“How can it be that a white British woman knows more about Mexican cooking that anyone else?”
Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy is the story of a passion. When a British woman found her way to Mexico in 1957, she discovered a love for the food and the culture. For the past six decades, Diana Kennedy has been learning about the traditional and regional ways of making Mexican food and sharing that with the world through a number of cookbooks. Now in her 90s (she was 95 when the film was being made), she continues to live a vibrant and unconventional life in Mexico.
Perhaps what makes her such an appropriate advocate of Mexican cuisine is that it happened organically. She enjoyed the food and the country. As she would travel early in her time in Mexico, she would travel on the busses (as she says, “with the chickens and pigs”). She would meet families, stay with them, and always get recipes. She would go to local markets to learn what the people of each region had available and would use. She had a great respect for the culture. That may be why she becomes upset when people make changes to her recipes. In one scene she’s reading an email from a chef who describes that he needs to “interpret” the recipes for his “audience”. (And so, he will not use her name in conjunction with the recipe.)
The film focuses less on the food (although you will learn it is absolutely forbidden to put garlic in guacamole), and more on the woman who has made this food such an important part of her life. She has been called a “prophet of Mexican food,” “the Indiana Jones of food,” and “the Julia Childs of Mexico,” but prefers “The Mick Jagger of Mexican cuisine”. None of those are bad descriptions. Like a biblical prophet, she tells the truth and has an evangelistic zeal about Mexican food. Like Indiana Jones, she searches relentlessly for foods and recipes that might seem obscure. Like Julia Childs, she has popularized a cuisine that many have come to love. Like Mick Jagger, she continues to have a sense of swagger even as the years keep adding up.
The film shows up Kennedy’s love of life and appreciation for the world around her, not only the Mexican culture, but the natural world as well. That love of life is intertwined with the passion she found for Mexican food. And it leads us to consider what it is in our lives that may bring the same kind of passion and enjoyment.
Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy is available on Virtual Cinema
Photos courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment