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Diana Kennedy en su cocina. Photo: Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy.
Diana Kennedy in her kitchen. Photo: Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy.

The "Mick Jagger" of Mexican cuisine is British

At 97, Diana Kennedy is one of the most renowned Mexican food connoisseurs and treasures the culinary delights of each region. Now a documentary tells her…

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Diana Kennedy is much more than a culinary ethnographer, she's a master chef. Since she arrived in Mexico in 1950, she's traveled to every corner of the country rescuing ancient Mexican recipes to the point of receiving several nicknames for the work. Some are more laughable than others.

Some have called her "the Mick Jagger of Mexican cuisine" and have compared her fearlessness when getting hold of an ingredient or delving into the oldest culinary secrets of her adopted country, "the Indiana Jones of the Mexican dish."

At 97, this British woman, respected by renowned chefs such as José Andrés, stars in the documentary Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy, directed by Elizabeth Carroll, which premieres this summer.

Garlic in guacamole? No!

Meticulous in her cooking and respectful of Mexico's original recipes, of which she has become the most staunchly conservationist, in Carroll's documentary you can see the British mother of chili driving her Nissan truck in the mountains of the west, working in her garden and hilariously and wondrously teaching other chefs in her home kitchen. 

"If you add garlic to your guacamole, we have bad news: you're not doing it right. Chop the onion? That's also a no-no. And please leave the avocado lumpy," she scolds them.

Diana uses serrano peppers to make her wonderful guacamole. "Take your hands off the jalapeno, please," she exclaims earnestly in the kitchen. She also adds salt and finely chopped tomatoes, but no lime. And if the guests don't like the coriander, well, "don't invite them."

As lively, natural and spicy as her recipes, Diana Kennedy has the respect and admiration of the best. Because she, yes, is the best of all. That's why none of the most acclaimed chefs wanted to miss the opportunity to appear in her documentary: Alice Waters, José Andrés himself, Rick Bayless, Pati Jinich and Gabriela Cámara. 

Master of masters

More than half a century traveling around the country in an old truck is the best proof that the Mexican is also made and not only born. That and Diana Kennedy has written nine cookbooks where she specifies the recipes and the history behind them-the adventure she lived to get them. She has also received the Order of the Aztec Eagle from the Mexican government, which is the most important award given to any foreigner. 

"She felt the need to record the recipes that were potentially being lost to industrialization," the director told AP, adding that Kennedy "feels it is her responsibility to share and perfect the original way things have been done. And if other people want to deviate from that, they have to know the rules first."

Elizabeth Carroll met Diana Kennedy in a curious and casual way in 2013, when the filmmaker was researching how recipes and culinary traditions were passed down. 

She thought she would have to travel to Mexico, to the mountains in the west of the country where the ethnographer lives, and spent hours looking for ways to do so before finally gave up. Carroll went to a bookstore in Austin and right there, in front of the window, she saw a sign that said: "Book signing with Diane Kennedy tomorrow." 

That's how fate brought them together in a film that would take more than six years to make but, like good mole, is unforgettable.

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