The crew had repeatedly approached the stern-faced owner of La Pasita to try to secure permission to film an episode for season two of “Pati’s Mexican Table.” But Emilio Contreras Ovando was standing his ground: No way. No one takes photos or films inside Puebla’s oldest cantina, named after its housemade, high-alcohol raisin liqueur served with a cube of aged cheese.
But Pati Jinich wouldn’t let it go. She and her crew, after all, had invested time and money in traveling to this famous watering hole; she wasn’t going to take no for an answer, so she suggested a deal: If she could beat him in arm wrestling, the crew could stay and film.
“He beat me, of course,” Jinich says while noshing on the namesake item at Tacos El Chilango on V Street NW. “Even though he’s much older than me, he’s very strong. But I’m like, ‘Please, we’re here, just this time give me [a chance] for this one episode!’”
Contreras caved — a concession so rare that Jinich was approached by Mexican media to explain how she managed to soften the hardened man’s stance on invasive photography. “The people from Puebla couldn’t believe it,” says the chef for the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington. “They were like, ‘Pati, you don’t understand. This has never happened.’ They were taking photos, like sending them to the Puebla press.”
The trip to La Pasita will be just one highlight in the upcoming 13-episode season, which officially launches tomorrow at 11:30 a.m. on WETA-TV. “Pati’s Mexican Table” will also be distributed nationwide by American Public Television.
Because she has more sponsors for the new season, Jinich and crew had the budget to spend extra time in Mexico. They visited Mexico City (for an episode featuring Enrique Olvera , the “most well known Mexican chef now; he does modernist Mexican food,” Jinich says), and they visited Puebla (for research on a number of topics, including tacos).
The colonial city “is really one of the cradles of Mexican cuisine,” Jinich says about Puebla. “It’s one of the strongest and oldest” cuisines.
The crew also visited the floating gardens in the Xochimilco borough of Mexico City for an episode on cooking with flowers. Among the recipes for the show, Jinich promises squash blossom quesadillas, hibiscus mole and ice cream infused with rose petals (and marshmallows!).
Jinich puts more emphasis on guests this season, and not just those from south of the border. Mixologist-about-town Derek Brown, he of The Columbia Room and various other projects, will talk tequila with Jinich on an episode devoted to the spirit. Jinich handles the dishes infused with tequila; Brown serves up his Satin Sheets cocktail.
Season two, however, debuts with another display of Jinich’s fearlessness: For her episode on “Classic Mexican Food Battles,” she uses a lucha libre match as a backdrop.
“We’re filming, and they have me on the outside of the ring,” Jinich explains. “Then I said, ‘No, I want to be in there!’”
A producer told her, no, it was too dangerous, but Jinich wasn’t swayed.
“I got in there, and of course...I was all in a panic,” she continues. “They were right behind me!”
And, no, Jinich did not wear a luchador mask for the episode.
Despite the wrestling scare, Jinich says she had more fun filming “Pati’s Mexican Table” this time around. Part of it had to do with the experience she accumulated last season — just understanding the technical side of filming calmed her nerves — but she made other decisions that relaxed her, too. Like drawing a line with producers about makeup and accessories.
“I said, ‘I’m not wearing hoops [large hoop earrings], no matter what you tell me.’ So you see no hoops,” she says. “I said, ‘I don’t want to wear that much makeup,’ so what you see me wearing now is what I’m wearing then.”
But Jinich also made a critical decision to focus mostly on her work in front of the cameras, rather than worry about the comfort of those behind the cameras.
“I tried to multi-task less, because in season one, I was trying to make sure that everybody felt at ease and comfortable,” she says. “I tried to step back and not mother everyone.”
Then again, Jinich is multi-tasking. Not only does “Pati’s Mexican Table,” season two, debut on Saturday, but the author and chef is also taking pre-orders for her forthcoming cookbook of the same name. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will officially release “Pati’s Mexican Table: The Secrets of Real Mexican Home Cooking” on March 5.