When Pati Jinich began planning the kitchen for her new Chevy Chase home in 2009, she knew she wanted a big center island. What she didn’t know was that a film crew would be capturing her every slice and dice there.
Jinich is host of the PBS series Pati’s Mexican Table, and the pilot was filmed in her kitchen in 2010, shortly after the house was completed.
The architectural plans for the home called for a square kitchen, which dictated the shape of the island. But the nearly 5½-foot square oak mass would prove cumbersome for the camera crew. It’s easier to shoot cooks at rectangular tables, where the cameras can get closer to the action—so three cameras were used instead of two.
“It wasn’t designed for a TV cooking show,” Jinich admits.
A petite 41-year-old, Jinich has a lilting Spanish accent and a rapid-fire delivery, and acts as if she has known her visitor for years, rather than mere minutes. She gestures with her hands and smiles often, and it’s quickly apparent that even if her kitchen island isn’t suited for TV, she definitely is.
In the series—still filmed in her kitchen—the Mexican-born Jinich demonstrates her homeland’s colorful food, interspersing tidbits about the country’s history and culinary traditions. In season three, which begins in January (airing locally on WETA and MPT2), Jinich will be cooking up red posole, carnitas, Italian- and Asian-influenced Mexican foods, party dishes, brunch recipes and more. She’s also the chef at the Mexican Cultural Institute in the District, appears on other cooking shows despite having no formal TV or media training, and wrote Pati’s Mexican Table, a cookbook published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt earlier this year.
But before she hit the TV circuit, Jinich worked with Glen Echo kitchen designer Amy Collins and Chevy Chase interior designer Jodi Macklin to come up with a family-friendly kitchen that looked Mexican without being overdone, one that flowed with the rest of the house. As both the room and the cooking show evolved, they tweaked certain elements, such as moving the prep sink off the island to allow for more demonstration space. Yet it was important that the kitchen should be cozy and livable for Jinich, her husband and three boys—ages 14, 11 and 7—when the cameras weren’t there.
“She wanted a hacienda feel,” Collins says. “She didn’t want the classic suburban white kitchen. She wanted a different look.”
With Dijon mustard-colored maple cabinets, sand-colored Caesarstone counters and rust-colored walls, the space telegraphs warmth and openness, with a judicious sprinkling of accessories from south of the border.
“We went to Mexico City and drove almost nine hours to these small towns full of arts and crafts,” Jinich says of the trek with her husband, Daniel, a managing partner of an international private equity firm with an office in Washington, D.C. The couple, both born and raised in Mexico City, shipped back hand-painted ceramic tiles from Tlaquepaque in western Mexico for the backsplash, as well as glassware, pottery and dinnerware for 24.
They also ordered lamps, a dining room chandelier and custom-made wooden doors with wrought-iron designs for the entry to Pati Jinich’s office and the opening between the family room and kitchen eating area. Their eclectic home features brightly colored Mexican artwork, some procured by Pati’s mother, an art dealer, as well as Jinich’s own clay sculptures of flower vases resembling female torsos, a woman thinker and a pair of men’s feet.
Jinich, who doesn’t seem to do anything halfway, pursued sculpting as a hobby before having children, once considered becoming a professional flutist, and was a policy wonk with a master’s degree in Latin American studies before plunging into food full time.
The kitchen has all the accoutrements of a prolific cook, with a 48-inch, eight-burner Viking stove; two ovens; a Sub-Zero refrigerator and a separate freezer; plus open baskets that serve as drawers for the storage of onions, tomatoes, garlic and citrus. But the most important element in her kitchen is light.
“I wanted to have a lot of windows,” Jinich says. “We love light, we love luster. …We wanted the outside to flow with the inside.”
Indeed, the outside is a crucial extension of the kitchen. Her garden, which wraps around the house, looks like the produce section of a specialty supermarket. “I wanted most of the things outside to be either edible or fragrant,” she says.
So before the Jiniches even started building their new home, she worked with Scott Fritz and Leslie Gignoux of Fritz & Gignoux Landscape Architects in Northwest Washington to come up with an array of edible plantings.
The result is more like a minifarm than a suburban garden. On one side of the driveway, Jinich grows French roses, which she uses to make rose petal ice cream and rose-infused vinaigrettes; on the other side, two baby heirloom apple trees are starting to flourish. And on that same side of the house, two fig trees are growing next to the side door.
A stroll past more than 30 hydrangeas in varying colors in beds on the front lawn and around to the opposite side of the house leads to trellised vines with purple grapes, as well as dwarf apple, persimmon and peach trees, and raspberry and blueberry bushes.
These are only teasers for the fenced-in backyard, with its lush patches of oregano, basil, bay leaves, rosemary, parsley, cilantro, mint and scallions, as well as espalier apple trees and pots of Meyer lemons and Mexican limes.
Then there are the chili peppers. Among the plethora of varieties in the yard, Jinich says poblanos are her favorite. “I’m a total fan. …They’re super exuberant,” she says, and she uses them in soups, salsa and other dishes.
As an added benefit, the spicy peppers kept away the bunnies that gobbled up the gardens of the Jiniches’ Somerset neighbors. The animals are repelled by capsaicin, the compound in peppers that makes them hot. Because of that, Fritz and Gignoux directed the gardening crew to plant a variety of lettuces this past spring, including Swiss chard, mustard greens, spinach and arugula, interspersing them with ornamental peppers.
All this food growing within steps of her kitchen allows Jinich to grab whatever she needs, whether it’s for testing a recipe, filming her cooking show or making dinner for her family. Despite her hectic schedule, she prepares a meal most weeknights. And, yes, it’s likely to be Mexican.
Carole Sugarman is the magazine’s food editor.