September 17, 2020  (Web Review)

Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy

(2019) 74 min. DVD: $19.95. Kino Lorber (avail from most distributors). Closed captioned.

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

Called the “Julia Child,” “Mick Jagger,” and “Indiana Jones” of Mexican cuisine, then-95-year-old Diana Kennedy—a white British woman who is a culinary legend—is the subject of filmmaker Elizabeth Carroll’s amiable and intimate portrait. Living in her ecologically friendly hacienda on an eight-acre spread in Michoacán, Mexico, Kennedy is seen here roasting coffee beans (slowly turning a handle on the pot for 20-30 minutes; radio or TV background recommended), making guacamole (no garlic, never blend the avocado), and hosting a cooking class attended by several U.S. chefs. Kennedy was the star of a TV series on Mexican cooking and she has authored eight cookbooks, including the titular 1984 tome Nothing Fancy. Carroll traces Kennedy’s history of coming to Mexico with her husband and one love of her life, Paul Kennedy (who died in 1967), where she became fascinated with Mexican food, traveling all over the country to collect recipes (crediting every person she learned from in her books). Kennedy is a most remarkably ambulatory nonagenarian, driving a Nissan truck everywhere (and cursing bad drivers), as well as trampling on foot through fields. She has a reputation for blunt talk, falling somewhere on the scale between highly opinionated and downright cranky (some of this seems to be encouraged for the camera, especially during a photo session late in the film that comes across as somewhat performative). In addition to Kennedy’s direct comments, the film features interviews with admirers (including Alice Waters and Craig Claiborne), as well as archival stills and footage (with a charming sequence in which Kennedy makes tamales with Martha Stewart). All in all, this is a highly inspirational and entertaining profile of an incredible woman who has been instrumental in bringing authentic regional Mexican cooking to worldwide audiences. Recommended. Aud: C, P. (R. Pitman)