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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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Shanghai Saloon

A Former US Cop Channels the Prohibition Era at a Cocktail Bar in China

The only elements that distinguish Senator Saloon from a 1920s speakeasy are its Shanghai address and Chinese staff—everything else is a faithful replica, from the thick velvet curtains concealing the interior from inquiring eyes outside, to the dark wooden paneling and red velvet flocked wallpaper and pressed tin roof imported straight from Texas. A collaboration between two Shanghai restaurateurs and American former police officer David Schroeder, Senator has quickly emerged as one of the expat community’s favorite watering holes, despite its being just shy of its first birthday. Schroeder left the force and relocated from Oregon last year to open the bar, and his passion for cocktails is rivaled only by his extensive knowledge on the subject. You can ask him anything about bitters, for instance, which he has laid out on the bar with labels facing the patrons to encourage conversation. Although his former career might seem at odds with his current job, Schroeder believes his law enforcement background provided important preparation. “As a police officer, the most important thing I learned was how to deal with people,” he says. “The ability to communicate across a broad spectrum is a huge element of both jobs.” 

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