Anthony Bourdain is unapologetically vocal about Latinx workers in the culinary business. He's not doing it to be PC in the cooking field, and he sure as hell isn't doing it for the publicity. At his core, this is a man who truly believes Latinxs — at any and all ranks in the industry — deserve to be respected and accredited for the hard work they put in.
The former chef and well-known TV personality has continuously highlighted how undervalued Latinx immigrant food workers are. And as a white man who has many Latinx colleagues, Bourdain has been able to see firsthand how Latinxs are not honored for a cuisine Americans can't get enough of, and he's noted how Latinxs aren't properly recognized for doing the jobs, in and out of the kitchen, that others would scoff at.
Simply put: He believes Americans love Latin food and culture, but ignore the issue of inequality.
Although he may never truly understand what it's like to be a Latinx in the kitchen, he is using his privilege and public platforms to highlight the problematic attitude toward Latinxs' struggles.
Here are 12 moments where Bourdain championed Latinxs in the food industry:
In an interview with the Houston Press, he talked about the frustration of witnessing the constant glorification of chefs while Latinxs' contributions aren't even acknowledged.
He told the site, "What frustrates me, of course, is that I would like — whatever the opinion, there's plenty of room for honest disagreement on immigration — I would like to see very much the people who are cooking and have been cooking in America and doing the large majority of the work in the service industry...let's at least acknowledge that work. It's an integral, invaluable part of that profession and of that industry. That would make me happy. If they got a James Beard Award, you know, if the James Beard people acknowledged that Mexicans exist, that would be nice!"
Then there's the time Bourdain criticized (read: DRAGGED) the James Beard Awards — "the Oscars of the food world" — for its blatant lack of interest in profiling diverse talent.
According to Eater, he wrote of the prestigious event, "I seriously doubt you will see an increase in the number of Mexicans present. Or any other of the nationalities who comprise the backbone, heart, lungs, blood and muscle of the hospitality industry this organization claims to celebrate."
And he also explained why he was outraged. "Rarely can one see so many white people in one room. It really does look like the Republican National Convention or the last Wallace campaign. Yet we're talking about a business that's between 30 and 70 percent non-white. It just seems to me that the right thing to do would be to show a little interest. Especially when you're celebrating the great melting pot. It's not a fucking Benetton ad. Maybe pony up some of that money for free paralegal advice for the great number of Mexican immigrants who have been working in this business all of these years who are struggling to stay in this country and would like to do it legitimately. Just seems like there's a lot of money floating around, and I'd like to see a little of it broken off to reflect those that are actually cooking in this country."
He blasted the organization on numerous occasions for the same issue.
In the Mexico episode of his "No Reservations" series, Bourdain reiterated his belief that Mexicans do the jobs others would find humiliating.
The episode focused on the story of Carlos Llaguno Morales — the Mexican immigrant who became the head chef of Les Halles in New York City.
In the first couple minutes of the show he said, "It’s not difficult to imagine why so many Mexicans cook in our restaurants. We, it appears, in spite of anything don’t want and won’t take those jobs.
Mexico, though home to a handful of the richest men in the world, also houses huge numbers of the poorest and most screwed over communities anywhere. Which helps push an immigrant workforce into the US and in turn stokes the hotly debated issue of what to do about it. There’s plenty of room for honest disagreement on the question of immigration and no easy answers.
Why do they come? For the work, for the money, of course. But why do they cook so well? How come (in my experience, anyway) the best cook, even the best French cook, in a kitchen full of French guys is a Mexican guy?"
And when his former coworker passed away from cancer, he made sure that he wasn't forgotten.
Morales immigrated from Puebla, Mexico to the US when he was 17 years old. He began working at Les Halles as a fry cook, where he was mentored by Bourdain.
In just seven years, he had proven he was ready to take over Bourdain's position as executive chef of the restaurant and became a well-respected figure in the field.
His response to American chef Michael Symon's question speaks for itself.
Clearly, Bourdain isn't one to tip-toe around how the industry is failing its Latinx workers.
Of course, Bourdain also tackled how Donald Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric is detrimental to American restaurants.
In an interview with Pete Dominick on Sirius XM he said, “Like a lot of other white kids, I rolled out of a prestigious culinary institute and went to work in real restaurants… I walked into restaurants and the person always who’d been there the longest, who took the time to show me how it was done, was always Mexican or Central American. Never in any of those years, not once, did anyone walk into my restaurant — any American-born kid walk into my restaurant — and say, ‘I’d like a job as a night porter or as a dishwasher. [They are] not willing to start at the bottom like that.”
Bourdain called immigrants “the backbone of the industry, meaning most of the people, in my experience, cooking.”
He also added, "If Mr. Trump deports 11 million people or whatever he’s talking about right now, every restaurant in America would shut down"
He also scribed a powerful post on his personal blog that calls out Americans' hypocrisy toward immigrants.
Part of his message read, "Americans love Mexican food. We consume nachos, tacos, burritos, tortas, enchiladas, tamales and anything resembling Mexican in enormous quantities. We love Mexican beverages, happily knocking back huge amounts of tequila, mezcal and Mexican beer every year. We love Mexican people—as we sure employ a lot of them. 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, provably, simply won’t do."
He flat-out said that it’s "racist" to assume Mexican food should be cheap.
In Bourdain's Reddit "Ask Me Anything" he wrote, "I would like people really to pay more for top-quality Mexican food. I think it's the most undervalued, under appreciated world cuisine with tremendous, tremendous potential. These are in many cases really complex, wonderful sauces; particularly from Oaxaca, for instance, that date back from before Europe. I'm very excited about the possibilities for that cuisine, 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."
Even in his latest feature on Los Angeles in season nine of "Parts Unknown," he chose to focus solely on Latinxs.
"Mexican food should be considered just as sophisticated and celebrated as French or Italian or any other cuisine. It’s old, it goes back to the beginning of agriculture. And it’s getting better every year," he wrote in his Field Notes for the episode.He added, "I spent most of my life as a cook and chef working with Mexicans. My loyalties are a matter of record. In almost every kitchen I ever stumbled into, clueless and fearful, it was a Mexican who looked after me, took me under his wing, showed me how to do things. The recent national conversation in which Mexicans are referred to as rapists and drug dealers makes me want to puke with shame."
At the end of the day, Bourdain wants people to realize that Latinxs are the heart and soul of kitchens across the country. Latinxs are the American food industry.
"I worked in French and Italian restaurants my whole career, but really, if I think about it, they were Mexican restaurants and Ecuadorian restaurants, because the majority of the cooks and the people working with me were from those countries. That’s who, you know, picked me up when I fell down; who showed me what to do when I walked in and didn’t know anything and nobody knew my name," he said.