Re­mem­ber An­thony Bour­dain by rel­ish­ing di­ver­sity

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - OPINION -

News about the end of chef An­thony Bour­dain’s si­mul­ta­ne­ously hard­scrab­ble and charmed life re­minded me of the pas­sion with which he talked about Cen­tral and South Amer­i­can kitchen work­ers.

“A three-star Ital­ian chef pal of mine ... greatly prefers Ecuadore­ans, as many chefs do,” said Bour­dain in the au­dio­book ver­sion of his best-sell­ing, “Kitchen Con­fi­den­tial.” “’The Ital­ian guy? You scream­ing at him in the rush, ‘Where’s that risotto?!’ ... He’s gonna give it to you . ... An Ecuadorean guy? He’s gonna just turn his back ... and stir the risotto and keep cook­ing un­til it’s done the way you showed him. That’s what I want.’”

An­other fa­vorite: “No one un­der­stands and ap­pre­ci­ates the Amer­i­can Dream of hard work lead­ing to ma­te­rial re­wards bet­ter than a non-Amer­i­can. The Ecuadorean, Mex­i­can, Do­mini­can and Sal­vado­ran cooks I’ve worked with over the years make the most (Culi­nary In­sti­tute of Amer­ica)-ed­u­cated white boys look like clumsy, snivel­ing lit­tle punks.”

These are just a few trib­utes to Latino men and women Bour­dain un­leashed in “Kitchen Con­fi­den­tial,” which be­came a hit in 2000. He be­came such an out­spo­ken ally that, in 2017, vi­vala. com pub­lished a roundup called “12 times An­thony Bour­dain stood up for Lat­inxs in the food in­dus­try.”

Bour­dain was a na­tional trea­sure, but his full-throated ad­vo­cacy of peo­ple who are seen, by some, as dis­pos­able and un­hu­man gave him a very spe­cial place in the hearts of His­pan­ics.

On Twit­ter, Steven Al­varez, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of English and Taco Lit­er­acy at St. John’s Univer­sity in New York, praised “Bour­dain’s in­sis­tence that the hu­man­iz­ing el­e­ment of story through the prism of food can teach us how to demon­strate care, to prac­tice care for one an­other as we build com­mu­nity.”

In an in­ter­view soon af­ter Bour­dain’s death, Gus­tavo Arel­lano, au­thor of “Taco USA: How Mex­i­can Food Con­quered Amer­ica” and a one-time guest on Bour­dain’s show “Parts Un­known,” told Slate.com what he ad­mired most about the out­spo­ken chef: “He was not some­one who said, ‘Oh, I dis­cov­ered this food.’ He was al­ways about: ‘This is who these peo­ple are, and hear what they have to say — not what I have to say — about them.’ Es­pe­cially in the food world, that was revo­lu­tion­ary . ... He stood up for us and cham­pi­oned us be­fore it be­came cool to do so.”

Bour­dain didn’t just ad­vo­cate for Lati­nos, he was an in­spi­ra­tion to the next gen­er­a­tion of food­ies, chefs and food jour­nal­ists.

“In 2011, I moved to Detroit to take a job at one of the lo­cal news­pa­pers. I found my­self in­cred­i­bly lonely in this new city where it took a while for lo­cals to warm up to new­com­ers, so on week­ends, I would hole my­self up in my apart­ment and binge on ‘No Reser­va­tions’ and, later, ‘Parts Un­known,’” said Ser­ena Maria Daniels, a free­lance food writer. “Bour­dain’s sto­ries had a way of help­ing me es­cape the lone­li­ness.

“More than that, though, he showed me how food jour­nal­ism can be a ve­hi­cle for div­ing into is­sues around im­mi­gra­tion, iden­tity, cul­ture, pol­i­tics and class — all is­sues that I was pas­sion­ate to write about, but as a young reporter wasn’t sure of just how to do so.”

To­day, Daniels is an award­win­ning jour­nal­ist and founder of the in­de­pen­dent new me­dia food out­let TostadaMagazine. com, a pub­li­ca­tion that tells sto­ries about how food can pre­serve cul­ture and at the same time, al­most mag­i­cally, break down bar­ri­ers be­tween peo­ple.

In the wake of Bour­dain’s pass­ing, we should grieve his death, at least in part, by cel­e­brat­ing all the di­ver­sity in food cul­ture that he helped birth.

Esther J. Cepeda Colum­nist

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