When it comes to their connections to Mexican culture, chefs Anthony Bourdain and Rick Bayless have taken wildly different approaches. As a white chef touted as the face of Mexican cuisine in the United States, Bayless becomes defensive with those who question if there’s an element of appropriation in his work.
Just this year on the Sporkful podcast, Bayless lashed out at his critics. “Well, usually people who have that opinion of me don’t want to have a conversation. Those people that say it are usually very political, and they have a mouthpiece and they just go around saying it,” he said. “And everybody thinks, ‘Oh, lots of people must believe that.’ And honestly, I don’t think they do. I know that there have been a number of people out there that criticized me only – only – because of my race. Because I’m white, I can’t do anything with Mexican food. But we have to stop and say, ‘Oh wait, is that plain racism then?'”
This isn’t even getting into the more sus things he’s said about the state of Mexican food in the US. Bourdain, on the other hand, has tried to highlight Mexican cuisine, as well as Mexican cooks, along the way. This week, he participated in a Reddit AMA, where he stated that Mexican food deserves more prestige. “I would like people really to pay more for top-quality Mexican food,” he said. “I think it’s the most undervalued, under-appreciated world cuisine with tremendous, tremendous potential. These are in many cases really complex, wonderful sauces; cuisines, and I think we should pay more attention to it, learn more about it, and value it more. This is frankly a racist assumption that Mexican food or Indian food should be cheap. That’s not right.”
It’s not the first time Bourdain uses his platform to shine a light on inequalities in the food industry that affect Latinos. It’s something he’s done in interviews, on his blog, on his TV shows, and even on social media. Bourdain’s long been an ally to Latinos in the US, repeatedly highlighting how important their contributions are to America’s restaurant industry and kitchen culture. While there are too many times to individually shout out, here are six times Bourdain has spoken out about Latinos’ struggles in the restaurant industry:
“The bald fact is that the entire restaurant industry in America would close down overnight, would never recover, if current immigration laws were enforced quickly and thoroughly across the board,” Bourdain said. “Everyone in the industry knows this. It is undeniable…I know very few chefs who’ve even heard of a U.S.-born citizen coming in the door to ask for a dishwasher, night clean-up or kitchen prep job. Until that happens, let’s at least try to be honest when discussing this issue.”
On his own Tumblr, he wrote an essay that served as a love letter to Mexico:
“Despite our ridiculously hypocritical attitudes towards immigration, we demand that Mexicans cook a large percentage of the food we eat, grow the ingredients we need to make that food, clean our houses, mow our lawns, wash our dishes, look after our children. As any chef will tell you, our entire service economy—the restaurant business as we know it—in most American cities, would collapse overnight without Mexican workers. Some, of course, like to claim that Mexicans are ‘stealing American jobs.’ But in two decades as a chef and employer, I never had ONE American kid walk in my door and apply for a dishwashing job, a porter’s position—or even a job as prep cook. Mexicans do much of the work in this country that Americans, probably, simply won’t do. In nearly 30 years of cooking professionally, just about every time I walked into a new kitchen, it was a Mexican guy who looked after me, had my back, showed me what was what, was there—and on the case—when the cooks more like me, with backgrounds like mine—ran away to go skiing or surfing—or simply flaked,” he wrote.
In February, when media outlets largely ignored the death of Mexican chef Carlos Llaguno Morales, Bourdain used his celebrity to make sure the world remembered Llaguno.
While on SiriusXM’s StandUp With Pete Dominick, Bourdain said that if Donald Trump deported 11 million immigrants, every restaurant in the US would “shut down.” “I rolled out of a prestigious culinary institute and went to work in real restaurants,” he said. “I walked into restaurants and always, the person who had been there the longest, who took the time to show me how it was done, was always Mexican or Central American.”