Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy
- Emma Simmonds
- 27 April 2020
The British cookbook writer and environmental crusader is profiled in a short yet stylish documentary
Although considered one of the authorities on Mexican cuisine, you might be forgiven for not being familiar with British food writer Diana Kennedy. Better known in the US, where she presented her own show on TLC and guested on prominent cookery programmes, Kennedy's clutch of indispensable cookbooks are based on exhaustive research and constant cross-country travelling. Fiercely independent and still feisty in her ninth decade, she's one of life's characters – a gift to documentarian Elizabeth Carroll, making her directorial debut here.
Quintessentially English in her appearance and unaltered accent, Kennedy's six-decade love affair with Mexico represents an invigorating, infectiously positive perspective on a country so often demonised, not least by the American president. Moving there in 1957 with future husband, the New York Times correspondent Paul Kennedy (described as Spencer Tracy-like in his wit and charm), she built a ground-up knowledge of local cuisine from family restaurants, homes and markets. When Paul died in 1966 in New York, Diana began to teach Mexican cookery classes in the city, and her first cookbook was published in 1972.
Named after one of her recipe books, Nothing Fancy is stunningly shot and often striking in its ability to conjure the deliciousness of Diana's dishes and the lushness of her ecologically sustainable Mexican mountain home. However, it's also notable for its missed opportunities; the whole thing comes in at just 73-minutes and there are many obvious chances to expand on anecdotes, probe further and add even more colour to the tale. Several tantalising episodes of Kennedy's life are touched on in a way that's frustratingly fleeting: her work in the Timber Corps during WWII (undertaken, intriguingly, due to her refusal to salute anybody), for example, while the perilousness of her solo journeys is never really explored in a film that seems content to emulate Diana's romantic view of her adopted country.
But Diana herself remains enjoyably uncompromising. As the crotchety, extremely elderly Kennedy delivers crushing critiques to students, swears, and grumbles about plagiarists and having her photograph taken, it's refreshing to see a subject at their worst, not just best. Carroll's visually vibrant approach and her close access to Kennedy is admirable, even if more would have certainly been welcome.
Available to watch on demand from Fri 1 May.