14 August 2009

Is it racist to want a Mexican chef to make my Mexican food?

I tweeted that question yesterday because I seriously wanted a good discussion about it. Teresa Puente had posted at Chicago Now about being tired of hearing about Rick Bayless being this expert on Mexican food. The comments immediately went into calling her a racist. I wanted a higher level of discussion. Thankfully Amy gave me one. I wasn't calling Teresa a racist and I apologize if my tweet came off as that.

Teresa asked:
Something just bugged me that a white guy was gaining so much fame for his Mexican cuisine. I'm sure his love of Mexico is genuine and he does good charity work. I'm not saying he's a bad guy, and he is a great chef. But why does the media make him the spokesman for Mexican food in the United States?
And hear are my thoughts. I haven't watched many of Rick's shows and I've caught a few of Anthony Bourdain's show (especially the Chicago episode where you can catch Cinnamon in one scene).

*deep breath*

I can't shake the feeling when watching them wander through Mexico and far off countries that these sophisticated white dudes are trying to tell us what is authentic and what isn't. As if they are Marco Polo's of food searching for the most authentic food to bring back to the States.

I've heard or read comments classifying Bourdain as a food anthropologist. I kinda get that.

Honestly I'm torn.

As I tweeted to Amy, I'm not a foodie. I like my food fairly simple, thus the idea of gourmet Mexican food makes me itch. And maybe I just don't understand what Bayless and Bourdain are trying to do with their shows. There are few areas where I feel totally lacking in knowledge to comment on and food is one of them.

So I'm still torn about how I feel about all of this. It's all a mental exercise for me at this point. Stretching my brain to figure it all out.


Shannon Drury said...

I think you've touched on something that could be suggested to the author of the original piece--the fact that "sophisticated white dudes" have the ability to appropriate cultural items of humble origin and spin them into something elite, high-priced, and therefore out of most people's reach.

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

I completely understand where you're coming from, my other half is a foodie so we watch a lot of cookery shows. In the UK we have one called Market Kitchen which features different chefs daily/weekly, it's a fantastic show but recently there was a white Australian chef on who cooked Japanese food. He seemed lovely and was completely in love with his cuisine of choice but it annoyed me that this white guy was being held up as the expert on Japanese food.

I have to confess that Jun Takanawa, a Japanese American who cooks French cuisine, does not bother me at all and I do not think he should cook Japanese food and if it was expected of him I'd also be mad at that.

The only explanation I can think of is that POC are completely under-represented on TV and, as much as I think anyone can cook the food, it seems like a backhanded compliment to have a white guy making another cultures cuisine palatable for a white audience.

(Deleted last comment because of spelling mistake.)

Veronica said...

Thanks Shannon & Jaime.

I do think it's about POC being underrepresented in media and while we may love our cultural food being celebrated, we just wish our chefs were as well.

Diana Lee said...

Rick Bayless's food actually is quite simple compared to the food created by many other famous chefs. I view his work as a tribute to and act of admiration for Mexican culture, which is a good thing, I think.

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TheFeministBreeder said...

I'm not a Mexican, but I gave birth to two half-mexican children and married a Mexican. Not that this qualifies to speak on behalf of them, but all I can say about the situation is that my husband, and his family, are in love with Rick Balis. They love the way he makes Mexican food "fine-dining" - and most of us know, Mexican food gets a pretty bad rap in the mainstream.

Chefs have been doing this for eons. Chefs are food artists. Artists draw from many different cultures. I don't know if it's wrong or right, but it doesn't feel necessarily that awful to me.

But, then again, I am not a Mexican.

Anonymous said...

I totally understand your quandry and have felt it as well. Here is my two cents. :)

Rick Bayliss is a good chef and has made a great deal of money creating shows, restaurants, cookbooks, and spin-off product. Does he deserve notice for the food he does? Yes, he's good and he's changed how many people think of food. Does he deserve it more than anyone of Mexican descent? Probably not. Does he have it because it was easier for him to gain access to the American media? Quite possibly.

Here is an article you may be interested in as well: http://www.washingtonflyer.com/db_articles/article.asp?article_id=166

Two Mexican chefs who talk about their food with passion.

I think I may have to write my own post on the topic, but I get where you're coming from. Sounds like I'll stew this mole of a topic and come back to it later.

Veronica said...

Diana, FB & Cinnamon -- Thanks for your thoughts. It's given me a lot to chew on.

And thanks Ted!!

Todd said...

I see why this would be a question, and often wonder if the hosts of these shows are aware of such a quandary.

As for Bourdain, he makes a point in his books to discuss his support of Latino and Latina workers within the restaurant labor force. He gets quite passionate in referencing the obstacles that, for example, Mexicans and Ecuadorans face in finding work in a country that is quite ambiguous in its appreciation and respect of the extremely-necessary contributions from south of the US border.

This is a good discussion - I wish these hosts would join, and talk about these issues!