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Diana Kennedy, Grande Dame of Mexican Cuisine, Brings Book-Signing Tour to Hugo's

Hugo Ortega, left, and his wife and partner, Tracy Vaught, right, will host famed cookbook author Diana Kennedy at a book-signing event on Oct. 24 at Hugo's.
Hugo Ortega, left, and his wife and partner, Tracy Vaught, right, will host famed cookbook author Diana Kennedy at a book-signing event on Oct. 24 at Hugo's.
Photo by Paula Murphy

Here in Texas, we know a lot about Mexican food. But what most of America (including Texas) thinks of as Mexican is actually Tex-Mex, a hybrid of Mexican cuisine and American ingredients. It's comforting to us native Texans, for sure, but it's not true Mexican food.

Diana Kennedy knows real Mexican food. The famed cookbook author has been living in Mexico since 1957, studying the cuisine and codifying recipes that had previously been passed around by word of mouth only. In 1998, Kennedy published My Mexico: A Culinary Odyssey with More Than 300 Recipes, her definitive guide to Mexican cuisine, in which she details her travels around the Central American country and her discoveries and memories of the food and recipes she encountered.

Kennedy will be at Hugo's on Thursday, October 24, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. to sign the new edition of her book, which is considered a classic.

"Thank goodness it's coming out again." Kennedy says. "It's a very, very valuable book!"

Kennedy, who is 90, is still traveling the world to teach people about Mexican cuisine.
Kennedy, who is 90, is still traveling the world to teach people about Mexican cuisine.
Photo by Paula Murphy

Kennedy became friends with Houston's resident experts in Mexican cuisine, Hugo Ortega and his wife, Tracy Vaught, when Ortega attended one of Kennedy's cooking workshops in Mexico. Since then, they've enjoyed cooking with each other on occasion, and when Ortega found out that a new edition of My Mexico was coming out, he offered to host an event to celebrate its arrival.

A recipient of many awards, and a culinary icon, in 1981 Kennedy, who was born in Great Britain, was awarded the Order of the Aztec Eagle by the Mexican government -- the highest decoration given to non-citizens by that country. In 2000, she received a gold medal award from the Mexican Restaurant Association, and in 2002 she was named a member of the Order of the British Empire for her work in fostering relationships between England and Mexico. Most recently, Kennedy received a Life Achievement Award from the International Association of Cooking Professionals.

When asked what type of Mexican food she prefers, Kennedy laughs as if it's a ridiculous question.

"There are dishes all over that I absolutely love," she says. "I think the most complex food, because of the variety of chilies and the culture, is from Oaxaca. I think most people in Veracruz think of the seafood, but it's a very complex state. It also has some really lovely food."

Kennedy notes that Mexican food has changed since she first began her travels there, in part because of advances in technology and trade.

"The Mexican cuisines are different because of the change in the flavors of the chiles," she says, explaining that flavors of fruits and vegetables can change over time. "They're also importing into Mexico from China and South America, which is disgraceful. People are missing out on some of these very wonderful divine flavors."

And as for why people should read her book now, 15 years after it was originally published?

"People still can't make a decent guacamole! Crush it in the molcahete. Don't grind it to a smooth paste. It should be sort of chunky but held together. And don't put lime juice in it. The acidity in the tomatoes is good enough. Don't put garlic in it. Don't use jalapeños instead of serranos. Jalapeños just won't do it. It must be serranos."

So there you have it, folks. You've been doing guacamole wrong all these years.

Stop by Hugo's on Thursday for more helpful tips from this legend of Mexican cuisine.

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Hugo's

1600 Westheimer Road
Houston, TX 77006

713-524-7744

www.hugosrestaurant.net


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