Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy

“I think it is so shocking that the more we are connected electronically, the less we are unified….”

Diana Kennedy

Grousing loudly at a young man in a Mexican marketplace for using synthetics to color a sausage, my wife exclaimed, “I love her.”

Diana Kennedy is a cookbook author and recipe archaeologist based in Michoacán, Mexico. She is the subject of Nothing Fancy, Elizabeth Carroll’s 2020 documentary that positions Kennedy as the most knowledgeable person in the world on the subject of Mexican cooking. 

The English-born Kennedy married an American stationed with The New York Times in Mexico City in the early 1950s, and as she fell in love with him, she fell in love with Mexican cuisine.

An adoptive daughter of Mexico, Kennedy is a two-time James Beard Award winner (her step-and-repeat at the Beard Awards is a tutorial in red carpet etiquette), decorated with an Order of the AztecEagle from the Mexican government and an OBE from the UK, but she’s apparently proudest of her nickname, “The Mick Jagger of Mexican Cuisine.” 

She has put tens of thousands of miles on her weather-beaten, manual Nissan truck as she submerges deep into the towns and villages of every state in Mexico, staying with families — sometimes weeks at a time — not just to capture their recipes, but to learn their methods, to understand their ways, crediting the individuals with every recipe in each of her cookbooks. 

Sandwiched in footage of Kennedy on the hunt for a particular style of bread in the markets of Oaxaca City, as she acknowledges their gentrification (“Before it was all much more natural and untidy… and tasty,” she said), revered Chef José Andrés says, “She told me it was like an Indiana Jones afoot, trying to search for that precious gem, that diamond that is somewhere in the forests or in the mountains of Mexico.”

That quest is something we all should identify inside ourselves and strive for. This film makes plain: living in search of but potentially never realizing perfection is the best life anyone could hope for.

As you watch Nothing Fancy, I encourage you to determine for yourself, what is your holy grail?

Twelve years on, I now can see it is something I began striving for with this site.

As I spent the last decade traveling to every state in the U.S., documenting the American maker (by my own admission, I was following in Diana’s footsteps), I’ve learned that tradecraft is the result of oral tradition, I’ve learned that we’re doing a bad job focusing on those whose job it has been to make things for us and to teach us how to make things, and it’s never been more important than it is today to invest in high-quality, durable goods, to support and celebrate your local economies, to discover (perhaps for the first time) your region’s specialities, and by-all-means-necessary to stop over-consumption. 

“… she learned quickly that the best food in Mexico was not in fancy restaurants but rather in markets, traditional family restaurants called “fondas” and in homes. In addition, she was impressed with what she saw in local, traditional markets.” – from Wikipedia

As you splendor in appreciating every complaint, every correct observation that Diana Kennedy makes throughout the 73 minutes of Nothing Fancy, I hope you, like me, acknowledge that she is as close to an idealized version of a fully-formed human being as you may ever encounter. 

“It’s a little early for tequila. Another day, I’ll come a little later with my tequila.”

– Diana Kennedy to a proprietor in the Oaxaca City markets

Nothing Fancy is streaming now everywhere great movies can be found.

Purchase a copy of her books. I’d recommend you start with The Art of Mexican Cooking and why, Nothing Fancy, of course.

For more, read Diana’s conversation withTexas Monthly’s Cat Cardenas or listen to her in a 2010 interview with NPR’s Jason Beaubien.