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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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Yannick Alléno: The French Revolution

The Parisian Chef Reimagines Modern Cuisine From the Heights of the Alps

“The rhythm of French cuisine has always been dictated by its jus and its sauces—that’s what its DNA is made of, but it’s time to blur the lines,” says award-winning chef Yannick Alléno, the subject of this new short by French filmmaker Frédéric Guelaff. Heard among the incidental sounds of Alpine winds and feet trudging through snow, Alléno narrates the philosophy behind his relaunch of 1947, the top restaurant at the Cheval Blanc hotel in the winter paradise of Courchevel. The gastronomic créateur recently announced his departure from the prestigious Hôtel Meurice, a Parisian palace for which he earned three Michelin stars, to dedicate himself to this high-altitude culinary refuge designed by interior architect Sybille de Margerie, who dressed the locale in white leather and coriander green finishings. Known for pushing research into taste and texture as far as possible, Alléno's current obsession is “extraction,” a new cooking technique that optimizes flavor beyond compare. The results are advanced foods like truffled bread and essence of smoked parmesan, cooked in a vacuum and followed up with “cryoconcentration” to make a powerful elixir that gives a granulated texture to pure liquid. Is this molecular cuisine at its peak? “Not at all,” he says. “I am just thinking about what modern cuisine should be. Everything is put into question and thought of in a new way.” 

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Mr. Smith Goes to Bangkok

El Bulli-Trained Chef Ian Kittichai Brings Nose-to-Tail Dining to Thailand

Ian Kittichai takes us into the heart of his farm-to-table restaurant, Smith, one of seven different establishments he runs across the world. Since it opened in Bangkok at the end of 2012, Smith has heralded a departure from the modern Thai cuisine of Kittichai’s flagship Issaya Siamese Club, offering up such feature dishes as pork belly glazed with the juice of unripened grapes, or lamb with pomegranate, seaweed jus, pickled mustard and kale. In Giulio di Sturco’s photos, we gain insight into the mechanics behind the operation: while a colleague delicately snips herbs from the restaurant garden, Executive Chef Peter Pitakwong keeps the pass under control, inspecting and subtly tweaking dishes as if he were applying the final flourishes to a sculpture or painting. Kittichai’s TV show Chef Mue Tong (meaning ‘The Golden Hand Chef’) may be shown in over 70 countries, but his formative food experiences were far more humble. His culinary career began as a boy, when he would wake at 3am to help his mother collect goods from Bangkok’s wet market. She would cook curry for her son to sell to hungry locals—“Hot curry coming,” he would cry, while pushing the trolley along the street. He learned his trade during culinary exchanges at some of the best and most progressive restaurants around the world: Hotel Georges V in Paris, The French Laundry in Napa Valley and, most notably, El Bulli in Spain. But despite his western-focused career path, Kittichai remains faithful to the techniques of Thai cooking. “You shouldn’t take shortcuts,” he says. “There is a reason the traditional methods and instructions are there. They work.”

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