Looking south, with flavor

Remember a few weeks ago when we were thinking about what defines “American” cooking?  I don’t think we arrived at any conclusions, but what an interesting conversation!  This week, a cluster of books forced me to recognize that even the term “American” is hard to agree upon.

What prompted this thought was the rapid upsurge of Latino or Latin American cookbooks this summer.  What we consider Latino cooking here in North America is principally influenced by Mexican cooking, and it’s a flowering of kitchen creativity which, I think, can only be just beginning.  

I don’t just mean the more or less yearly offerings from Rick Bayless (as welcome as they are), or the occasional great standards from Diana Kennedy.  These cookbooks are distant, pop descendants of the Nuevo Latino movement dating back to when chef Douglas Rodriguez was a brash young chef, in the 90s, when most Latino and Latina kitchen staff worked brutal hours on the line, or washing dishes.  Today’s books feature fresh, second-generation faces–journalists, restaurateurs, Food Network stars.  Here’s what’s come in just the last week or two:

I have yet to formulate a Grand Unified Theory of these Latino/a cookbooks; indeed, they are so different it would be hard to do so.  But one thing they have in common is a certain disregard for tradition, a light hand with authenticity; an urge to take the moles and enchiladas and salsas into uncharted waters.

Where these pioneers will end up, I don’t know.  But check back in this space in four years and I bet we’ll be able to say we were there at the start of a revolution.

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