Diana Kennedy's Death Has The Food World Shaken

She might have been born an Englishwoman, but her she made Mexico her home and dedicated her life to shedding light on a special cuisine. Until she came along, the cuisine was better known to American diners for the greasy dishes served up at fast food restaurants. Food writer Diana Kennedy, whose work on Mexican cuisine was as critical to American audiences as Julia Child's was for French cooking, died at her home in Mexico on Sunday. Kennedy's death at the age of 99 was confirmed by her friend Clayton Kirking, and her editor Ana Luisa Anza, per The New York Times. Another friend, Concepción Guadalupe Garza Rodríguez told The Associated Press she had died peacefully at her home which is located 100 miles west of Mexico City. 

According to the outlet, Diana Kennedy was born Diana Southwood on March 3, 1923, in the British county of Essex. Her early years were spent between two World Wars. She'd often recall eating "good food, whole food." She moved to Canada in 1953 and began traveling to the Caribbean. During that time, she also met her husband-to-be, Paul Kennedy, a journalist for The New York Times. 

Diana Kennedy fell in love with Mexican food after she moved there

The couple settled in Mexico after they married in the late 1950s. During that time, Kennedy, who had taken her husband's last name, fell in love with what Mexico had to offer. She told Saveur in 2012 that "The markets really blew my mind. The local markets still are pretty authentic, but at that time they were even more so. It was just the color of everything, and the smells, and all the wild things that I hadn't seen. I simply had to go home and cook them."

But cooking demanded that she at least had an idea of how things were made. Unfortunately, her friends knew as much about preparing traditional Mexican dishes as she did. "'They'd laugh and send me to talk to their maids. The maids would say, 'You have to visit my village', and that's how I started driving all over the country tracking down recipes" she told The Guardian in 2003. And that was no exaggeration. Per The Washington Post, her quest for authentic Mexican cuisine led her to different parts of the country in search of recipes from home cooks, as well as a deeper knowledge of indigenous ingredients.

Diana Kennedy's first book was inspired by cooking classes

Her life was interrupted by tragedy in 1967 when her husband Paul died of cancer. "I was sad and worn from the experience but also needed to earn a living. Craig [Claiborne] got me a job teaching Mexican cooking, which, at the time was almost completely unknown. One of my first students was the woman who was to become my editor. She asked me to turn the class into a book," Kennedy said, per The Guardian.

That book was to become her first book, "The Cuisines of Mexico," which introduces its audiences to the true diversity and depth of Mexican cuisine.  She told The Los Angeles Times that she "was the first one to get people going... things were basically horrible then. The food you'd read about or eat in restaurants — well, there was nothing subtle about it. Everything was fried, and you couldn't discriminate between the flavors or textures from one dish to the next. With my first book, I wanted people to learn about the wonderful things."

Diana Kennedy devoted the last years of her life to sustainable cooking

Kennedy eventually returned to Mexico in 1976, but she continued writing, and she eventually produced other cookbooks, including "The Tortilla Book" (1975), "Mexican Regional Cooking" (1990), and "From My Mexican Kitchen" (2003), per The Los Angeles Times. In her later years, she had turned her home into a sustainable source of ingredients, growing her own organic vegetables and powering her house with solar and wind energy.

For her work in the culinary arts, Kennedy received the Congressional Order of the Aztec Eagle award "for documenting and preserving regional Mexican cuisines," per The Associated Press. Her death was also widely mourned by contemporaries from the culinary world like José Andrés, who said via Twitter: "My friend! She loved Mexico, Mexicans and Mexican cooking like no one! Her books open a window into the soul of Mexico! She gave voice to the many Mexican cooks, specially women. She was my teacher and already miss her. Will cook together one day again!"