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First Person

The Experience Questionnaire: Pati Jinich

Pati Jinich is the host of Pati’s Mexican Table, a cooking show on PBS. Born and raised in Mexico, she is also the author of two cookbooks, Pati’s Mexican Table: The Secrets of Real Mexican Home Cooking and Mexican Today: New and Rediscovered Recipes for Contemporary Kitchens.

Where do you come up with your best ideas? 
Living in the intersection of different worlds. I am a Mexican living in the U.S. I have one foot here and one foot there. I have been here for 20 years, a fact that only strengthens my roots in Mexico and shines a light on the double culture of the life I lead here in America. The ideas also come from seeing my Mexican heritage from a bit of a distance.

What is the best non-material gift you’ve received?
The attention from my viewers. Knowing so many people invite me into the privacy of their homes fills me with joy and a sense of responsibility.

What is the best non-material gift you’ve given?
Patience and accessibility. Everything I know and learn, I want to share.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
When I moved to the U.S., my English was much worse and my accent was a real issue. It was suggested — over and again — that I take classes and fix the way I spoke. But that was and is who I am. I worked hard to make myself easier to understand, but I never took those classes! Speaking at a recent commencement address, I told the graduates that they should know what they are and are not willing to put on the negotiation table.

If you had to choose a different profession, what would you do?
I would love to sing.

“I told graduates they should know what they are and aren’t willing to put on the negotiation table.”

What is the most useful mistake you’ve made? 
Working in a think tank in Washington, D.C. led me to change careers. Working all the time and getting nothing done was not for me. It was a mistake, but it led me to where I am today.

What’s the strangest experience you’ve had?
When I was a little girl, something strange and scary happened at the beach in Mexico. My mother, sister, and I were in a tiny boat in the open sea when two gigantic whales showed up. They passed so very close to the boat and created large, unexpected waves. I don’t think I have had anything cause me so much panic before or since.

What opportunity do you regret passing up?
I cannot think of one. I always had a strong reason for passing on opportunities. I knew I was right.

How do you relax?
I do well with a hot bath or a slow walk.

If you could go anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go?
Mexico City — I love my hometown and I never tire of it.

What is your most indelible childhood memory?
I am the fourth of four girls. My parents both worked full-time. I did not get that much attention from my parents. I had a babysitter named Sara who I loved so very much. She was an amazing cook. I would do almost anything to spend time with her at the open-air markets, cooking — doing anything, really. I had a unique way of getting out of school to stay home and spend these priceless days with Sara. I would start taking off my clothes, piece by piece, and by the time we got to the bus stop I was undressed and the bus driver was unwilling to wait for me. My memory is of one of these days. I was 5 or 6 years old, sitting on the kitchen counter helping her cut a concha and fill it with refried beans.

When you’re stuck how do you get unstuck?
I seek out a change of scenery — take a walk, sit for a cup of coffee, get out of the kitchen for a bit. I do not dig myself any deeper into the hole of the problem. If nothing else works, I just sleep it off.

What is your proudest moment?
Last year when I won a James Beard award for outstanding TV personality or host. I felt as though I was winning an award for Mexico to have a seat at the international culinary table. I was so very humbled and so proud that I slept with the medal on.

What would you like to experience before you die? 
I would love to meet my great-grandchildren.

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