Sunday, April 7, 2013

Grab a Seat at Pati's Mexican Table

Recently Sixth and I, DC's non-denominational synagogue and cultural center, held a series of events for all the foodies in the area.  Beth Kanter, author of Washington, DC's Chef's Table, Equinox's Todd and Ellen Gray, authors of The New Jewish Table, Pati Jinich, host of the PBS Series Pati's Mexican Table and author of a cookbook of the same name, and Mark Russ Federman, author of Russ and Daughters: Reflections and Recipes from the House That Herring Built , all stopped by to share the stories behind their latest written work.

I attended the third event of the series, which welcomed Pati's Mexican Table's Pati Jinich and Washington Post's Food and Travel Editor, Joe Yonan in a discussion around Mexican ingredients and cooking techniques. 

Pati Jinich used each of Joe Yonan's questions as an opportunity to tell an engaging story about her childhood trips to the market, or her first time cooking for her husband, among other topics.

Through these engaging stories, Pati revealed that she wasn't always a good cook, as she initially just loved to eat food, and not cook it. This fact was supported through a play by play of the first meal she cooked for her husband, which resulted in mushy vegetables and burnt meat.

Notes from people she encountered at the grocery store and El Centro's food science program aided in Pati's transformation to the TV show host and cookbook author she is today. 

After these initial jokes about how bad of a cook she used to be, Pati used the rest of the hour long presentation to debunk some myths around Mexican cooking and to share the basics to cooking great Mexican food. When many people first think of Mexican cooking, they often think of people spending their entire day making tamales, and associate Mexican cooking with being super complicated and laborious, but Pati explained that Mexican cooking is really a community activity. After each person does their part to make a certain meal, such as a dozen tamales, the activity really isn't as laborious for each person as it may first seem. 

Pati also discussed how Mexican cooking is very similar to Indian cooking, in that ingredients must be added in layers to bring out the best flavors, noting that you would first toast spices and caramelize onions, and not just throw all the raw ingredients into a pot.

As noted above, the audience quickly learned how much Pati loves telling stories. We also learned of her love in teaching through metaphors, as she compared the use of cumin to the opera. When you add a pinch to a dish, you get a soprano, but when you add too much, you get a bass. 

Additionally, Pati revealed how different the American and Mexican palettes are, admitting that her family often tells her her recipes sound disgusting as Pati describes them over the phone. Don't worry, however, as her family members always love the dishes once they finally try them.

If you would like to try making one of Pati's Mexican dishes, you can visit to order the cookbook, or to view some recipes that were featured on the show. For a list of upcoming events at Sixth & I, visit

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