Pati Jinich’s flavors of Mexico

Pati Jinich. Photo by Jennifer Chase.

Growing up in Mexico City, celebrity chef Pati Jinich said she found that food was at the center of all cultural events and at the heart of every home and every famly.

Now 50 and a resident of Chevy Chase, Jinich’s journey has led her across Mexico and the United States, learning about and educating others on Mexican cooking. She’s cooked for neighbors, TV cameras and tourists. Now an accomplished chef, cookbook author and TV personality, Jinich’s humbler roots generally kept her passion for food as a hobby.

While Jinich’s three older sisters found their way into the culinary arts, their youngest sibling pursued a different path. Wanting to pay tribute to her Latin American roots, Jinich joined the Inter-American Dialogue Institute as a political analyst in Washington, D.C. “I don’t care that much about politics but I wanted to contribute to my community,” Jinich said.

Yet Jinich grew frustrated in her role. “I started to get worried when I found I wasn’t interested in the project I was working on,” she said.

Jinich’s goals weren’t the only thing shifting. She found the American palate was evolving right before her eyes. In the early 2000s, Jinich said there weren’t many authentic Mexican ingredients or classes readily available to the American public, yet Mexican food was becoming mainstream.

Jinich recognized this cultural shift as the area in which she could make her impact. “I felt that food was a medium without much explanation that could show what Mexicans looked like,” she said. “It could show that Mexican culture can enrich the lives of any country.” She began a Mexican recipe blog that would be the lynchpin to her culinary career’s success.

Catching the eye of PBS producers, her show “Pati’s Mexican Table” premiered in 2011 and took viewers on a whirlwind tour of Mexico’s different regions, showcasing local delicacies along the way. In another medium, Jinich pitched her cookbook to 39 publishers before it was finally greenlit and published in 2013.

At first, Jinich took audiences to the areas she knew, allowing her to share her cultural identity with the world. Now entering its 11th season, the show takes viewers to regions Jinich has never been before, such as the sprawling northeastern border state Nuevo León.

The audience learns with her as she explores each location. “I realized how little I knew about the home country I missed so much,” she said. “We’re in it together.”

The chef’s other program, “La Frontera,” explores the cuisine on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. The program, which was originally designed as a four-hour special, has since been extended into multiple, in-depth episodes. “It turned out to be really great,” Jinich said. “La Frontera’s” next venture lies along the Californian section of the border.

Jinich’s favorite meal of the day is breakfast, particularly if eggs are involved. “I am obsessed with eggs,” she said, noting how versatile they can be. She went on to say her favorite meal to make is anything she’s cooking with her sons.

As for kitchen advice, Jinich says the most common mistake is people don’t give themselves enough time to cook. Either they begin when they’re already hungry or don’t read the recipe through before diving in, effectively ignoring the prep work. “

Read your recipe through at least once,” she said. “Give yourself time and realize what you need.”

She concurred the same advice can be interpreted for life.


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