Pati Jinich is accustomed to taking the road less traveled.
The Mexican chef and cookbook author began her culinary career in an unusual way. Originally trained as a policy analyst, Jinich worked at think tanks in both Mexico and the U.S. But once she moved to the U.S., Jinich says she became nostalgic for the food she ate as a child.
“I thought I could grow roots in this new country by cooking foods and flavors that were familiar to me,” she explains.
Eventually, the draw of cooking led Jinich to transition from policy writing to culinary research.
Today, she is the host and executive producer of the Emmy and James Beard award-nominated cooking and travel series Pati’s Mexican Table, which begins its sixth season this Sunday.
In the latest season, Jinich is taking on yet another uncharted course. The 13-episode season features her travels through the Mexican state of Oaxaca. “It’s the most exciting, diverse rich region in Mexico, both culturally and gastronomically,” says Jinich.
The episodes are part travelogue, part real-time cooking instruction, where the field pieces in Oaxaca inform the recipes Jinich creates in her home kitchen in Washington, D.C.
“There are some episodes that are 60% travel and 40% in the kitchen, and some that are 90% focused on cooking,” says Jinich. “It has a lot to do with keeping the series fresh and updated, and showing people that I’m growing and changing and there are different things my family and I are going through that I want to share.”
After five seasons, Jinich says the series has cultivated a loyal and highly engaged group of followers who are familiar enough with the show to recognize the bowls and plates shes uses in different episodes, and to comment on how her kids (three boys) have grown.
“I know the words authentic and genuine get used a lot, but for me, having the show in my home kitchen as opposed to a set was an important thing,” she says. “And that was challenging, especially as an executive producer, because my home is my private place.”
To add to the intimacy of the series, Jinich ditched using a script after the third season. And new to this season, the crew opted to go from three cameras to two when filming in Jinich’s home kitchen, breaking the rigidity of having a front camera going side to side.
Also new this year was the use of drones during production in Oaxaca. “We went to ruins and to historical places, and to put it mildly, the locals did not like it.”
Throughout the season, Jinich traverses the region’s cultural centers and far-flung small villages, in an effort to reveal its culinary treasures. While the location she visits each episode and season may be different, the aim remains the same: to share her experiences as an immigrant in America while building a bridge to connect the two countries and cultures.
And while Mexico and the U.S. may have been the center of the series’ genesis, its seen a broad reach since its launch, having been sold into Canada (TLN), Australia (Food Network), India (Fox Traveller), Southeast Asia (cooking channel) and Japan (TABI).
“My initial focus was to get into more territories,” says Jinich. “I was so focused on getting that right, and last year was a really good year, so that led me to believe the show is in a good place and I’m starting to consider other things and develop new projects that connect more with my immigrant experience.”
Season six of Pati’s Mexican Table begins Sept. 10 on PBS.