“I can’t be of much use here anymore. All I can think about is food.” With that, Pati Jinich left a promising career in political analysis at a Washington, D.C.-based think-tank to become a chef.
She hasn’t regretted the decision. In the 12 years since, Mexican-born Jinich, now 44, has prepared a Cinco de Mayo meal at the White House, published two cookbooks, taught dozens of classes at the Mexican Cultural Institute, and hosted five seasons of her popular Emmy- and James Beard-nominated cooking show, Pati’s Mexican Table. Sharing her love for food has helped her achieve a longstanding dream of contributing to Mexico. By highlighting Mexican dishes and traditions, she is bringing together the cultures of her homeland and her adopted country. “I have really tried to open a door to Mexican culture,” she told AQ.
As Jinich’s TV show demonstrates, her work isn’t just about the recipes. As she prepares the meals, she discusses the rich history and legends behind the ingredients and techniques she uses, often going to great lengths — and to little-known regions of Mexico — to find the story behind the food. Jinich conducts her research in both countries, acting as an information bridge for recipes Mexicans in the U.S. crave. A third-generation Mexican-American once wrote to Jinich lamenting that her grandmother, who made the best galletas de cochinito — pig-shaped cookies made with piloncillo (pure, unrefined sugar) characteristic of Mexico’s countryside — had passed away without sharing the family recipe. It took Jinich nine months and a chance encounter with a woman selling the “piggie cookies” at a gas station on the road to Jalisco to find a similar recipe to showcase on both her website and an episode of her show.
Like the cookies, roughly half the recipes Jinich creates on her show are the result of 10 to 15 weekly requests she receives from viewers. Jinich believes the special value of what she does lies not only in connecting Mexican-Americans to their roots, but in showing a U.S. audience what Mexicans can bring to the table.
“There’s so much beauty in (opening ourselves up to other cultures), and food is an obvious way to show that.”
Krygier is an editorial intern for AQ.