A few months ago, I was channel surfing on TV and landed on an intriguing show on PBS called "Pati's Mexican Table." Not a lover of food shows by any stretch of the imagination, I found myself somehow riveted to the screen. Pati Jinich was the chef, preparing in an effortless and jubilant way what looked to be a sumptuous, authentic Mexican dish for her young son. I remember there were prawns in the dish, and the food looked so inviting. Her small boy was enraptured, gobbling it down for dinner. While I certainly know TV is not real life, I was struck by Pati -- by the sheer joy and love she shared about Mexican food, culture and tradition. It was palpable and jumped off the screen and made we want to record every show, to learn how to cook authentic Mexican dishes and adore the process, just as she did.
To my surprise, shortly after, I was able to connect with Pati about her new book by the same title, Pati's Mexican Table; and I had the opportunity to speak at length with her about her fascinating journey from Mexico to Washington as a political analyst, to serving as a top Mexican chef with her own popular PBS show focused on Mexican food and heritage.
Pati shared that she was born and raised in Mexico City, amidst a family of accomplished cooks and food "maniacs." Early on, she longed to carve out her own niche in an intellectual arena, not related to food. She revealed, "My three sisters were the ones involved with food. I had other goals."
Pati had big dreams of becoming a political analyst, pursuing a scholarly path, supporting Mexico through a deeper understanding of its political and cultural history and underpinnings. Pati pursued these dreams, studying to become a political analyst and delving into Mexico's history, leaving food as a side interest.
Right after she married and moved to Texas, she did dabble a bit in the culinary field. She taught Mexican cooking to friends and neighbors and then became a production assistant for the PBS food series New Tastes from Texas hosted by Chef Stephan Pyles along with Diana Kennedy and Patricia Quintana -- pioneers who helped introduce Mexican ingredients into American cooking.
But once she moved to D.C., she pursued a formal path as a political analyst and received a Master's degree in Latin American Studies from Georgetown. Soon after, she worked at the Inter-American Dialogue, a policy research center -- which she considered her dream job.
Finally, her interest in, and love of, Mexican food grew so compelling it could no longer be denied. She grew hungrier for the food and culture that nurtured her childhood. She shared with me that to her food means love, nurture, family -- all things warm and good in the world -- and cooking is her way to show her love and devotion to her loved ones.
Despite her success trajectory as a political analyst, she couldn't stop obsessively thinking about food. She finally succumbed and left her political job to give food a try as a career. In 2007, prompted by the Director of the Mexican Cultural Institute, she launched Mexican Table.
Mexican Table is a culinary program that consists of a series of cooking demonstrations, tasting dinners and workshops. This program helped her launch fully into the world of Mexican cuisine. Through her PBS show, she aims to familiarize Americans with Mexico's special ingredients and cooking techniques, offering a sprinkling of culture, history and tradition along the way.
Here's a glimpse of Pati (speaking with Christine Pulmano) at work demonstrating delicious breakfast recipes on behalf of Avocados from Mexico:
Pati shared that since living in the U.S., she's disturbed and saddened at how her home country is portrayed and perceived in the media. She feels that it's become easy for many to write off the country as dangerous and violent. As a former political analyst, she understands the challenges her country faces, but she experiences Mexico in a completely different way from how it is depicted in American news reports.
Cooking, eating and sharing Mexican food has helped Pati and her Mexican-American children connect with, and honor, their heritage. She believes that its warm, colorful and enticing cuisine has the power to make Americans fall in love with Mexico "one bite at a time." And that is a tremendously compelling goal for Pati.
Pati also has a keen focus on working with ingredients and products that speak to her own home, those that were her favorites growing up in Mexico and are also staples in her Mexican kitchen in the U.S. today. She shares, "Those ingredients such as avocados, warm corn tortillas, crumbly queso fresco and the dozens of different kinds of fresh and dried Mexican chiles have so much history and tradition behind them -- I feel proud to espouse and promote them."
As a career coach for women, I see Pati's journey as an embodiment of finding and pursuing one's "right work" -- doing what you're meant to in the world and making the impact you long to, in the way only you can. Her path was fraught with the same challenges so many thousands of other women face today -- resisting what they love, believing another path would be "better," more suitable or more acceptable -- making long detours away from their heart's desire because of internal and external judgments made about the validity or viability of the desperately longed-for path.
If you watch the show (I hope you do), you'll see an exuberant, warm, wonderfully smart woman who's immersed in what she loves and in what brings her life true meaning and purpose. Her work today marries up everything she's ever been, loved and admired in a unique way that only Pati can.
Just as I've learned that nothing in my long career (with its many detours and several career reinventions) has ever been wasted, Pati's scholarly pursuits and work in a political think-tank all serve her very well in her career as an unofficial "food ambassador" to Mexico.
In the end, Pati's story is a triumphant and universal one -- of a woman who has found her life's work and has mustered the courage to pursue it with gusto.
It's a shining example of what we can accomplish when we follow our true heart, our authentic values, passions and goals and when we allow ourselves to pour those into our right livelihood.
Are you ready to pursue what you're passionate about and build a fabulous career around it?
To build a happier, more rewarding and successful career, visit www.kathycaprino.com