The Daily Meal is announcing the inductees into its Hall of Fame for 2016. The Hall of Fame honors key figures, both living and dead, from the world of food. We are introducing the honorees, one per weekday. Today's inductee is Diana Kennedy.
In late 1978, I headed to Mexico City, a place where I’d studied during my undergraduate years, with a suitcase full of books, among them a copy of Recipes from the Regional Cooks of Mexico by Diana Kennedy. Having finished all my course work and exams for a Ph.D. in anthropological linguistics, I had taken a year off from my program to attempt a rediscovery of passion for what I was studying. Instead, I discovered a new passion. During those six weeks in Mexico, language and culture studies began to seem limiting to me compared with the incredibly rich breadth of regional cuisine I unearthed in Diana’s book. Having grown up in a regional American barbecue restaurant, I recognized, as I read the pages over and over again, the work of someone who was endlessly curious about the unsung craft of brilliant regional Mexican cooks. That curiosity, combined with her thoroughness and scholarly rigor, spoke to me deeply.
As someone who had lived in Mexico and was an avid young cook, I had worked my way through Diana’s first book, The Cuisines of Mexico, some years before and was grateful to find a book written with the thoroughness, precision, and enthusiasm of a Julia Child tome. For the first time in English, someone — an Englishwoman, at that, who had first moved to Mexico in 1957 to be with her future husband, New York Times correspondent Paul P. Kennedy — had fully opened the door on the little-understood cuisine of our next-door neighbor, demystifying and celebrating its rich complexity.
With bold confidence, Diana wrote honestly about the food with wonder and respect, as the perfect expression of history and culture, geography, and climate. As though she had no knowledge of what we call “Mexican food” in the United States (and being British, she likely knew very little), Diana shared her discoveries with her American audience just as she found them, unencumbered with having been raised on Taco Bell, Chichi’s, and cheese enchiladas with Tex-Mex chili gravy as I had.
Diana has, of course, continued over five decades to unearth multitudes of culinary treasures Mexico harbors, compiling them into book after brilliant book, including The Art of Mexican Cooking, My Mexico, The Essential Cuisines of Mexico, From My Mexican Kitchen, and the formidable Oaxaca al Gusto: An Infinite Gastronomy. And we are all richer for her tenacity and boundless energy, especially those of us who are dedicated to the practice and promotion of Mexican cuisine.