No seasoning wimps need show up in the enviable kitchen of Diana Kennedy, the famed cook and British expat who has devoted most of her life to chronicling and conquering Mexican cuisine. And in Elizabeth Carroll’s debut documentary, “Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy,” a group of eager acolytes try not to flinch beneath her gimlet gaze and salt-seeking palate. Kennedy may be pushing her centenary, but her words are as sharp as her flavor profiles.
Having spent six decades traveling far and wide to research Mexico’s regional recipes, Kennedy is still shockingly active. As she cooks and teaches in her solar-powered ranch in the mountains of Michoacán, bouncing to markets along rutted roads in her small truck, her director follows closely and listens to her opine on everything from chiles to having children. Kennedy, tiny and talkative, has a lot of opinions; her director, however, is content to observe and admire.
As are the movie’s interviewees, mainly culinary notables like Alice Waters and José Andrés, who pop up now and then to voice their awe. Non-foodie friends or surviving family (Kennedy, a longtime widow, was married to the New York Times journalist Paul P. Kennedy) are notably absent, as is any hint of romantic partners (though Kennedy’s spicy candor opens doors that Carroll disappointingly declines to walk through).
What remains is a lively and uncritical portrait of a woman as passionate about composting as chilaquiles, one who will pitch a fit if you put garlic in your guacamole. More curious and combative than the movie around her, Kennedy is as much anthropologist as chef, her deep love for her adopted country palpable.
What I wanted, though, was a lot more salt.
Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 22 minutes. Watch on virtual cinemas.