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August 19, 2014

At Home with Diana Kennedy

Inside the Chili-Filled Kitchen Garden of Mexican Food's Grand Dame

“In 1976 I decided to create a centre for my learning and cooking,” says Diana Kennedy, the 91-year-old doyenne of Mexican cuisine and culture. “I bought some land and gradually built my ecological house.” Quinta Diana in Mexico’s Michoacán state has been the longtime home of the legendary food writer and culinary anthropologist—and following a private lunch and post-prandial stroll through her garden—is explored in today’s film by James Casey, founder of New York-based Swallow Magazine. Kennedy’s publishing career began in 1972 with the epicurean classic, The Cuisines of Mexico, most recently winning a James Beard Award for her 2010 journey into the heart of her adopted country’s eating, Oaxaca al Gusto: An Infinite Gastronomy. Nestled in the verdant hills above the small town of Zitácuaro, the fertile grounds of Kennedy’s home support an embarrassment of riches. Vast selections of meticulously sourced chilies are flanked by numerous edible plants, herbs and fruits, celebrating Mexico’s extreme biodiversity in miniature. “There’s a lot I want to do,” she says. “When I make this place a foundation it will keep my ideas of conservation and sustainability alive.” Plans are afoot to turn the property into the Diana Kennedy Center, a non-profit space housing Kennedy’s vast archives of literature, writing and collecting, a fitting tribute to a life’s work both edible and otherwise.

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La Batalla del Vino

Northern Spain’s Wine-Soaked Region Paints the Town Purple

Every year on June 29, legions of locals and exuberant tourists congregate in the Spanish town of Haro, the wine capital of La Rioja, for the La Batalla del Vino festival. Celebrating el Día de San Pedro [the Day of St. Peter], the crowds douse each other in local red wine. Catalan photographer Coke Bartrina captures this euphoric tradition that was born in the 18th century, when the usual celebratory procession broke into a light-hearted and very wet tinto fight. NOWNESS asked Tarajia Morrell, writer and founder of food blog The Lovage, whose family wine store Morrell & Company has been a New York City institution since 1947, to share her love of Rioja.

Dedicating a day to joyful soaking in wine is no surprise in a country that approaches life’s simple pleasures of eating, drinking and celebrating each festividad with the utmost reverence, and this wine festival is the calendar highlight of Spain’s most treasured wine making region. In Rioja, a love of the land and its produce dominates the culture, Tempranillo and Garnacha commands the grape varietals and conviviality. Deliciously spicy and earthy, Tempranillo is the principal grape used in Rioja, often blended with Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano for balance—for Riserva and Gran Riserva, they are aged in oak barrels, which lends toasty vanilla flavors. Characteristic notes of berries, leather, and tobacco with spices such as nutmeg, clove and cardamon are also prevalent. 

Discovering Tempranillo was a revelation. The thick-skinned, garnet-purple grape exquisitely counterbalances the strong flavor profiles that excite me in terms of eating, and my affinity for La Rioja’s wines grew the more I paired them with my favorite foods. Charred meats and vegetables, strong cheeses and powerful flavors like anchovy highlight the unique balance of acidity, fruit and spices in Rioja wines. My wine philosophy echoes that of my father, Peter Morrell: “Wine brings out the best flavors that food has to offer and compliments and reflects it,” he says, “just as food livens one’s palate to better appreciate wine.” Wines from the Rioja elevate my experience of food as much as food teases out the greatest impact from Rioja wines, and for me, there’s no relationship like one that is better than the sum of its parts. 

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Mario's Meats

Chef Batali Gets Serious About Butchery For His Latest Venture Chi Spacca

Celebrity gourmand Mario Batali explores the sensory frontiers of the nose-to-tail cooking he popularized in the States in today’s film by Alison Chernick, shot on site at Chi Spacca (“cleaver” in Italian) in Los Angeles. The intimate meat emporium is the latest addition to an epicurean empire that includes Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca in New York and Carnevino Italian Steakhouse in Las Vegas. Having just opened its doors this February—helmed by the indefatigable Mozza restaurant trio made up of Nancy Silverton, Joseph Bastianich and Batali himself—Chi Spacca showcases the charcuterie talents of Head Chef and Batali disciple Chad Colby, whose philosophy concerning the preparation of meat chimes with his mentor’s own. Colby became so entranced by Italian salami culture that he developed the first authorized “dry cure” program in LA, a lengthy process involving the addition of salts and other ingredients that can take months or even years, but which results in an array of pungent meats made in house. “What isn’t captured in the video is the wild smells,” recalls Chernick of her experience filming. “I have been enlightened by the science of a good salami, and we can thank Mario for capturing Italian culture and bringing it to us on a platter.”

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