turned her love of Mexican food into a cookbook, makes it possible for home cooks in the US to access hundreds of regional recipes, at a time when many who still thought of cuisine as more than platters and tacos, died at his home in the Mexican state of Michoacán. She is 99 years old.

Her death was confirmed by the Mexican government via Twitter and by friend and longtime collaborator, chef Gabriela Cámara. Camara said she passed away Sunday morning at 5 a.m. of respiratory failure.

Beginning with her first book, “The Cuisine of Mexico,” published in 1972, Kennedy did for Mexican food what Julia Child did for French cuisine. She offers regional versions of familiar dishes like enchiladas and tamales, and introduces her readers to complex and delicate dishes like duck with pumpkin seed sauce and pumpkin flower soup. She also notes recipes in her books for tarts filled with aquatic fly eggs and stews of black salamanders.

Throughout her career, she has always maintained that Mexican cuisine is as good as anywhere in the world. “This, with its strong peasant roots, is delicious Mexican food,” she said of the more elaborate recipes in her books, in a 1992 interview with The Times. “There’s a lot of time and hassle that should be spent preparing any complex French dish.”

Fran McCullough, Kennedy’s editor for more than 20 years, told The Times: “Diana went to Mexico and immediately recognized that she was up to something extraordinary, something not particularly Mexican. seriously. .

She is an amateur food anthropologist as well as a chef who has traveled the country to learn more about her subject. Her writing exudes a “strong desire to discover, discover and preserve” traditional Mexican dishes, a 1999 review in The Times noted.

Sometimes Kennedy adds a flavor of cultural life that has flavored a recipe. She writes in the guide “tamales de espiga,” a corn with the sign of the cross that “opens the steamer and blesses it with a double sign,” a corn that runs the risk of being bland. She was taught to make the dish with inclusive devotion, she wrote in “My Mexico” in 1998, and she did so even though she was a pantheist.

Kennedy’s books include “The Tortilla Book” (1975), “Mexican Regional Cooking” (1990) and “From My Mexico Kitchen” (2003), with her final release being the semi-memorial “Nothing” Fancy: Recipes and Memoirs of Soul Satisfying Food. ”

Although Kennedy writes for home cooks, she also inspires chefs and restaurateurs who want to offer something new to generations of eaters who love Mexican food but are looking forward to it. want to try new styles.

“Diana wants everything done right. Tom Gilliland, a friend of Kennedy and owner of the Fonda San Miguel restaurant in Austin, Texas, said. She helped him plan the restaurant’s first menu after she visited it in the early 1970s. Gilliland and the restaurant’s late chef and partial owner, Miguel Ravago, had both read the book. “Mexican food” before they met her. A variety of regional dishes have impressed them.

“We knew the food in that book was exactly what we wanted to serve in the restaurant,” Gilliland said. At first, he couldn’t find the fresh ingredients he needed, even in Texas, so he imported chipotle and various chili peppers.

At home in his Mexican kitchen, Kennedy makes everything from scratch, grinding corn kernels into tamale flour and gutting chicken to prepare it for grilling. She has given instructions for these techniques in some of her books, but says she doesn’t expect most of her readers to follow them. “My books are for learning and cooking,” she said.

“Kennedy’s labors of love and scholarship belong to the family library as a chronicle of culinary culture, regardless of whether chefs decide to turn their kitchen into a diner,” said one. A 1989 review in Publishers Weekly claimed for the book “The Art of Mexican Cooking. “

Since the late 1970s, she has lived in an eco-house with solar and wind energy, surrounded by four-acre organic vegetable gardens in Coatepec de Morelos, a village near the city of Zitácuaro, some miles from Mexico. City about 100 miles to the west.

She is fluent in Spanish and seems fearless, even in her 80s, as she travels the remote roads of her adoptive country in a camp van with CB radio and a stack of opera tapes next to it.

When she likes a new food she’s tasted at the deli, or hears about a bus driver, farmer, fisherman, or housekeeper she meets on her travels, Kennedy says Her story goes into the kitchen of the person who made the food and follows them around. take notes while they prepare it for her. Many of these recipes are passed down by word of mouth through generations in the family. She regularly names the men and women who taught her how to make a family recipe.

Kennedy wrote in “My Mexico.”

If anyone asked her how a native of England could master the cuisines of Yucatan, Mexico City, Dolores Hidalgo, Veracruz and the surrounding regions, she would gladly embrace them.

“I actually spent 20 years… eating, eating at cheap hotels and getting bitten by fleas,” she said at a food editors conference in 1977. “I went to the market with the maids. I’ve badged the ladies. “

As her fame grew, she became known as a purist with a generous side and a gritty side. She might thank the owners of a Mexican-American restaurant where she ate, then critique each dish, often with a mixed review. “But I’m much worse,” she once comforted members of a family-owned restaurant in Utah.

Admirers have taken her testimony as proof of her uncompromising nature. “While most cookbook authors go from book to book in search of more recipes that their readers are comfortable with, Kennedy continues to force people to broaden their horizons. term,” wrote a critic for The Times in 1999.

Diana Kennedy in her truck.

Kennedy personally drove through the vast expanses of Mexico in his cargo truck, gathering recipes and insights from home chefs over the decades.

(Ricardo DeArathanha / Los Angeles Times)

Diana Southwood was born in the suburbs of London on 3 March 1923, the daughter of parents who were picky about food even when they prepared a meal of soup and bread. “Nothing Fancy” includes some of her favorite family recipes.

During the Second World War, she served in the Women’s Wood Team, a group that maintained British agriculture. After the war, she moved to Canada and worked at the Chinese company Wedgwood, creating desk settings.

During a trip to Haiti in 1957, she met Paul Kennedy, the New York Times reporter on Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. Soon after, she moved to Mexico, where she and Kennedy married. “I have always been an adventurer,” she said.

As a newcomer to the country, she was inspired by “wonderful markets, wonderful colors, quaint surroundings,” she said in a 1998 interview with The Times. After years of practice, she made a traditional Mexican dinner for New York Times food critic Craig Claiborne, who visited the Kennedys in the mid-1960s. Claiborne encouraged her to write a cookbook. .

Soon she and her husband moved to New York City because Paul Kennedy was sick with cancer. He died in 1967.

Back in New York, she taught and wrote in New York for over 10 years, mostly from her home. Mexican cooking ingredients were hard to find there at the time. On a trip to California in 1976, she filled a suitcase with fresh poblano peppers, semi-soft cheeses, and spices commonly found in Mexican kitchens. She also dug up epazote, an herb that grows wild in California and Mexico, and carried it east.

She often visited Mexico during those years and began building her own home there in the late 1970s. Despite setbacks, including a battle for water rights to her land, she persevered. The townspeople call her “gringa loca (crazy white lady). “

Her vision of the life she wanted to lead kept her going. “I wanted a center for Mexican food research,” she said of her decision. That and to live like a local and “plant trees and help the earth come alive after so many years of being forgotten.”

She sometimes teaches cooking classes to small groups at her home, with kitchen shelves lined with earthenware pots and a honeycomb oven outside the door.

She fills her hillside property with fruit and vegetable gardens, raises beehives that produce about 20 gallons of organic honey a year, and has a barn for pigs, goats, chickens, and ducks.

She continues to travel and collect recipes as she has for over 50 years.

“I always realized how little I knew,” she said. “Never call yourself an expert and never claim to write a complete book on anything.”

In 1981, the Mexican government awarded Kennedy the Order of the Aztec Eagle, the highest honor awarded to a foreigner, for teaching the world about the culinary traditions of Mexico.

Kennedy made her last public appearance in Los Angeles in 2019, when she advertised a documentary about her life and work, “Nothing Fancy”, in which she praised her mantra about preserves the original ingredients and culinary knowledge that she considers dead and nearly forgotten.

True to her gritty nature, in the film, she predicts she has five more years to live, and describes her death as a choice.

“I was planning just five [more] years, and no one can say no,” Kennedy says in the film. “There was a time, it was like caducidad, the date stated on the material you purchased, OK? They last a long time.”

Rourke is a former employee of the Times. Food editor Daniel Hernandez contributed to this report.

https://www.latimes.com/obituaries/story/2022-07-24/diana-kennedy-dies-at-99 Diana Kennedy dies: Author of celebrated books on Mexican cooking

Russell Falcon

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