Anywhere else but Texas, perhaps, Diana Kennedy is best known as the maven of Mexican food, an English-born author who's spent half a century in Mexico painstakingly transcribing the recipes and recording the cooking techniques of the adopted country she adores. Here in Texas, however, Kennedy is best known as the woman who trashed Tex-Mex.
It's an unfortunate sort of footnote to an otherwise stellar career, one that's included nine cookbooks over the years and the 1981 receipt of the Order of the Aztec Eagle from the Mexican government—the highest honor given to foreigners—as well as an MBE from her native England in 2002.
Yet Kennedy is also famed for her sharp tongue and impatience, which once led her to kick chef Rick Bayless out of a car in Mexico when he questioned her too much and too long about Mexican food—their shared passion. That sharp tongue and Kennedy's outright dismissal of Tex-Mex cuisine in her 1972 book The Cuisines of Mexico as a bastardized version of her beloved, "pure," "authentic" Mexican food are hard to forget.
While the sharp sting of that slap has managed to reveberate in Texas over several decades, Houstonia dining editor Robb Walsh has the right attitude about Kennedy's feelings on Tex-Mex, writing in the intro for his 2004 book The Tex-Mex Cookbook:
We can all thank Diana Kennedy for inadvertently granting Tex-Mex its rightful place in food history. By convincing us that Tex-Mex wasn’t really Mexican food, she forced us to realize that it was something far more interesting: America’s oldest regional cuisine.
You can thank Diana Kennedy in person next Thursday, October 24, when she will be making a rare public appearance at Hugo's from 4 to 7 p.m. Kennedy, who's been friends with chef/owner Hugo Ortega for many years, will be signing copies of the newest edition of her 1998 book My Mexico: A Culinary Odyssey with More Than 300 Recipes.
If you don't have a copy of the new release, you can purchase one at Hugo's for Kennedy to sign. Light appetizers will be on-hand, with happy hour cocktails and wines available at the bar. You'll want to bring cash if you're planning on purchasing either books or drinks, though, and bring a thick skin if you plan to challenge the 90-year-old Kennedy's famous wit.