If perhaps you missed this controversial blog post on a Chicago Tribune-affiliated blog a few weeks ago, let me tell you about it.
Blogger Teresa Puente’s point was this: Rick Bayless has lately been anointed as the father of modern Mexican cuisine. And that’s a shame, because he’s white. So many other Latino chefs deserve to be recognized, she says. Why doesn’t the media focus on them?
As soon as Puente posted it, criticism flew that she was racist and deserved to be fired. While I think that’s a wee bit of an overstatement — ignorant and angry seem like more fitting words than racist to me — a kernel of her argument is right on. White chefs do dominate American TV. And yes, the media have a tendency to adorn one person as the holy expert on everything, just because it’s easier, and we’re all overworked, and some people have great PR reps who actually call you back by your deadline.
But Rick Bayless deserves his accolades. He is not the new kid on the Mexican block. His first cookbook came out in the 80’s, and actually had penciled drawings of dried chiles in it. And recipes for aguas frescas. Can you imagine what that must have been like back then, when “Mexican food” meant a greasy rolled-up tortilla covered in cheese? Hell, I barely looked at his first cookbook for the first time a few months ago, and it still blew my mind.
Lots of people heap praise on Diana Kennedy, probably the best-known authority on Mexican cooking. I own two of her numerous cookbooks, but haven’t done much beyond flip through the pages. Rick Bayless’ books, on the other hand, I’ve devoured. It’s like he really wants me to succeed and know the cuisine. Sometimes when reading Kennedy, I feel like if I don’t dry and grind my own corn for tortillas, I suck as a cook.
Anyway, I’m all for empowering Latinas, and newspapers creating platforms for people to subscribe to blogs with names like Chicanísima. (The blog is part of a community site owned by the Tribune Company, comprising bloggers from all over the city.) But I think Puente just set us back a few steps by embodying the stereotype of the angry minority woman throwing out baseless accusations. Wish she would have done her research before posting.