Diana Kennedy is revered in the food world for her collection of writings about the cultural enclaves of cooking throughout Mexico. Kennedy has received the highest honor bestowed on foreigners by the Mexican Government, the Order of the Aztec Eagle, and is widely considered to be the “Julia Child of Mexican cooking.” Her visit to UC Davis was presented in conjunction with a display of Mexican cookbooks from the Shields Library Special Collections exhibit: “De Atole a Cuitlacoche … De Panuchos a Tlacoyos: Los Sabores de Mexico.”
Kennedy has been a student of Mexican cookery for nearly 50 years, and has written some of the seminal collections of recipes in English. Her latest work Oaxaca al Gusto, considered by chef Kurt Spataro of Sacramento’s Centro Cocina Mexicana to be her “finest yet,” presents challenging, authentic recipes in the style of Oaxaca. Kennedy’s uncompromising insistence on using authentic cooking methods and local ingredients results in a diverse collection of Oaxacan recipes that are nearly unknown to most American cooks.
Oaxaca al Gusto includes a wide range of Oaxacan dishes – from the more basic chileatole de elote (whole corn soup), to the hard-to-procure tamales de iguana (iguana tamales). Kennedy prefers to think of Oaxaca al Gusto as a book about “how Oaxaca eats,” and not necessarily “how to cook Oaxacan food.” The difference is subtle, but vast. The over 300 hundred recipes are organized by region and accompanied by a special narrative about the ingredients and the importance of the dish within the family and community.
Kennedy has made it a special project to preserve the vast varieties of Mexican chilies, and to encourage chefs and home cooks to incorporate them into their recipes. She sees the influx of low-quality food imports as a threat to Mexico’s culinary heritage; she is especially outraged that Chinese chiles are taking the shelf space of local Mexican ones in groceries and kitchens. She hopes that her cookbooks and research work with indigenous foods for the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (or its Spanish acronym CONABIO) will help increase demand for Mexican food products overseas.
The public event featured an introductory welcome by Darrell Corti of Corti Brothers in Sacramento, and reception with complimentary beverages and hors d'oeuvres. Local wineries Ceja Vineyards, Del Maguey and Mi Sueno Winery offered wine tastings of their popular and award winning cabernets, merlots, chardonnays and blends. Hors d'oeuvres were offered by Spataro and prepared in the RMI’s Sensory Theatre kitchen.