Patricia Quintana Remembered
On November 27, 2018, Patricia Quintana, chef, restaurateur, teacher and tireless promotor of our culinary heritage, died after a lengthy illness; she was in her early ‘70s. The “ambassador of Mexican cuisine” as she was sometimes known, spent her life exploring the posibilites of regional cooking, wrote a number of accessible cookbooks and had an active media presence.
From 2001 to 2013 she ran Izote, a restaurant that was, significantly, one of the first to present Mexican dishes, some lightly creative and other highly traditional, in a contemporary setting. The slick space, located on tony Avenida Presidente Masaryk in Polanco, was simple yet elegant, stripped of any reference to the folklore usually associated with Mexican restaurants both here and abroad. The now common practice of artsy plating was experimental in the early 2000’s—at least in a Mexican context—but Quintana was an early advocate of pretty presentation. She had no qualms about utilizing the superb ingredients she found during her extensive travels throughout the country, tweaking tradition by combining them in interesting new ways—a guacamole drizzled with oil infused with the intensely perfumed vanilla from Papantla comes to mind. She may have been the first to lay hand-formed tortillas made of local corn on a posh dinner table. Rustic and wild ingredients previously categorized as “popular”, i.e. not fit to be seen in a ‘nice’ restaurant, such as quelites (wild greens) and huitlacoche (corn fungus), became not only acceptable but highly appreciated in her kitchen. Her faithful clients, though perhaps more used to eating out in Au Pied du Cochon, loved it.
Quintana’s patrician bearing and classical French culinary training belied a lack of pretension and an intense love of “the real thing”; she bridged and closed the gap that decades of malinchismo had created between down home Mexican cooking and the European standard to which the middle and upper classes aspired. Her work paved the way for at least two generations of young chefs who have continued to revolutionize Mexican gastronomy at home and abroad. Her spirit remains in the Mexican kitchen of today and will be there for years to come.