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Diana Kennedy, author who elevated Mexican cuisine, dies at 99

Diana Kennedy, journalist and author who became the quintessential champion of Mexican cuisine, died at her home in the state of Michoacán, the country’s culture ministry. said. She was 99 years old.

Her cause of death was respiratory failure, her friend and chief collaborator Gabriela Cámara said, according to Yahoo News.

Kennedy is credited with helping separate Mexican cuisine from the baked and yellow-cheese menus of suburban restaurants by introducing it to a foodie world that cares about regional distinctions and ingredient pedigrees.

“I think Mexico as a country will be forever indebted to his efforts,” said chef Pati Jinich of the PBS Food show “Pati’s Mexican Table” in Elizabeth Carroll’s 2019 documentary about Kennedy, “Nothing Fancy “.

For an English-language author, she almost had the vast pantheon of Mexican cuisine, its earthy native roots, the fatty Spanish meats, the high-quality French and Austrian moments, and the regional sauces and salsas, all to herself, and her cookbooks never seemed to lack inspiration. .

From her base in Coatepec de Morelos, a village near the town of Zitácuaro, the British-born Kennedy continued to explore and discover food in the heart of her adopted homeland, often in her van. , into his 90s.

Diana Kennedy shops at a market in Zitácuaro, Michoacán, Mexico on June 23, 1990.Paul Harris/Getty Images File

She didn’t curl up and her comfort zone included everything. The Los Angeles Times, arguing that Kennedy did for Mexican cuisine what Julia Child did for French cuisine, noted that she had published recipes for dishes including pumpkin seed duck, cream of soup with squash flowers, pies stuffed with a purée of aquatic flies. black iguana eggs and stews.

But while she proved the maxim that Mexico is a continental and global crossroads that absorbs, embraces, remixes and refines influences from across the Atlantic and the Pacific (yes, that’s a thin slice of pineapple in your traditional Lebanese taco), Kennedy never appeared to get haughty.

His book titles tell the story of cooking. It may be vast (“The Cuisines of Mexico”, 1972), and it may span coasts, deserts, valleys and mountains (“Mexican Regional Cooking”, 1975), but it is not really intended for high-end service (“Nothing Fancy: Recipes and Recollections of Soul-Satisfying Food”, first published in 1984 and expanded and re-released in 2016 – its latest title).

According to her official biography, Kennedy first landed in Mexico from her native England in the 1950s when she was engrossed in travel. She met future husband Paul Kennedy, a New York Times correspondent based in Mexico City, and moved there after their marriage.

It wasn’t until the early 1970s, after Paul Kennedy’s death from cancer, that she focused on documenting Mexican cuisine as a lifelong endeavor. She had dinner with New York Times food critic Craig Claiborne, who suggested she teach Mexican cooking.

She taught, via “Les Cuisines du México”. Claiborne wrote the foreword. But above all, she learned.

As she dug beyond the cultural topsoil, Kennedy learned not to sow her serrano peppers, and she lambasted those who dared to put lime juice and garlic in guacamole.

In a review of “My Mexico,” published in late 1998, the Los Angeles Times wrote, “She didn’t so much brave as exulted over terrible roads, adverse weather, and unforeseen obstacles en route to discovering something she wouldn’t have understood. Besides.”

Kennedy’s writing expresses a “fierce desire to explore, reveal and preserve,” the newspaper said.

His residence in Coatepec de Morelos has often been described as an enduring showcase of culinary culture with acres of gardens. She collected rainwater and took 2-minute showers.

The Ministry of Culture tweeted Sunday that her home, which she called La Quinta Diana, was “an example of sustainability and conservation of nature and biodiversity.”

Gourmet magazine described Kennedy’s garden as a “botanical treasure chest”. His local avocados had skin so thin and tender that it could be mashed into his guacamole seamlessly, the publication said in 2011. His adobe home is described in “The Gastronomica Reader”:

“His Mexican home, designed as an eco-efficient building by local architect Armando Cuevas, is hidden by a grove of vines and trees on a hill above San Francisco Coatepec de Morelos.”

Her residence also doubled as the non-profit Diana Kennedy Center, dedicated to the education and preservation of Mexican cuisines.

Kennedy lived a life of perpetual discovery, even at home. In an updated version of “The Cuisines of Mexico”, she wrote: “People who live in harsher climates tend to think that there are no seasons here in the semi-tropics of 5,900 feet. Yes, there is no snow, and just the very occasional frost. or brief gusty hailstorm. January is a dry, cool and sunny month, and if we agree with the gods, the first days of February bring welcome rains, the cabañuelas, which encourage the flowering of plum and peach trees and help fill the reservoirs for the hot, dry months ahead.”

Kennedy’s accomplishments include an award from the James Beard Foundation Cookbook Hall of Fame in 2014, a decoration in 1982 with the Mexican Order of the Aztec Eagle, and recognition in 2002 as a Member of the Order of the British Empire. , for the strengthening of cultural ties with Mexico.

Her official biography also expresses pride in an achievement for which she is not officially recognized: UNESCO’s designation of Mexican cuisine as a world cultural treasure in 2010, the year UNESCO gave the same nod take a look at French cuisine.

“Over nearly sixty years, Diana traveled the country, meticulously researching, documenting and mastering the culinary styles of each region,” her biography reads. “Now these traditions are collectively designated as World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO.”

Kennedy’s demanding work on Mexico, including eight books and a few updated editions, will resonate years after lime-infused guacamole turns brown.

His voice will continue to bring wisdom.

“It’s so delicate that it’s best to eat it the moment it’s prepared,” Kennedy writes of guacamole in “The Kitchens of Mexico.” “There are many suggestions for keeping it – cover it tightly, leave the pit inside, etc. – but they will only help for a short time; almost immediately the delicate green will darken and the flavor fresh and wondrous will be lost.”


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