Like millions of people living in the United States, Pati Jinich immigrated here from Mexico. It was out of deep nostalgia for her home country that her successful TV series, "Pati's Mexican Table," was born. But Jinich wasn't the archetypal Mexican cooking show host. Before her culinary endeavors began, she was a policy analyst at a prestigious D.C. think tank. And she's the granddaughter of Eastern European Jewish refugees.
The show's reception proved skeptical TV execs wrong, as Jinich's wit and charisma grabbed the attention of foodies. Launched in 2007, "Pati's Mexican Table" now airs in Australia, Japan and parts of Southeast Asia, as well as in the U.S.
Truth is the backbone of Jinich's work, which is why she refuses to film the show anywhere other than her personal kitchen. Viewers are privy to the same authentic treatment as a close friend cooking with her.
The Frame guest host John Rabe sat down with Jinich to discuss her career philosophy and her love of Mexico.
On what she felt her show could do that others hadn't accomplished yet:
I really wanted to bring something very authentic and soulful. When I started, ten years ago, I felt that there was no Mexican doing Mexican cooking, from my perspective — which was a Mexican who has moved to the U.S. and is insanely nostalgic for Mexico, and is growing roots in America but continues to strengthen her roots to her home country. And I felt like I could open a window to the true Mexico that I knew, that nurtured me, that welcomed my grandparents — this fascinating place which is very misunderstood in the United States. I thought I could open a window into it and at the same time show how Mexicans and immigrants can enrich the American table.
On the development of her cooking talents:
I dove into Mexican cuisine once I was in the U.S., and because I was applying for the green card I couldn't leave the U.S. for about a year-and-a-half. So it was that nostalgia and that taint of romanticism [for] the tomatillo and the avocado. And that romantic view about my own home country made me appreciate the things I took for granted. I also have benefited from being the granddaughter of immigrants who were incredibly grateful to be accepted into Mexico when they weren't allowed into the U.S. for various reasons. And my grandmothers, who were amazing cooks— one Austrian and the other Polish — [were] from peasant lands that cooked just fish and potatoes. The cooking became so enriched and blessed with Mexican ingredients and techniques. They really were masters in intermarrying what they came with and the things they came from and what they found in the new soil. And they did it beautifully in the kitchen. I am doing the same thing.
On her approach to hosting the show:
I'm completely unscripted. And my role has been executive producer, talent, writer, interpreter, translator, friend, neighbor. I feel like I talk to my audience like I talk to you — to a friend. I'm very honest and I'm very blunt. But I'm very true to being true. That is why I wanted to tape the show in my home kitchen. I'm a really bad liar. When I lie my ears turn really hot and my face turns really red and I start to sweat. So if I was on a set I wouldn't be able to stop laughing because I respect the authenticity of art, and I think there's a risk in showing your true self. And the rewards are that, if what you're doing is liked, then you can continue to walk on the right path. During my career, I was asked to dye my hair, I was asked to take classes to remove my accent, I was asked to not do Mexican food because it's too "ethnic." I was asked to get a dog. At every turn I said, No, no, no, no, no.
On why she chooses to frequently include her sons on the show:
Because it's real, because it's a home kitchen. And because I'm sharing the evolution of a Mexican in the U.S. as she shares her Mexican culture and food. And as she adapts to the U.S. and learns too. I have to tell you that the more that I do this, the humbler I become and the more that I realize how little I know about Mexican cuisine and culture. And how much I need to learn.