The year is 2009. Teresa Puente. a blogger for ChicagoNow (to call her a journalist would be about as stretching it as calling me one) asks “Why is Rick Bayless the expert on Mexican cuisine when he’s not even Mexican“. A year later, Cammie McDaniel, this time for the Chicago Tribune, writes “Bayless insulting to Mexican-Americans” and means it.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. But it shows a trend – X is offended if non-X sells X’s food and, somehow, is made the “expert” on whatever X they’re serving. Or is it?
Mario Battali is American. Not Italian. He was born and raised in America. His food is influenced by Italian-American dishes, sure, but Italian-American is about as Italian as it is Irish (or Irish-American is Irish, for that matter). He spent a few years in Italy and that qualifies him to claim Italian influences. But so did Bayless in Mexico. In fact, if I am not mistaken, Bayless spent more time in Mexico than Batali in Italy. And don’t get me started on Scott Conant. Not even remotely Italian by heritage he spent a few months cooking in Italy and is now the “predominant expert on Italian cuisine” to quote the starter blurb in Chopped. A few months in Italy? Compared to six years in Mexico for Bayless? If Conant is an expert so is Bayless.
Should Marcus Samuelsson be allowed to cook anything but Swedish, Austrian, or American food? Should I, for that matter, be allowed to cook French or American food. After all, I am neither.
The deal is simple. Cooking and cookery transcends petty little nationalistic bullshit attitudes. Food is a language and culture of its own and, unlike the regionalistic meatheads crying for someone’s passport whenever they taste food, speaks to everyone who takes the time and effort to listen. Battali makes food the way Battali understands food, Bayless does the same. So do tens of thousands of cooks and chefs in this country alone. Your French food in America is made by Mexicans, your Mexcian food by Puerto Ricans, your Spanish food by Mexicans, your German food by Americans. And each and every one of them, for that time, for the precious hours in the kitchen on a stove, forget about the idiotic notion of borders and languages and pride in something they had no power over such as the place they were born. There is pride – in one’s craft, in the results. The rest is best left to those who don’t speak food’s international and uniting language.