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Diana Kennedy Day or What Happpens When Some of Your Dreams Come True

IMG_7067 Our fiesta for Diana Kennedy took place on Saturday and I'm happy to report it went off without a hitch. You need to understand that this wasn't just any event for me. Like most of the people who have read Kennedy's books over the years, I felt I had a personal relationship with the author and the colorful charachters she meets in her travels throughout Mexico. This doesn't happen often with a traditional cookbook, but when it does, there's a bond like no other. Kennedy came of age in an era that gave us Julia Child, Paula Wolfert and Marcella Hazan. These women wrote without compromise and their books were concerned with documenting some of the greatest cuisines in the world, not figuring out how to make it easy for the home cook. You can use any of their older books today without embarresment. So many of today's cookbooks are disposable and not much more than extended magazine articles. Sorry! I'm on a tangent, aren't I? Anyway, many years ago I was in-between jobs and very poor and my happiness was cooking from The Essential Cuisines of Mexico and The Art of Mexican Cooking and discovering Mexican food. The recipes were clear and precise and I felt like a wizard as I fed my friends and now, many years later, I'm hosting a party for Diana Kennedy. Life is funny sometimes and as I often say, I'm the luckiest fellow on the planet. DSCN0333 DSCN0331 Diana arrived with her friend Karen Waikiki from Primavera and El Molino Central. We had a nice reunion in my office and then I whisked Diana to her table where we had 70 copies of Oaxaca al Gusto. The party started at 2 pm but fans started coming at noon. By two, the place was getting filled but you could still easily get a glass of red or white from Amelia Ceja and Ceja Vineyards or a nice shot of Encantado mezcal. For food, we found a local Oaxacan woman who made us Oaxacan mole tamales. We also were lucky enough to find that Taylor and Toponia from the Fatted Calf were huge Kennedy fans and they made the beef chorizo and two bean dishes from her book. We used our Alubia Blancos from the Rancho Gordo-Xoxoc Project for her Stewed White Beans recipe and they were a huge hit. We served them in clay cazuelas heated by sterno cans surrouonded by bricks. We hope to be offering them on the website soon, especially since they're very similar to our elusive Marrow beans. IMG_4554 IMG_4557 Lucy Gore, another local food icon, made the best chilied peanuts and we'll post the recipe here later. For me, they remind me of sitting on the square in Oaxaca and having a cold beer. You're always served these spicy devils. Susan, our operations manager, made a big jug of jamaica agua fresca. Carrie Brown arrived later in the afternoon with some gorgeous pan de muerto from the Oaxacan cooks at her Jimtown store. IMG_4561 IMG_4562 Diana signed books and we were sold out an hour and a half into it. We had some other book of hers to sell but we finally had her sign bookplates for future books. I was there when she met three adorable older women who it turns out were from Oaxaca and had driven from Sacramento to meet Diana. Diana told them they should be very proud of their cusine and you could feel the pride and passion coming from the women. It was a very private moment that I'm glad I got to witness! There were many others in what turned out to be an emotional afternoon. DSCN0336 DSCN0339 IMG_4559 IMG_7005 IMG_7009 At one point, I had to break things up and make a presentation. First I introduced our mayor here in Napa, Jill Techel, who presented Diana with a plaque and declared it Diana Kennedy Day in Napa. She'd done a lot of research and really seemed to understand DK's importance. Then Diana spoke briefly and the room just soaked it all up. We then had the Napa Language Academy's grammer school Ballet Folklorico program offer Diana three lovely dances that made all the grown ups weak in the knees. These kids were beyond cute. Between the mayor and the kiddies and Diana Kennedy "in my home", I was on the verge of tears all afternoon. Years and years of having Mexican food be "my thing" and convincing my friends one by one that it went beyond burritos and nachos were washed away by this huge crowd paying tribute to what was once precious and special and now understood by so many. It was just great. DSCN0347 IMG_7043 DSCN0343 DSCN0342 IMG_7055 IMG_7046 IMG_7065a At one point I looked around Rancho Gordo and noticed Claudia Sansome, who had just co-written Michael Chiarello's new book. I also saw Eric Tucker from the incredible Millennium restaurant in San Francisco, a lot of the parents of the dancers, some migrant farmworkers, the mayor of Napa, my neighbors here on Yajamoe street, old friends from the farmers market and the norteño musicians who played throughout the party. How often do all of these kinds of people get together in the same room? How great that Diana Kennedy and Mexican cuisine would bring this crowd together without any self-conciousness or awkwardness. This is the real spirit of what Diana Kennedy brings to the table. What more could you ask for? DSCN0346 I'd lilke to thank all the guests who came (we estimate over 250!), Amelia Ceja and Ceja Winery, Pamela Hunter and Carl Doumani for Encantado, Christine Vitale for finding the good music, Charlene Welling for being our mezcalera, Taylor, Toponia and all the stafff at The Fatted Calf, the Napa Language Academy, Colleen Devine from University of Texas Press, Geln Fishman for being DK's assistant as she signed books, Lucy Gore for her out-of-this-world Oaxacan peanuts, Mayor Jill Techel, L. Pierce Carson and Sasha Paulsen of the Napa Register, Carrie Brown of the Jimtown Store for the marigolds and pan de muerte and of course my wonderful staff at Rancho Gordo. Did I mention Diana Kennedy? Oops. I think you're all grand! The photos were by Carrie Brown and Susan Sanchez

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