What a glorious cookbook and memoir. A little larger in size than the average book, which is perfect for the overall layout and presentation of photographs, maps and recipes. Every page is graced with marvelous color photographs, with text pages printed on lighter shades of colorful paper. Chapters are organized by regions with the accompanying recipes that are emblematic of the food and cooking traditions of each. The introductions to the chapters include information, not only about the food, but brief historical overviews of the areas and their unique contributions to culinary traditions. For every recipe in the book Martinez has written a short personal anecdote, often with descriptions of what the finished dish tastes like. The only thing missing from all of this is the aroma of the food, and our being present at the table.
In the introduction he writes about growing up in Austin, Texas and watching cooking programs with his mother. They loved The Two Fat Ladies on BBC, but their favorite show was with Diana Kennedy, the British woman who became known as the doyenne of Mexican cuisine. He thought this British woman and a white man, Rick Bayless, from Oklahoma, “ … got to represent the culinary diversity of Mexico while my Mexican American family tried to enculturate with meatloaf and Chef Boyardee.” Martinez wanted to know as much as they did, and even more about his own background, and to present it from the viewpoint of a Mexican/Mexican-American. In his quest for information he embarked on a “once-in-a-lifetime culinary journey throughout Mexico,” and visited 32 states, 156 cities, and covered 20,000 miles in 586 days. "I ate a lot of amazing food. The 104 dishes you are about to flip through are my favorites. They are recipes that I cook over and over again for myself, friends, and family ... and mean the most to me because every single one of them is connected to a memory--the moment in the trip where I first tasted that dish ... fell in love and knew that it needed to be a part of Mi Cocina."
The introduction is a family history going back to his great-grandfather, who had a dairy farm in Torreón, Mexico, which he sold and then bought a farm south of Austin, Texas. Martinez brings this history forward to his upbringing and credits his mother with forming his own passion for cooking. For her, as for him, a major part of cooking is expressing love for one's family, past and present. However, there is more family history to be found in chapter 6, El Norte, which Martinez calls, "My Origin Story." Chapter One covers all the basics, and some questions: ingredients, equipment; pantry ingredients, with separate sections devoted to chiles, corn and wheat, salsas, condiments and seasonings. Can the recipes be vegetarian? Why salt and so much of it? The value of lard and how to use it. There are essential, irrefutable recipes that are part of this chapter. And then, chapters 2 - 8 takes us on the great culinary journey through the regions of Mexico.
In this beautiful book that presents so many luscious and varied recipes, Rick Martinez has achieved more than researching his cultural and culinary identity. He has joyfully shared his journey and recipes with all of us.
As a footnote, I will add that Rick Martinez's curiosity about all good things to eat extends to many different types of cuisines, which can be found on his website, and has many links, including one to his regular podcasts.