Before there was Patricia Jinich, there was Patricia Quintana.
The other day, searching for a particular recipe – shrimp tacos like the ones I ate in Veracruz once upon a time – Patricia Quintana’s name came up. Ah yes, her I remembered. Sad to say, she passed away in 2018 of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. And the obituary mentioned that earlier in her life she’d been in a car accident, which damaged her spine. I immediately felt a shiver of recognition, because a car accident also damaged my spine.
But despite a painful year of being bedridden and facing a divorce, she stepped out of tragedy and kept on going.
Chef Quintana attended L’École Lenôtre in Paris, taught by such greats as Paul Bocuse and others. After that she wore a white chef’s jacket with pride as she strode onto the stage of Mexican cuisine via her cooking school, her restaurant Izote, and her food products business which she called Gavilla. This intense championing of Mexican cuisine influenced a UNESCO “Intangible Heritage” label bestowed on the cuisines of Mexico.
Kitchen space in Mexico has always revolved around women cooks, yes, but as for chefs, that’s another story. Men, not women, claimed the professional title of chef, with the respect given to professionals, which women were not considered to be.
Her books caught my attention early on in her career, but Diana Kennedy soon overtook Chef Quintana in the food media of the times. Nonetheless, Chef Quintana trained a number young male American chefs whose names became household words – Stephan Pyles and Mark Miller and others – at least among people who knew food, and especially the glorious food of the American Southwest.
A chef who happened to be a woman in a culture entrenched in machismo, Patricia Quintana wrote a few dozen books about Mexican cuisine. Two of these I owned before – in a flurry of shedding books like a snake sheds it skin – I chose to donate them to a nearby community college’s culinary school.
One took me on an exhilarating journey through Mexico’s vibrant and varied cuisines.
And the other informed some of the writing I once did on Mexican feast days, following the Catholic liturgical year as they do.
What about those shrimp tacos?
I found what I wanted. And I also discovered another of Chef Quintana’s books.
*Note: This month of Women’s History, I’m featuring several women whose names might be fading in the flurry of food-related social media and the extreme focus on the so-called “influencers.”