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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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Danny Bowien: Mission Chinese

The Culinary Rogue Reveals the Secrets of Chinatown and the Music of Sichuan Cuisine

Sporting his trademark long bleached hair, maverick foodie and Sonic Youth aficionado Danny Bowien shares the kitchen antics at his celebrated Mission Chinese Food restaurant and feasts at his favorite local joint, where he finds inspiration in peppercorn- and beer-braised chicken and pork pancakes, in this new film by Jordan Bahat. The Korean-born, Oklahoma-raised chef has been drawing visitors to his small Chinatown outpost in staggering numbers since it opened in Manhattan last May, placating lines of hungry guests with a keg of free beer. It’s worth the wait: hybrid dishes like Kung Pao pastrami, catfish à la Sichuan seasoned with Old Bay and barbequed pig tails marinated in Coca-Cola have earned him a place at the top of The New York Times critic Pete Wells’ 2012 “Restaurant Triumphs” list. Bowien first gained cred for his signature brand of Chinese-American dishes with a pop-up venture in San Francisco’s Mission District. He picked up his culinary spark working odd restaurant jobs—not in formal training—and happily credits neighborhood haunts like Spicy Village as keys to his success. “Danny really let us in on his process,” said Bahat, who has shot music videos for indie acts including Josh Osho and Grouplove, and chose the sounds of Ducky to accompany this new short. “Danny goes somewhere, orders everything on the menu and then goes home and tries to recreate it. He’s the Mayor of Chinatown.”

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The Carnal Arts

Francis Bacon Inspires a Crimson Portrait of London’s Newman Street Tavern

Photographer Joss McKinley’s depictions of the sinewy foods stored in the underground meat room of London’s Newman Street Tavern chime with some of Francis Bacon’s distorted, blood-red works in today’s juxtaposed series. Bacon’s psychologically charged and carcass-filled canvases reflect on a disadvantaged period in post-war England. The artist saw beauty in the butcher’s shops and abattoirs he visited—a feeling that might be shared by the curious clientele who regularly tiptoe downstairs for a peek into the glass-walled basement of the metropolis’ newest gastronomic destination that is a short walk north from Bacon’s old haunt, Soho. “We try to know as much about where our food comes from as possible and we’re not shy about that,” says Head Chef and Partner Peter Weeden, whose versatile menu offers celebrated seafood dishes such as escabeche of scad alongside carnivorous options like blackface lamb and barley stew. With dry air circulated at a temperature of 36.5-37.4F (2.5-3C), the subterranean room’s contents are reduced to 85 percent of their mass within weeks, intensifying their complex, gamey flavors. The function of the establishment’s hanging meat display is as instructive as it is aesthetic. “We’re a kitchen that makes everything,” explains Weeden. “The meat’s visibility is important so that everyone realizes it’s part of that process.” McKinley’s close-ups evoke the “savage, distressing and historical” qualities he recalls experiencing in the presence of Francis Bacon’s paintings—just in time for Phaidon’s release of a new monograph dedicated to the British artist as part of its Phaidon Focus series. 

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