‘Diana Kennedy’ a delicious look at doyenne of Mexican cuisine

MOVIE REVIEW

“DIANA KENNEDY: NOTHING FANCY”

Not rated. At the Coolidge Corner Virtual Screening Room.

Grade: B+

A portrait of a pioneer, who is terribly sorry she is not more politically correct or less cantankerous or determined to speak her mind, “Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy” is a tribute to one woman’s enduring love affair with Mexican cuisine.

Born in Essex, England, Kennedy worked in the forestry service during World War II and met her husband, Paul P. Kennedy, in Haiti in 1957. He was the New York Times correspondent for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. Kennedy fell in love with Mexico and its cuisine, and when she later met New York Times food editor Craig Claiborne, she told him all about the regional recipes she had collected and compiled from local markets all over the country.

For his part, he encouraged her to write her first cookbook after her husband’s death. The result was the almost anthropological “The Cuisines of Mexico” (1972), an unlikely best-seller and still one of the gastronomical fundamentals of Mexican cooking. Several cookbooks followed.

  • ‘Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy’

  • ‘Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy’

  • ‘Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy’ Diana Kennedy making tortillas in the 1970s

  • ‘Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy’

The film, directed by first-timer Elizabeth Carroll, is less about cooking than about Kennedy herself, now in her 90s and always exclaiming, “I won’t be here much longer.”

She has traveled every corner of Mexico, mostly alone, on buses and donkeys and in her manual transmission Nissan truck. At the home she built in Mexico, 100 miles west of Mexico City, she has an orchard and a boulder the size of a VW bug and grows the ingredients she needs for her dishes.

She can be brusque. Her language can be salty and don’t you dare offer her a cup of tea. She will only drink what she brews, and she still speaks with a clipped British accent (she also speaks Mexican-style Spanish).

Because of her connection to the New York Times, Kennedy was able to build a bridge between Mexican cuisine and English-speaking cooks all over the world. Offering their opinions of Kennedy and her cooking are such authorities as Jose Andres, Alice Waters and Gabriela Camara (Netflix’s “A Tale of Two Kitchens”).

Kennedy, who was awarded the Order of the Aztec Eagle by Mexico for her work promoting its cuisines, is frank about everything from her marriage (“We took lovers.”) to her recipe for guacamole (“No garlic.”). She has been known to — surprise — clash with fellow cooks (she once threw Rick Bayless out of her car, yay).

To her many mandates, we can add, “Never stir the rice. Never,” and the best perhaps she has to offer for both cooking and life is, “Don’t boil. Simmer.”

(“Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy” contains salty language, plus pepper.)

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