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Those are some elegant words for a bowl of chili, but apparently Claiborne had been impressed by a dinner party hosted by Mrs. Margaret Field of Eagle Pass and Uvalde, Texas. Mrs. Field, wrote Claiborne, “frown[ed] on the ground meat-and tomato sauce variety of chili,” and instead served a spicy rendition using cubed meat, chili powder, cumin, oregano, and garlic. Her famous “Texas or Tex-Mex chili,” Claiborne wrote, was the ”star of the evening.”
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the article marked the first time the word “Tex-Mex” ever appeared in print, but in the intervening decades the cuisine has proved itself more than just a passing fancy.
Today, Tex-Mex is part of America’s collective culinary consciousness. For a long time, many Mexican restaurants in the United States only served Tex-Mex, amazingly enough. Just consider the abundance of Tex-Mex-inspired chains on the national scene: Chipotle, Qdoba Mexican Grill, Baja Fresh, and California Tortilla, to name a few.
Many food writers protest that Tex-Mex is a cuisine unto itself. The “north-of-Mexico approach” to cooking, as we learned from chef Rene Ortiz, not only melds Mexican and American cuisines, it also features uniquely “cheesier, chili-er, and meatier" foods such as enchiladas, quesadillas, puffy tacos, and more. Queso, too, is a major player in that cuisine.
Hats off, Craig Claiborne, for knowing Tex-Mex was something special way back when. We’ll eat a queso-slathered taco tonight in your honor.