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Chefs, cookbook writers, and food critics are mourning the death of Diana Kennedy, a pioneer who shepherded the techniques and tastes of Mexican cuisine to the English-speaking world. Kennedy closely observed and catalogued the craft of Mexican cooking over decades of living in every state in the country, indexing her rigorous study in a canon of cookbooks that remain crucial references for cooks worldwide. She died on Sunday at the age of 99.

Many who crossed paths with Kennedy are reflecting on her enormous legacy, remembering her as sharp-witted, stubborn, and almost biblically devoted to accuracy. Cutting corners was not in her vocabulary.

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Chef José Andrés, a close friend and admirer of Kennedy’s, told Bon Appétit she was a “window into the soul of Mexican cooking to me and so many others.”

“To be one of the world’s greatest authorities on any topic is to be admired, but to do it so fearlessly with her unapologetic independence, yet at the same time lifting up the voices of those around her and sharing her wisdom generously with anyone who sought it…That was the one and only Diana Kennedy!” He wrote in an email. His time spent cooking with Kennedy inspired many dishes at Oyamel, his Mexican restaurant. “I know I join many in the culinary world who will miss her incredible spirit.”

Contramar chef Gabriela Cámara, another close friend of Kennedy’s, told The LA Times that Americans found “the biodiversity and cultural diversity of Mexico” a surprise. “She was the first person to write in English about the diversity of Mexican food, so she deserves that honor.”

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On Twitter, critics and chefs wrote tributes to her charm and boisterous personality. New York Times food critic Tejal Rao tweeted that she met Diana Kennedy a few years ago for the first time. Kennedy was “absolutely ferocious, devastatingly funny.”

“A great raconteur, she was warm, feisty, opinionated, cantankerous at times, but always witty and interesting,” tweeted activist and TV personality Padma Lakshmi.

Chef Pim Techamuanvivit remembered meeting Kennedy at a “fancy Euro food festival” in Copenhagen. “She spoke up about how ridiculous those fancy chefs talk about sustainability when they’re so wasteful with their little brunoise of vegetables and the plastic sous vide bags and all the ridiculous foam of this and spit of that,” Techamuanvivit tweeted. “Cook your food,” Kennedy advised her.

LA Times food columnist Ben Mims recalled Kennedy deeming him “the one who ruined my recipes with kosher salt,” after he’d adapted four of her recipes for a story in Saveur in 2012. Kennedy explained that she harvested her own sea salt from the ocean, and expressed distaste for using kosher salt as a substitute.

“I remember, for some reason, being charmed by this and not offended in the slightest,” Mims wrote in an email to BA. Her words have stayed with him ever since. They taught him to cover others’ cooking “as authentically as possible, or else you're missing the whole point.”

Mims met her at a showing for Nothing Fancy, a documentary about Kennedy, in 2019. When he reminded her of the salt debacle, she responded: “I'm still mad about that, but you seem not afraid to face me after that, so I respect you for it.”

“To this day,” Mims told BA, “it's still the best compliment I've ever received.”

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