Texas Book Festival: Fresh Cookbooks

New titles explore Mexico's diverse culinary legacy

The cooking tent at this weekend's Texas Book Festival is offering up one of the most enticing menus in recent years. The bill of fare includes appearances by a nationally known author, an international culinary star, and several homegrown Texas food experts.

Famous authors such as Michael Ruhlman and Lidia Bastianich won't have any trouble attracting crowds, and the same is probably true for the cooking demo by beloved local chef Jack Gilmore or the appearances by popular lifestyle mavens Kate Payne and Camille Styles over in the Texas tent.

However, the significant works of a couple of lesser-known chefs have captured our attention this year. San Antonio native Adán Medrano kicks things off on Saturday morning demonstrating the distinct differences between Tex-Mex food and Truly Texas Mexican. Then on Sunday, respected Mexican chef and culinary ambassador Margarita Carillo Arronte will prepare dishes from her encyclopedic work Mexico: The Cookbook. In a town that takes Mexican food very seriously, we think these two authors are making "can't miss" presentations.


by Adán Medrano
Texas Tech University Press, 186 pp, $29.95

Chef Medrano had already had several fascinating careers before attending cooking school at the Culinary Institute of America's campus in his native San Antonio. When the former Catholic seminarian, filmmaker, news producer, and international charitable giving consultant settled in Houston in the last decade, he began a serious examination of the cooking of his heritage. That led him to a new career as a chef and lecturer.

Medrano traces his lineage to the indigenous peoples who lived on both sides of the Rio Grande in what Europeans would eventually call Mexico. He grew up eating and cooking the foods of that heritage, recreating dishes and techniques passed down in his family for centuries. Before the publication of his book, he spent years researching the history of his native foods, convinced it was necessary to identify and record a distinct regional cuisine he calls Texas Mexican food. That's exactly what he's done. Truly Texas Mexican offers 100 well-documented recipes that clearly represent the native cuisine of Northern Mexico and South Texas.

Medrano's scholarly discourse brought to mind a time in the Seventies when Tex-Mex food was negatively differentiated from Interior Mexican cuisine by cookbook author Diana Kennedy. Although Medrano does describe Tex-Mex food as being "developed by Anglos for Anglos," his goal is not to denigrate Tex-Mex as a distinct American regional cuisine. Rather, he seeks to establish Texas Mexican food as a separate regional Mexican cuisine, as has been done with foods from Oaxaca, Puebla, or the Yucatan. It's a thought-provoking volume that is a necessary addition to the culinary library of any serious student of the foodways of the Americas. – V.B.W.

Chef Medrano appears in the cooking tent Saturday, Oct. 25, 10-11am.


by Margarita Carrillo Arronte
Phaidon, 704 pp., $49.95

Arronte is an acclaimed chef and restaurateur, culinary ambassador, and cooking teacher in Mexico. Her new book, Mexico: The Cookbook, is possibly the most definitive Mexican cookbook written in English. At a hefty 704 pages, containing 650 recipes from all over the country, and 200 stunning photographs, this may be the most complete collection of authentic Mexican recipes ever assembled between two covers (and wait until you see the ingenious papel picado slipcover).

Arronte has traveled to the most inaccessible corners of the country over a period of decades, interviewing cooks of all types and collecting recipes along the way. It is evident that this cookbook is a labor of love. The book has 14 chapters, including one with contributions from the chefs of the best Mexican restaurants around the world, as well as a very detailed glossary and list of resources. The recipes start with street food and snacks, and progress exhaustively through every category, ending with drinks and desserts. You’ll find all of the familiar recipes included, but you’ll also find scores of dishes you may have never heard of. This is not your typical Mexican menu fare, but the diverse cuisine of a nation of many influences and terrains, with dishes that are both humble and elevated.

Arronte isn’t big on description or introductions, but every recipe is well-written, logically arranged, and easy to follow. The recipe titles are in both English and Spanish, the regions of origin are given, and preparation and cooking times are listed (and valid). I have had no surprises with any of the dishes I’ve cooked from Mexico, except for the unexpected delights my taste buds have experienced. With Mexico: The Cookbook, Arronte has written the seminal sourcebook for Mexican recipes, and more importantly, produced a collection of amazingly complex and delicious dishes. If ever there was a comprehensive bible of Mexican food, this is it. If you know and love Mexican food, you definitely need this cookbook. – M.V.

Margarita Carrillo Arronte appears in the cooking tent Sunday, Oct. 26, 12:30-1:30pm.

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Texas Book Festival 2014, Adan Madrano, Truly Texas Mexican, Margarita Carrillo Arronte, Mexico: The Cookbook

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