"Tilt your head to eat it, don't tilt the taco."
After an initial chat with the perky host of Pati's Mexican Table, we'd decided that Pati Jinich was just too nice to make us feel bad for asking a question that could seem rather silly to a Mexican mother of three who has a family taco at least once a week.
"Is it possible to eat a taco neatly, or should people just give in and enjoy the mess?"
"My husband is the most neat eater in the world... and even he knows to enjoy a bit of the mess. If you want the least mess possible, you have to remember this: once the taco is assembled, tilt your head to eat it, don't tilt the taco!" Pati explains.
Pati Jinich is a surprise. In a time when popular food shows often involve cut-throat competition, she's become a success through being nice. Yep, just straightforward nice. Perky. Happy. But those who might be tempted to think that sounds boring - or that she's just a woman with a wonderful smile and a charming accent who's good at projecting a passion for food - would be wrong. Pati, who was born and raised in Mexico before moving to the United States with her husband, was once a political analyst, and has a master's degree in Latin American Studies.
So how the heck does someone with a political background end up hosting a TV show and writing cookbooks (her latest book, Mexican Today, was published last year)?
While the transition from politics to cooking was apparently terrifying but eventually irresistible (read more at her website about how she was always "obsessively thinking about food" before taking the plunge), it's not surprising given the family she grew up in.
"My family is a bunch of food maniacs. My dad runs a restaurant. My older sister runs a restaurant. My next sister has a restaurant. My next sister is the most fabulous vegan cook and my mom is an extraordinary cook. I’m just trying to keep up," she says in the show.
She's doing okay: Pati's Mexican Table was nominated in the James Beard Awards last year, and also garnered two Daytime Emmy nominations.
Ahead of the show's arrival on Food Network Australia, we grabbed her for a across-the-globe chat about tacos, tortillas and partying, Mexican-style.
You can use any tortilla - except when you can't
When should corn tortillas be used and when should wheat ("flour") tortillas be used?
"You can use them interchangeably, the only exception generally made in Mexican cooking, and I am very serious about, is no flour tortillas for enchiladas. NEVER. They get very soggy, lose their charm and dignity and just can't withhold the sauce.
"A very important thing when using either corn or flour, is that they should be heated properly. That is, in a large skillet or griddle or comal, already set over medium heat for a few minutes so it is nice and hot, and heat tortillas in a single layer, flip after like 40 seconds or a minute once they lightly brown a bit and repeat on other side. Once hot, tortillas can be wrapped in a kitchen towel. Tortillas don't like to be heated stacked on a pile in an oven or microwave. They get mushy."
For those who haven't been lucky enough to pick up a tortillero (a tortilla holder) on a visit to Mexicao, never fear. "Heat them up really well," Pati says, "and simply wrap in a clean kitchen towel or cloth napkin. If they won't be eaten immediately, they can be placed, inside a towel or napkin, in a thick plastic bag to hold the heat."
Favourite place to eat a taco?
You say in a taco episode in the show that “For Mexicans, food is connected to the soul. … perhaps no food is more celebrated in Mexico than the taco.” So where's your favourite place to eat one?
"A place called Los Panchos in Mexico City. They are making their fresh tortillas right in front of you, they have really delicious salsas and they have fabulous cooked pork."
There is no starting time. There is no ending time.
Watching previews of your show, it's clear you love cooking for family and friends. Is that just you, or an essential part of being Mexican?
"I like to think that it is both!
"I was lucky to inherit Mexican culture, with its richness, warmth and very unique kind of hospitality. Anywhere in the world, if you hear someone say 'come over for Mexican food' or 'let's go for Mexican food' you know a few things are certain: 1. There is no starting time. 2. There is no ending time. 3. It is casual. 4. There will be lots of delicious food 5. It will be fun!
"For Mexicans, cooking for friends and family, and sitting down to eat and share it is a very important part of life. It is full of emotions and meaning. That is how we show we care. That is how we show you are welcome."
But it's not all party food.
"Mexican cuisine has so many tools and resources for creating weeknight to-go meals that are super fun to eat and easy to make. There are so many crowd pleasers. We all have the task of feeding ourselves and our families every night, and Mexican cuisine has a treasure trove of possibilities."
Come on Australia
Jinich, who featured in SBS Foods Blog Appétit column two years ago, hasn't been to Australia yet. But she's keen. When we shoot her an email checking if she has plans to head down any time soon, the answer is this:
"I would love to go there!!!!! If Australia enjoys the series and likes what they see and try to eat from my series, I will hop on a plane to go meet you all."
Watch Pati's Mexican Table 5pm weeknights on Food Network Australia then on SBS On Demand.