Diana Kennedy Has Died

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Also by Tejal Rao in the NYT, from 2019:

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i’d be curious to hear bill esparza’s take on her work.

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an article from Gustavo regarding the Choco Taco and Diane Kennedy

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full thread in link:

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Gustavo Arellano’s take on Diane Kennedy talks about some of these issues too.

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Tejal Rao. Similar sentiments but very diplomatic.

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“Everybody in Mexico or anybody who was halfway cultured in Mexico always knew that the biodiversity and cultural diversity of Mexico was out of this world, but for Americans it was certainly a surprise,” [longtime friend and collaborator, chef Gabriela] Cámara told The Times on Sunday. “She was the first person to write in English about the diversity of Mexican food, so she deserves that honor.”

Starting with her first book, “The Cuisines of Mexico,” published in 1972, Kennedy did for Mexican cooking what Julia Child had done for French cuisine.

People can slag her all they like, but she recorded and published a lot of recipes that otherwise might have been lost.

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i was curious because i see a lot of similarities including how chinese & mexican cuisine have such regional diversity, and i’ve had my own journey in coming to terms with cultural appropriation as an asian american who had immigrant parents. i respect the depth and breadth of knowledge esparza has accumulated concerning mexican cuisine, but i personally find this particular tweet to be a bit disingenuous. if a talk is presented in english, i’d expect the audience to consist largely of those fluent in english. if a talk was presented on chinese cuisine - in english - for the purpose of educating people unfamiliar with the topic, i’d hardly expect the audience to be predominantly chinese. esparza has been quite explicit about his feelings about oh, what’s his name: bayliss, but i don’t get the level of angst when it comes to kennedy. i’ve never considered her behavior as any sort of indication that she was seeking fame or recognition for her efforts. she’s always credited her sources for any recipe she’s ever provided, and i don’t perceive what she did as being an attempt to somehow “control” the dissemination of the knowledge she accumulated. granted she was generally acerbic and could be brutal in criticizing a student’s attempt to execute a recipe, but i personally chalked that up to a desire to ensure that recipes were followed as intended. she didn’t need the money that would result from recognition - does everyone who comes from wealth automatically become “privileged”? i sense personal bias here.

i happen to be a big fan of fuschia dunlop and i personally put her and kennedy in the same type of category with no pejorative connotations. but that’s me. and i’m aware that esparza and i have differing views on what constitutes ‘authentic’ cuisine; he embraces categories he refers to as: “pocho” (mexican-american as in what mexican americans made for themselves at home - maybe the best chinese equivalent would be HK cafe food - for which i have a limited affinity) as well as alta california (mexican americans fusing mexican dishes with non-mexican techniques/ingredients) for which we have chinese equivalents for which i also seem to have a limited affinity because i personally feel that cuisines also incorporate cultural world view, and asian and western cultures have some mutually exclusive qualities. for those interested in how fundamentally different the cultures are, a good starting point might be richard nisbett’s: the geography of thought. i’ve spent a bit of time navigating the feeling of having each foot in a different world all my life, and i’ve reached a point where i’ve been able to idenitfy the source of a lot of the conflict i had and been able to resolve it. the bottom line is that one world view has to dominate at any given point. and you can’t fuse things that have mutually exclusive qualities.

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Authenticity seems to me an absurdly irrelevant concept with cuisines as diverse as Mexican or Italian. It’s usually some narrow-minded ignoramus comparing everything with what he grew up with. That’s not how mom / auntie / grandma made it!

As for appropriation, if you’re against it, better make your Mexican meal without rice, beef, chicken, onions, or limes.

If you can think about more than one thing at a time, no one thing has to dominate. Do I contradict myself? Very well.

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Esparaza’s tweet about the tributes for Kennedy coming from white people and not the Mexican food world is not the dunk he thinks it is.

Of course, its white people who would praise her cookbooks because that’s who she was writing the cookbooks for.

And, his tweet could also apply to Julia Child too:

Even though Julia Child was not French, she helped to popularize French food in America. “In Paris few know her (Julia Child) fabled cookbooks, let alone her name” because she was writing her cookbook for American readers.

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“White” doesn’t mean “not Mexican,” writing in English doesn’t mean writing for a white audience, and almost all her books have been translated and published in Spanish.

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Back in 2009 (which seems like eons ago now) I had the opportunity to do Boot Camp with Diana Kennedy at her compound - Quinta Diana - just outside of Zitacuaro, Michoacan. We made 50 recipes in 3-days. For the most part, all the recipes worked, just as the same recipes do in her books. When something wasn’t right she critiqued it as to why and we moved on. Cooking with an icon was demanding and a thrill.

We picked the pedicles out of pozole corn for two types of pozole so that the corn would “bloom”. We made chorizo from scratch and stuffed the casings with a special contraption she had made especially for that purpose in the Yucatan. We hung the chorizo for 3-days, all the while all my sanitation training was screaming at me that it was unsafe and we were all going to die when we ate it. Clearly, we lived. We slacked corn and ground it for masa. She coached us on making tortillas until we got them to puff when flipped. We made carnitas that tasted good but they were a failure in her opinion. It was huitlacoche season, she had us sautee it off in some butter and a little onion. We ate it on freshly made blue corn tortillas with a salsa de chile cascabel and it is still to this day one of the most sublime things I have ever put in my mouth…and I am not overly fond of huitlacoche!

We heard the story of how she met Paul Kennedy…in Haiti in the middle of a revolution. We heard about their marriage and how she developed her interest and relationship with the cuisines of Mexico. We heard her philosphy about food in general and Mexican cuisine in detail. We heard about her environmental philosophy dates which back to the early 70s at least. We also heard her complaints about “alta cocina”, “cocina de autor” and a myriad of complaints about young cooks/chefs/food writers (Mexican and non-Mexican) plagerizing her work. She had a paranoia about that. Some of her complaints were valid, many were not.

We heard the story of how she found the property that would become Quinta Diana and of the negotiations she had with the cacique of the pueblo above her for water rights. We heard about her search for an architect who would, or could, share her vision for an environmentally sound and sustainable home and out buildings. The house wraps around boulders she refused to blast out. The property has an intricate water catchment system, multiple adobe ovens and everything is recycled or composted. From her travels around Mexico she brought back interesting plants and seeds and planted them on her peoperty. She grew several varieites of corn, her own coffee and a seemingly infinite variety of beans, greens and chiles. Some seeds or plants didn’t tolerate the altitude or climate of Michoacan so she bulit a greenhouse for them. She had an innate curiosity and respect for the land, the peopel and what both produced. She didn’t view herself as a chef or cook and a visit to her compound sort of makes that evident.

Diana Kennedy was not a soft, warm fuzzy grandma style of teacher or cook. She expected you to listen and the execute. When you screwed up she could either forgive you easily or excoriate you, it all depended up whether she liked you or not and how well you followed her instructions. Several of the people in my group were either offended or hurt by how they perceived she treated them. In some cases, they were warranted, in others, they simply needed a thicker skin. DK was not intentionally mean to them, she just had very few filters.

I think to label her “difficult” does her a disservice. If she had been a man, this wouldn’t even be an issue. He’d be hailed as having great vision, exacting standards, moving the genre forward and b,eing a leader in the field and so on. Yet labeling Diana Kennedy as difficult conveys a negative image. She was fiesty, independent and, yes, it sometimes was “my way or the highway”. She arrived in Mexico at a time when Continental cuisine was King and traditional Mexican food was considered rather low-brow and something only to be eaten at home. She did not single handedly change things, but she did shine an early light on traditional dishes and give them some respectability, which helped set the stage for the young chefs coming up in the 80s and 90s.

Diana Kennedy was a British ex-pat, but she lived in Mexico for 50+ years, became a Mexican citizen and spoke Spanish at the native level. The body of her work and research should not be reduced to an issue of cultural appropriation.

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This thread is going to take me down a rabbit hole. Thanks @ElsieDee! :laughing: Bookmarking!

With just getting the gist - not yet having read all the posts and links - it’s reminding me a bit of Julia Child. She’s pretty much unrecognized in France (and possibly scorned in some circles) but has given us in the states so much French cooking joy.

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I think I love her. Thanks @DiningDiva.

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Maybe more like Elizabeth David. Lots of field research and books, not so much TV or personal appearances.

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#preach

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… I knew she was a curmudgeon, but nothing could have prepared me for how pissed off she was at everything.

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