Her name is Diana Kennedy. She wrote the first book I ever read about Mexican cuisine. It is still, in my opinion, the best book ever written about Mexican cuisine. It started a passionate love affair I have with the food of Mexico that continues today and, today, I learned a lot more about the fascinating woman who wrote it.
Four years ago, Diana Kennedy, published her ninth book on Mexican cuisine. It’s title was Nothing Fancy. This year, filmmaker Elizabeth Carroll used the same title for the feature-length documentary about this five-foot-tall fireball and, this afternoon, I watched it.
In 1953, 30-year-old Diana Southwood left her home in the southeast of England to emigrate to Canada. Four years later, on a holiday to Haiti, she met Paul P. Kennedy, a correspondent for The New York Times in, among other places, Mexico. A few months later, the two moved in together in Mexico City and, shortly after, they were married.
Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy takes us to her home in Zitácuaro, about 300 km west of my snowbird home, San Miguel de Allende, where, since the 1970’s, she has lived “off the grid” growing the hard-to-find ingredients that some of the recipes she has collected demand. She refers to her garden as “my jewel box” and the chiles, the oranges, the onions, the nopales “are my jewels”.
It’s at Casa Diana that she welcomes aspiring chefs to her “boot camp” cooking school and gallivants around in her beat up old Nissan truck cursing careless dogs and careful drivers alike.
“If her enthusiasm were not beautiful, it would border on mania.” said Craig Claiborne in the intro to that first book on Mexican cuisine that she wrote and I read.
What I’ve always liked most about Diana Kennedy is her generosity in recognizing and praising the authenticity, the origins and creators of the cuisine she has spent decades studying. Never once do I remember her using the first person singular in a recipe and I can’t think of any other cookbook author that I could say that about. Her forte is research and no other cookbook writer has ever been as hungry for knowledge as Diana Kennedy.
A good food documentary makes you hungry and, after seeing all of the what we call “food porn” shots in Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy, I was starving for “nothing fancy”, just some very simple, very fresh guacamole, mostly chopped avocado “but not like baby food” as Diana says as she pounds the molcajete in her kitchen.
“How spicy are the cascabels” someone asks her as they prepare a dish in one of her classes. She answers, “If you don’t wash your hands right now you might go to the john and, by golly, you will know.”
Diana Kennedy doesn’t walk, she strides. Diana Kennedy doesn’t talk, she proclaims. Diana Kennedy is a character and characters make for good biographies and good documentaries.
“One is never satisfied. There’s so much more I would like to do”, she says. Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy leaves you wanting much more Mexican Cuisine and much more of the living legend.
Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy is available on iTunes, YouTube, Amazon Prime and Google Play but not necessarily in every country where you might try to watch it. Runtime is 73 minutes.