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Diana Kennedy, influential guru of Mexican cuisine, dies at 99 | Mexico

Diana Kennedy, the British-born food writer who dedicated her career to promoting the richness and diversity of Mexico’s culinary heritage and helped to popularize the national cuisine in the English-speaking world, has died aged 99.

The Mexican culture ministry confirmed Kennedy’s death at her home in Michoacán and paid tribute to her legacy, saying that she, “like few others”, understood that conserving nature and its diversity was crucial to upholding the myriad culinary traditions of Mexico.

The cause of death was not shared.

During her lifetime, Kennedy was referred to as the “Julia Child of Mexican cuisine”, “the Mick Jagger of Mexican cuisine” and even the “Indiana Jones of food” – the latter from the renowned chef José Andrés, one of many figures in the culinary world who applauded her life efforts on Sunday.

“She loved Mexico, Mexicans and Mexican cooking like no one!” Andrew wrote. “Her books by her open a window into the soul of Mexico! She gave voice to the many Mexican cooks, especially women. She was my teacher and already missed her. She will cook together one day again!”

Kennedy was born Diana Southwood in Loughton, England in 1923 and emigrated to Canada in 1953. That same decade she moved to Mexico after marrying New York Times journalist Paul P Kennedy. Her husband de ella died in 1967, and Kennedy spent years living in Michoacán, a rugged state in western Mexico.

Having fallen in love with the country and its cultures, she worked to preserve native ingredients and traditional recipes under threat from growing urbanisation, and spent decades documenting cuisines she found in villages, markets and homes across Mexico in books including The Cuisines of Mexico and The Art of Mexican Cooking.

She was renowned for her dedication and precision, sometimes driving hundreds of miles from Michoacán to check a single ingredient or measurement; her from her last book from her Oaxaca al Gusto took 14 years to research. Often, the home cooks she met on her trips would be fascinated by this passionate, slightly pushy Englishwoman who asked so many questions about their food from her, and would often invite her to stay and cook with them, sometimes for days. Whenever she published a recipe, she always acknowledged who had shared it with her.

In the foreword to The Cuisines of Mexico, the late food writer and friend Craig Claiborne wrote of Kennedy: “If her enthusiasm were not beautiful, it would border on mania.”

Kennedy once wrote that she was “surprised and very happy that the Mexicans themselves use my books, and are so generous in acknowledging, as they say… what I have done for their regional cuisines.”

Arturo Sarukhan, a former Mexican ambassador to the US, described the death of the “great” Kennedy as a “huge loss for Mexico, the UK and Mexican gastronomy”.

“She changed the narrative and perceptions of Mexican cuisine from a bland mish-mash of TexMex towards a sophisticated tapestry of regional cuisines” as rich as those celebrated in China, India, France or Italy, Sarukhan told Reuters.

Josefa Gonzalez Blanco, Mexico’s ambassador to Britain, called Kennedy a “remarkable woman” who had put her “heart and soul” into her work.

Kennedy won many prizes during her lifetime, including the Mexican Order of the Aztec Eagle, the country’s highest award for foreigners, which the Mexican government honored her with in 1981.

In 2002, Prince Charles visited Kennedy at her home to appoint her an MBE, for “furthering cultural relations between the UK and Mexico”. She served him tequila aperitifs, tortillas, cream of squash blossom soup, pork loin baked in banana leaves and mango sorbet.

– Reuters contributed to this report

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