Host of the public television series Pati's Mexican Table, which premiered nationwide in April 2011, cooking teacher, food writer and official Chef of the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington, DC, Patricia Jinich was born and raised in Mexico City. After moving to the States, Pati served as a political analyst and completed a Masters degree in Latin American Studies at Georgetown University, but left her policy work to pursue her lifelong passions: researching, writing about, testing and cooking Mexican food.
Having appeared as a guest on The Food Network, NBC's The Today Show, CBS, CNN en Español, ABC's The Chew, FOX News, NPR and The Splendid Table, she recently returned to television for the second season of her show. We recently sat down with Jinich to talk all things Latin food, but if you want to see more of Pati Jinich doing what she does best, tune into her show Pati's Mexican Table, now airing on local PBS stations.
Dish you crave from your abuela:
It depends which abuela! On my mom’s side, my grandmother made the most fabulous, simple and elegantly roasted chicken and duck, with just the right amount of seasoning, moist meat and the crispiest skin. On my dad’s side, what I crave the most from her, that she doesn’t make anymore, is her tasty, down to earth, humble and filling grated potato and onion cazuela.
Secret ingredient to make a dish pop:
Tajín!!! It’s been in our pantry since I was growing up in Mexico City. It sparks up everything it touches. It has a combination of five different dried chiles that are finely ground and mixed with dehydrated lime. I use it on fresh cut fruits (and pack it for my boys on their lunch boxes), corn on the cob, salads, rice, grilled chicken… and it does magic to drinks when you use it to rim glasses. And it is all natural: chiles and lime, no sugar, nothing added.
Favorite Latin restaurant in the U.S.:
Before I answer I need to go and try so many more restaurants by myself... My family doesn’t help much here. Since I mostly cook Mexican at home, when I travel with my family my boys always beg for Chinese or Italian!
Favorite Latin restaurant in the world:
Well, you can’t expect me to say one! And they are all in Mexico. In Mexico City: El Cardenal, Contramar, and El Bajío are restaurants I hanker for the moment I think of going back. For food from Puebla, el Mural de los Poblanos in the city of Puebla: it is insanely good.
Favorite city to eat:
Mexico City, hands down.
Secret to a perfect dinner party:
Don’t stress about little details but don’t leave everything for last minute! I find that when I make a conscious effort to plan ahead a little bit and think of a menu and jump start on some of the dishes -for example making a dessert or a vinaigrette that taste better when made ahead like a Tres Leches cake or a Hibiscus Flower vinaigrette - then I am much more relaxed and can enjoy it much more. For me, it always holds true that if I am relaxed, our guests do the same and feel at home.
Biggest food indulgence:
Oh boy. You ask tough questions. I will give you one for daytime and one for nighttime. For nighttime, chocolate for sure! Bittersweet. On it’s own or covering caramel, marshmallows or raspberry filling. I savor it even more if it is cold. For daytime, I can’t resist Mexican ripe avocados . Slathered on toast, in warm corn tortillas, on the side of eggs prepared in so many ways, I even eat it by the halves with coarse sea salt on top. But they have to be ripe, so I always buy some green to have in my arsenal. Both chocolate and avocado always feel like indulgences to me.
I have a thing for freshly cooked Chayote Squash . Simply boiled al dente, sliced, rubbed with unsalted butter and sprinkled with a bit of salt. Or sliced and with a light vinaigrette. Or stuffed a la Mexicana and grated with cheese.
Best food memory:
I have so many… but one that always pops up is making Tortas with my family. Growing up we used to go on the weekends to a small country town called Valle de Bravo. My dad would buy lots of cold cuts, cheeses, Mexican cream, country style pates, avocado and tomato at the market. We’d bring homemade refried beans and pickled chiles from home. When we arrived in Valle, starved and eager, we’d set it all on the table and everyone assembled their own Torta. It was a true Torta feast! The best Tortas were always those prepared by my dad, so many times we delegated to him on the second round, which of course made him so proud.
Ideal breakfast, lunch and dinner
For breakfast, anything with eggs. Especially when sauced and a runny yolk.
My favorite home- style meal of all time whereas for lunch or dinner is crispy chicken milanesa, mashed potatoes and one or another kind of cold and pickled vegetable salad. Chipotles in Adobo on the side or on the potatoes top it off.
Favorite Latin cocktail:
I have two. A cucumber Martini I tasted for the first time in Puebla or a Tamarind Martini I whip up with Tajín on the rim,
Favorite kitchen gadget:
Again, two. My blender no doubt. And my lime squeezer.
Perfect song to cook to:
Oh, not one… Shakira, Miguel Bose, Alex Syntek, Chambao, Madredeus. Anything Adam Levine.
Most adventurous food you eat:
Hm…. There are few things I would not try if I had the opportunity.
Mexican – Italian.
Tip for at-home cooks:
Try to bring in a new ingredient, a new dish every once in a while. Cooking is so much more fun when you are adventurous and open to new ideas.