Outside, fruit trees, pines, and fronds of every kind seem to swallow up the available sunlight. I spotted the stables for a walk. There are built-in round stone ovens above the patio, as well as a modern solar oven, like a blind silver flower, where a pot of beans sits.
That’s how I remember the home of Diana Kennedy, who died there on Sunday of respiratory failure at the age of 99. The house is located in the mountainous countryside of Michoacan state, in the town of Cotepec de Morelos on the edge of Mexico’s central highlands. Known as Quinta Diana, it has been the home base of the British-born chef for five decades as she diligently strives to document the full spectrum of traditional recipes in every region of Mexico.
The woman in life has moved in such a way that you can fool your mind into assuming that she will live forever. I would like to believe that her entry into the afterlife has occurred Just as she is so happy would.
I spent one afternoon with Kennedy in Quinta Diana in the spring of 2014, and I had a lot of questions. I also kind of expected, in a humorous way, some kind of lavish feast being prepared for her guest-journalist. From Vice magazine. However, Kennedy, 91, ended up being a “good” host. I announced early on that we would eat nothing more than maybe a veracruzano tamales or some candied duraznos (peach) that I just finished.
That day I learned that Diana Kennedy was angry more than anything else.
I hated all plastic. She told me that she reused every plastic bag or container over and over again.
She was angry at all the water wasted in Mexican industries.
I hated pesticides.
I despised industrial tortillas.
I really hated it, despised The fact that Mexico was importing corn from the United States. imported corn! in Mexico! Where corn was born, one of the planet’s greatest gifts to humanity!
This fact, to Kennedy, seemed to sum up what was all wrong with it. Because of that, she’s pissed off the world of food itself—the shift to corporations, genetic modifications, and unrestrained market-driven globalization that has, she argued, caused the entire world to literally lose its taste. “Especially in the United States,” she told me. “And then you move to Mexico.”
“Why do we let people who are completely incompetent in food design our food?” She said that day in her unapologetic British accent. “Our food does not have the flavor it used to eat. I remember poblanos chile, which is full of flavour, tender flesh, very dark green, and that size. Currently forget that!”
“I was in Oaxaca in 1964, when she was…just lost,” Kennedy said, basking in memories of a place not saturated with tourists from the United States, Canada and Europe, as it is now. “It was cool, oh, not all that terrifying traffic noise. It was just beautiful.”
Kennedy arrived in Mexico in the 1950s as the wife of a reporter for the New York Times and fell in love with the country and the depth of its culture. The wholly original culinary geography of each state, though colonial, seemed to flourish before it; The markets are teeming with countless varieties of corn and hot peppers; And soon you learn the recipes, because basic dishes like tamales or moles vary greatly not only from state to state, but village to village. After the death of her husband Paul Kennedy in New York in 1967, Diana Kennedy decided to settle in Mexico permanently.
She got into her truck and started driving. Little by little, it roamed the country on its own, defying the norms regarding foreigners – and foreign women – traveling to non-tourist destinations in a country with poor standards of rule of law and the ongoing violence between criminal cartels and armed forces.
Despite the risks, she would visit every possible market in every town she could. She came back several times after befriending locals, and in her posts, she accurately credited the women creating the recipes she was perfecting with.
Her first cookbook in 1972, Cuisine of Mexico, became a sensation. English readers became aware of the fact that Mexico was more than just fusion dishes and tacos—there was a richness as deep as any to be found in China, India, or Italy. Fifty years ago, this was new information for most Anglo chefs and even many Mexican-American chefs born in the United States.
In the late seventies, Quinta Diana was born. Her dream was to become one with the landscape, how she lives, and especially the way she cooks. The whole house was her distilled life project.
With nine books in English, an induction into the James Beard Foundation Cookbook Hall of Fame, and the highest civilian honors from the governments of Mexico and the United Kingdom, Kennedy has been referred to as an “ambassador” or “lady” throughout her life.
But she waved her hand at all of that, agreeing to any title other than just “cook”. She would say, not even a chef. Open a restaurant? silly.
The author is notorious for throwing his bad mouth in public at any Mexican food chef north of the border who claims to be “authentic” in the context of American restaurants. The marketing of Mexican food, or let’s say Frida Kahlo, made her furious.
Questions about her nationality, as a UK citizen, will be quickly silenced by the enormous years and miles she has already put into the business. If any young star challenged her, she would tell Mexican chefs that she was cooking “with your grandmother” long before they were born – so please don’t come to her with any substantive notions of who she is.
Kennedy apparently got her Mexican flair by choosing, a process that even the most hardcore nationalist grudgingly admit is real, albeit rare—like Chavela Vargas, the Costa Rica-born Mexican songwriter who, incidentally, didn’t give it a go. A complete curse on what anyone thinks about her.
I’ve always loved any old person who never ceases to be polite to say what you think is right.
“Nobody says ‘No,’ they sit down to eat,” Kennedy told me at Quinta Diana. “I say, you should have eating classes. And you bring something up bad, mediocre, and good. And you point out the difference and build flair.”
Her knowledge base seemed unparalleled.
“Don’t forget epazote—it’s a multi-purpose herb. It goes in black beans. It makes a good tea, as a remedy for internal problems—and it kills ants,” Kennedy told The Times. Laurie Ochoa in 1992. “And don’t let anyone tell you that epazote came from Europe. It’s a North American weed — and it loves parking.”
“Remember, I married a journalist,” she tells Ochoa, emphatically. “And he told me to never believe anything you see in print.”
Kennedy also loved to dine outside and be seen. As a result, cooks in Mexico City were horrified at Kennedy’s assessment if she ever stopped. So when the chef walked into the seafood restaurant Contramar, and loved it, I remembered Chef Gabriela Camara feeling relieved. They became close friends. Camara said she grew up practicing what Kennedy preached: composting and rainwater harvesting with her parents in Tepoztlán.
In the late Kennedy years, Camara was part of a group of confidants who looked after the chef and founded Diana Kennedy Center Hoping that Quinta Diana will live after her departure.
“I really thought she could make an impact on me, and she really did,” Camara said on Sunday. “I also think she somehow lived vicariously through me, being younger and being identified with that energy to do things differently.”
Kennedy left no survivors. “She didn’t have children, on purpose,” her friend said.
It is not clear what will happen to the Kennedy house now that she is dead. Camara said that although she was a successful cookbook author, there was not enough money in her later years to realize Kennedy’s vision of the Quinta Diana as an educational center or museum.
The governments of Mexico, the United Kingdom, and the United States must do all they can to match Kennedy’s desires and enduring standards. In the twenty-first century, a love for Mexican food has appeared on every inhabited continent. The world simply loves anything Mexican eats.
There is no blame on him.
As regional Mexican cuisine has risen to the heights of international fine dining and Mexican food in general, re-mapping everyday home cooking in a politically unfriendly position in the United States, Kennedy’s dedication to authentic ingredients and authentic techniques should be celebrated and carried on.
It’s been a long, if incomplete, journey since the days when her neighbors in Manhattan in the 1960s would put air fresheners in her hallway to combat the odors of “all these wonderful things that happen in my apartment.”
Kennedy laughed. What fools.