When she was a teenager in the 1940s, Guadalupe Rivera Marin went to live with her father and stepmother in Coyoacán, in Mexico City, in a house that would become known for its vivid blue color, for its famous occupants and for the parties they would throw.
Her father, of course, was the muralist Diego Rivera, one of the most important Mexican artists of all time, and his wife was painter Frida Kahlo, who achieved worldwide fame mostly after her premature death at age 47. As Marin points out, Kahlo may have orchestrated the meals and gatherings with artistic brilliance, but she didn’t cook much (nor did she like cooking).
Marin, now 90, has had a long career of her own in public service (she was a senator and congresswoman in Mexico), education and literature. She came to Washington last month to speak at an event at the Mexican Cultural Institute, where I served some of her father’s favorite foods from her 1994 cookbook, “Frida’s Fiestas: Recipes and Reminiscences of Life With Frida Kahlo.” We arranged the event the way Kahlo would have if it had been at the Casa Azul, serving guests agua fresca from barrels as they walked in from the street and setting out market-style sweets in baskets for the sobre mesa, or after-meal conversation. In between, the meal included cactus paddle salad on tostadas, tortilla soup, Oaxaca-style mole over chicken, and flan.
After Marin spoke, I interviewed her. Edited excerpts of our conversation follow:
Now, who cooked? I read in your book that your mom was an extraordinary cook who became a very good friend of Frida’s and taught her how to cook.
Yes. Very good friends. The one who cooked was my mother, Lupe Marin. Aside from her beauty and talent, she was an excellent cook. She used the recipes of my grandmother, Isabel Preciado de Marin. Those recipes are the ones that are in my cookbook: “Las Fiestas de Frida y Diego” in Spanish. My mom’s family came from Zapotlan, Jalisco. My mom admired Diego’s work; she had heard he was back in Mexico City and, without knowing him, she decided she was going to marry him. She went to Mexico City, managed to meet him, and they got married.
Frida had a very advanced education for that era, she was very modern, but she didn’t cook and didn’t like to cook. After my dad and Frida got married, we all lived in a building together. Frida was very organized and a wonderful host: She loved setting up the house and adorning and decorating everything. She was very good at deciding menus.
How did your dad influence your view on food?
My dad loved all the strange foods. There was always a sense of discovery of the real way of cooking from the Mexican pueblo. He liked trying everything that was local and characteristic of the different regions. We traveled with him all over, to small towns, local markets, and learned the variety of foods. We rarely went to restaurants. If we ate out, it was at the markets or the local stands.
You learned how to cook with your mom?
My mom made my sister and me cook and help with the house since we were very young, early in the morning before we went to school. Many times we didn’t have help at home. My dad left Mexico for many years, off and on, and would forget about us. He abandoned us, many times. My mom had to teach how to sew and design clothes to support us. We had to help my mom. My mom taught me the quehacer: how to tend a house. Once my dad was back and I was a teenager, I moved in with Diego and Frida for a few years.
How did that change the way you viewed cooking and hosting?
Frida set beautiful Mexican tables with gorgeous tablecloths and tableware with her and my dad’s initials. The house was full of flowers.
With my mom, Lupe, everything was much more simple. We ate in the kitchen, and my mom was the one who cooked every day; there was no cook. Lupe and Frida were completely different. My mom did not set the table in any elegant way. She placed the plates and forks on the table, set food on the table, we all grabbed a plate and sat down to eat together. With Frida, everything was elaborate and decorated.
How much did your father like eating?
He walked in the house at the Mexican lunchtime and screamed, “I am here!” The dining room was full of light, full of flowers. He went directly there. Frida tended to him very well. After the meal there were long sobre mesas, coffee and sweets. Many guests. They talked about what was going on in Mexico and all over the world. It was all that conversation stewing with my dad that made me want to serve my country and have a sense of duty.
Did you have the chance to cook for him?
I did, many times. After I got married, he would come to lunch with us. We lived close. I used to make many of the meals that I grew up eating. It was my mother, Lupe’s, recipes. The same ones she learned from my grandmother. The ones Lupe taught Frida how to make.
Jinich is the author of “Pati’s Mexican Table” (Houghton Mifflin, 2013), host of the public television show of the same name and chef at the Mexican Cultural Institute. She lives in Chevy Chase.