Oaxaca al Gusto: An Infinite Gastronomy, and Oaxaca al Gusto: an infinite gastronomy
Reviewed by Claudia Alarcón, Fri., Oct. 15, 2010
Oaxaca al Gusto: An Infinite Gastronomy
by Diana Kennedy
University of Texas Press, 459 pp., $50
When I first saw the original edition of this book, published in Mexico in Spanish, I didn't think there could be any way to top it. But after two years in the hands of the editors at UT Press, the colorful exotic caterpillar has emerged as a monarch butterfly. Oaxaca al Gusto, a book that Kennedy has stated will be her last, is the best book about food I have ever seen. Notice that I avoid calling it a cookbook; that word seems pedestrian when it comes to describing this magnificent tome. This encyclopedic work is the result of five years spent revisiting and rediscovering the foods and culinary customs of one of the most culturally rich states in Mexico. Driving alone in her little old truck over hundreds of miles, Kennedy went from hard-to-reach hamlets in the sierras to remote ocean-side villages to document the hidden, unheralded cuisine of the many ethnic regions of Oaxaca. Just looking at the photographs alone – most of them taken by Kennedy herself – evokes a sense of wonder at the myriad ingredients and preparations previously unknown to most people outside these specific regions. Her curiosity has led Kennedy to become an avid student of botany, and her descriptions and photographs of little-known edible species of plants and flowers are astounding.
Sure, this is a book of recipes, and while some of them can probably be reproduced in American kitchens, the majority of them are really just to read, marvel at, and relish. It is quite possible that many of these ingredients will become extinct in our lifetime, sending the recipes and customs associated with them down a similar path, so the importance of their documentation in this book is not to be taken lightly. If you want a cookbook, look elsewhere and don't embarrass yourself by complaining that the recipes are hard to make. Genuine students of foodways, however, especially those with a predilection for Mexican gastronomy, will be enlightened, challenged, and satisfied by this book for years to come. The culmination of a lifetime's work and dedication, this book sums up Kennedy's priceless culinary legacy beautifully.
Diana Kennedy discusses Oaxaca al Gusto in the Cooking Tent at 2pm Sunday.
Sign up for the Chronicle Cooking newsletter
If you want to submit a recipe, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org