Passing the Torch
While some may be saddened by Marilyn Tausend's death this past weekend, I can't help but be happy that she died in the country she loved, attempting one last time to lead a Culinary Adventure. In her mid-80s and not in the best of health, some would have admonished her not to take the trip but she was one stubborn woman. This I can attest to after a 20-year working relationship.
There are a lot of stories that will be shared about Marilyn and her road that led her to travel throughout Mexico, bringing foodies and chefs there to learn about the culture and more importantly, the cuisines of Mexico. Food has been in Marilyn's DNA since she traveled with her father from field to field as he brokered fruit and vegetables. While he bargained, the women in the field took her aside and fed her. It's there that she began her deep connection to honest, clean, Mexican food.
Marilyn and her husband, Fred or Fredric as she called him, traveled a great deal, especially to Spain and to Mexico. On one of those trips in the state of Michoacán, Fred walked up to Diana Kennedy's home and knocked on her door. If you know Diana, that's something of a risk. He convinced Diana to let them in and they discussed Mexico, food, the environment and opera. And it was through this meeting that the idea of Culinary Adventures was formulated. Meeting Diana at her house is a memory I will never forget.
Then there is the time when Marilyn and Fred knocked on Rick Bayless's restaurant door in Chicago on a day it was closed and he happened to be there and answered the door. Fred did what he does best, talked his way into meeting Rick. Since that meeting so many years ago, Rick and Marilyn have had a long-standing commitment to share the foods of Mexico. Culinary Adventures led the way, planning trips for foodies, chefs and the staff of Rick and Deann’s restaurants. Rick and Marilyn also teamed with the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) and Culinary Institute of America (CIA) to bring many of the cooks and chefs they have met through their travels throughout Mexico, to the CIA's Food Festivals and travel programs, and IACP's conferences and tours. Both Rick and Marilyn have written many cookbooks that share their love of Mexican food and both have served as great ambassadors for Mexican cuisine.
It is through Marilyn's eldest daughter, Lisa, that I became part of Culinary Adventures when her husband, Rich bought my dinner at a school auction. They brought Fred and Marilyn to my house for the dinner and Marilyn had just won the Julia Child award for her Cocina de la Familia cookbook. After listening to what Marilyn did on her trips, I asked her who helped her locally and she didn't have anyone. I mentioned if she needed help, that I would be happy to help her.
Lisa encouraged her to say yes and so began my Culinary Adventure. Marilyn introduced me to everything Mexican, the culture, the people and the food. Fortunately, Ane Elena Martinez was starting with Culinary Adventures at the same time, so we learned the business together, she in Puebla, and me in Gig Harbor. At the time, Marilyn was taking people to Mexico about 4 times per year and I would go on the February trip that Rick lead. I have met so many people through this association, including chefs, foodies and people who have become good friends. That's the gift of Culinary Adventures, you meet great people who want to learn about the culture and cuisines of Mexico.
Marilyn, Ane Elena and I grew together as we introduced modern technology to her company, and expanded Marilyn's foray into social media. With the beautiful photography of our friend Nacho Urquiza, we created a website, joined the modern world of Facebook but Twitter was off the table. Marilyn just didn't see the point. She managed to use the computer for basic needs, but the cell phone, I can’t tell you how many times we showed her how to dial Ane Elena’s number. And the TV remote – impossible. She edited copy with her pen or a pencil, her cat Cleo either on top of her papers on the kitchen table where she worked or nearby on the floor.
As the number of trips expanded, Marilyn often sought to find new areas to explore and through this, I and the others who ventured forth on her culinary trips, expanded our own knowledge of Mexico. Marilyn's trips always combined culture, history and food, combining local cooks with professional chefs. Marilyn was a bit of a history buff and loved researching the backgrounds of some of our trips, especially the Ruta de Cortes trip. We followed, as best we could, the route Cortes traveled from Veracruz to Mexico City following the curvy roads of Veracruz, to rain washed roads in the mountains that felt like we were on some kind of Disney ride. It had to be authentic she kept telling us. Some of us questioned the need to be that authentic.
There are people I met through Marilyn that will always hold a special place in my heart. My love of chocolate was shared with the late Elaine Gonzalez, chocolatier extraordinaire. I loved traveling with her. She was quite the story teller and Marilyn often was puzzled at the laughter emanating from where Ane Elena, Elaine and I sat huddled in the van. It was on a trip to Tabasco with Elaine that I first saw cacao and how it was grown, picked, and processed. So many people idolized Elaine there and in Oaxaca. It's not often you see someone being greeted with dozens of roses when she steps off the plane.
And in Oaxaca, Marilyn's deep affection for the Mendoza family was shared through the many stories and recipes she compiled in her cookbooks. She shared weddings, births and even deaths with the family over the years that she and Fred stayed in Oaxaca, and often with the Baylesses during Christmas. Mary Jane Gagnier, Susana Trilling with Seasons of My Heart Cooking School, the Cabrera family (Las Bugambilias and La Olla), are others in Oaxaca that I met through Marilyn. Many of whom I still see when I take people to Oaxaca. I can only hope that Marilyn is happy that Ana Elena and I still share the places she loved with others. And yes, Marilyn, we still sit together.
Many of the chefs that I met, I spoke only through emails or on the phone but I know that for them, Culinary Adventure's Chef's Trips were often life changing as she and Rick envisioned. The connections and demonstrations with Mexican chefs such as Ricardo Muñoz, Roberto Santibanez, Fanny Gerson, Josefina Santacruz, Pilar Cabrera, Patricia Quintana, Federico López, Jaír Tellez, Gabriela Camara, Martha Ortiz, Jorge Vallejo, Pedro Abascal, Roberto Solis, MaDolores Torres, Silvio Campos, Raquel Torres, Yolanda Ramos, Monica Mastretta, Gerardo Vazquez Lugo and Margarito Carillo changed the way they prepared food in their restaurants.
Always a political activist (though politics and religion were forbidden topics in the vans on our trips), she joined the Board of Directors for the International Association of Culinary Professionals, served on the committee to evaluate new cookbooks (that was fun, all those books to comb through!) and served as a mentor to many young chefs. She was a supporter of Emily’s lists and often would hold small parties for local politicians, including a former governor or two. My favorite story was hearing about her time on Bobby Kennedy’s trip to Seattle where he jumped a fence to go play basketball with some young boys.
Her first cookbook, Mexico the Beautiful was written with Susanna Palazuelos, whose home we visited in Acapulco which is another great memory, as was the dinner at her son's restaurant on the water. Her second cookbook, she spent many months traveling throughout the United States visiting with Mexican/Americans to gather their recipes for Cocina de la Familia. Savoring Mexico was my first cookbook that I and my friend Sue Goldberg tested recipes for and it was this book that broadened my knowledge of cooking with Mexican ingredients. Then came Mexican for the Williams Sonoma Collection, and her last cookbook, La Cocina Mexicana: Many Cultures, One Cuisine. She had an idea of yet another cookbook but for her last effort, which took several years, she spent untold hours editing the English translation of her special friend, Chef Ricardo Munoz's Diccionario Enciclopédico de la Gastronomía Mexicana by the University of Texas Press at Austin. Finishing the translation was an important focus of her last few years. It's too bad that she did not see it published.
Others I hold dear are Michael Coon whom we met and worked with through the CIA and Chef Roberto Santibanez, who often led tours with us and taught at many chef's trips. Nacho and his beautiful wife, Laura held a special place in Marilyn’s heart and through her they have become my friends as well. But the one most important relationship I owe to Marilyn is my deep friendship with my compadre, Ane Elena Martinez for whom we share not only memories of Culinary Adventures but now through Bellissima Art Escapes, we are creating new converts to Mexico through art, food and culture. You opened the door, Marilyn to Mexico and through that many of us have made enduring friendships and grew to love Mexico as much as you did.
Like Marilyn, I started my company later in life and I could not have done this without my experience at Culinary Adventures. For that, Marilyn, I thank you, and to your family, my deepest condolences. May you continue reading your beloved cookbooks and plant catalogs in your new venture.