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Cooking Other People's Food


Shel_B
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From the East Bay Express, a local paper serving Oakland, Berkeley, and nearby communities in the East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Cooking Other People's Food:  How Chefs Appropriate Bay Area "Ethnic" Cuisine

It's time to talk about pedigreed restaurateurs that co-opt traditional eats - and how the food-media hype machine enables cultural erasure.

 

Click Here for the Story

 

 ... Shel


 

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I think this discussion assumes that restaurant diners know/care a lot more about the ethnicity of the restaurant staff than they really do. Especially in the United States, lots of people who work in kitchens are Latino, whether the restaurant is Chinese, French or Italian.

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"There is nothing like a good tomato sandwich now and then."

-Harriet M. Welsch

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From the article...

But why is it that these mostly white, "pedigreed" chefs attain such incredible fame and success when equally talented immigrant cooks might labor in obscurity for years?

The "pedigreed" chefs is the answer, it has nothing to do with the color of their skin. When a chef gets acclaim and notoriety, it's generally because his/her name is on/attached to the business. You can earn a name in the industry without earning acclaim from those not in the business, restaurants usually know who the good cooks in town are, but I don't think that's the sort of "fame" they're talking about. Gordon Ramsay is a "famous" chef. He gets the celebrity and fame, his large number of cooks producing the food in his restaurants do not... regardless of ethnicity. But there was a time when he was slogging it out in the kitchen just like the rest of us. If the cooks, of any color, want the notoriety, they need to take the risks. Open their own place, do it right, rise above the crowd, get their name out there. Nobody is ever going to write an article about the awesome meal Mr. Line Cook made for them last night, they're going to write about the awesome meal they had at Chef Whoever's restaurant. The "equally talented cooks" (I intentionally omitted "immigrant" because that's just irrelevant media pot-stirring, there are plenty of talented white cooks working away in obscurity too) have to have the motivation and drive to climb higher if that's where they want to be. The rest of us will be in the back and it will have nothing to do with race.

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It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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It's PR and media plain and simple. I also don't think it's white vs whatever, but more about "pedigreed" vs a "nobody" - there are plenty of white chefs who legitimately have more experience cooking a certain type of ethnic food than someone of that ethnicity due to interest. 

 

It's how the media pushes it - someone with a big name opening a taco place? Well he's big and famous for a reason because he worked for X and Y, so that means he's so skilled he must know this other stuff too - that's how they spin it, and that's how the moronic masses interpret it.

 

There was a chef in my area who got too big too fast with his first place, opened up a taco place for his second restaurant. Hype was UNREAL. All any website or publication ever talked about. It opens and guess what? Overpriced crap. Reviews were shit, people were pissed - you name it, whatever you could think of happened, happened. Was there anything at ALL in his experience, history, or even ethnicity that showed he would be good at tacos? No. Not even the slightest. But because he was "big" and he was great with PR it got hyped for no reason. 

 

It's just a circus, which is too bad. Amazingly talented people have their restaurants closed every day before so-and-so who was on chopped  or worked as a line cook for X opened their newest abomination and that's all anyone knows. 

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Cheese - milk's leap toward immortality.

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It's not that hard to make great tacos. It is hard to get way too much money for them, but that certainly didn't have anything to do with the failure of the hyped chef's restaurant. 9_9

 

If you want to "elevate" cheap, delicious street fare to "haute cusine" (read overpriced food) you had better bring your A-game, and then some, I think.

 

Some folks like this concept, and more power to 'em. Me, I'm sticking with the wealth of authentic Mexican, Salvadoran, Ecuadorean, Peruvian, Korean, Thai, Chinese, Indian and other cuisines restaurants run by people from there, and priced reasonably, that are thankfully available right in my neighborhood. We have more expensive versions here too for people with more money than sense, and I hope they enjoy the restaurants, and I'm glad the restaurateurs can make a living too. 

 

Some do not perceive value in an inexpensive product. I was reading the other day about the history of Tater Tots. Ore Ida had to raise the price of their offering made from scrap and byproduct of processing their french fries before it became popular. I'm not drinking that Kool-Aid. xD

> ^ . . ^ <

 

 

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The article Shel_B linked to cites a NYT article from 2012 written by Francis Lam.  Folks should read that one too, which has some commentary from some White chefs & from Lam not covered by the more lengthy EBE article; including a story about the struggles of "ethnic owner-chefs" (e.g. Saipin Chutima), not "just line cooks". Perhaps folks might think a little more about this.

 

Here's the NYT article link, for convenience.

 

(The NYT article has been posted here on eG before, but people may have either forgotten it or never read it)

Edited by huiray (log)
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Quote

The article Shel_B linked to cites a NYT article from 2012 written by Francis Lam.  Folks should read that one too, which has some commentary from some White chefs & from Lam not covered by the more lengthy EBE article; including a story about the struggles of "ethnic owner-chefs" (e.g. Saipin Chutima), not "just line cooks". Perhaps folks might think a little more about this.


From the article...
 

Quote

Twenty-four years ago, when Ms. Chutima and her husband, Bill, opened their first restaurant, they served food as she had learned to cook it in Thailand. “There weren’t foodies yet,” said Pennapa Chutima, the couple’s daughter and spokeswoman. Customers knew pad Thai, she said, but when the offerings veered too far from that, “they’d say, ‘This isn’t Thai!’ ”
“It was heartbreaking,” she said. “Mom would cry day and night. She opened the restaurant to have more security, not less.”
The family refused to alter the food. Instead, Mr. Chutima talked with customers to discern their likes and dislikes, and helped them order. Eventually, the nationally known critic Jonathan Gold wrote them a glowing review, and the foodies started showing up.
“It was difficult,” Pennapa Chutima said. “But all great things take time to be appreciated.”


So still not really a race-specific thing. That was a decision based on their desire to maintain the integrity of what they do. Admirable but not a disadvantage based on race. If the white chef doing Thai cuisine says "my customers don't like the fish sauce, I'll work around it" and the Thai chef says "my customers don't like the fish sauce but it's supposed to be there so it will be there" and the white chef does better business, that's not a racial advantage. That's playing to your audience. Money vs. authenticity. Sometimes you can do both but if not, the choice to do one or the other is available to people of all races.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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