Por Que Hipster?
This little story starts with a cozy little burrito spot that shares a bathroom with a Portland Landmark. The same place where you could get a damn good burrito on the cheap. You could go next door and watch an “exotic dancer” feed quarters into the onstage jukebox before, and often during her set. I am talking about the late El Grillo. This post is not about them though, it is about the travesty I witnessed. I heard from a source that El Grillo had recently reopened with new owners after it’s unfortunate closing a couple months prior. I decided to give it a shot one night after work. What I witnessed was a complete shock. Not only were the prices considerably raised, but my burrito was being prepared by a total hipster. I’m talking about too tight jeans with one pant leg rolled up to reveal socks with snoopy dressed as Santa Claus and covered in nonsense tattoos randomly placed. This chick actually had the Rolling Stones logo with a diamond grill tattooed on her arm. Lets just say the burrito was no bueno. This immediately made me think of the sushi had the week before unexpertly made by a guy wearing a Flaming Lips tee-shirt and a beanie. A Japanese guy in a beanie you ask? No this guy looked like the dude married to Amy Winehouse. Google him and you will understand. This whole process made me think. My conclusion, leave the ethnic food to the people who grew up on it. Japanese sushi chefs spend years learning how to make vinegared rice, you went to culinary school and read The Complete Idiots Guide to Sushi, not the same thing.
There is one exception to this rule though. Latinos can work in any restaurant, specializing in any type of cuisine. Growing up in Los Angeles and working in restaurants I witnessed this first hand. I worked in one of the top French restaurants on the west coast. I spent a long time never even touching a saute pan. I plated tons of nicoise salads that of course had been prepped by Ramon, the morning prep extraordinaire. I watched as 3 guys from Toluca pumped out plate after plate of escargot and steak frites. You think some guy named Pierre is back in the kitchen putting together that lamb daube you just ordered? No it was Pancho and he couldn’t pronounce the dish to save his life. I learned how to cook fish from Juan, we called him Tigre. He wasn’t firing coq au vin or duck confit, he was firing pollo rojo and pato. No bullshit, the tickets printed en Espanol. One of the top French restaurants in one of the most populated cities in America and not one guy who knew one French word working in the kitchen. 5 Stars L.A. Times, and we weren’t the only one. I had only seen a handful of gringo line cooks before I left L.A., and the ones that I did see couldn’t keep up.
The moral of the story is leave ethnic cuisine to the OG’s as much as possible. You still want to open La Comida de Hipster? Hire Latinos to cook, write the menu and create the recipes. As for you, smile with your wayfarers on and your sweet two-wheeler in the background while the newspaper takes your picture. Take all the credit, shake some hands and kiss some babies. Just make sure you don’t touch the food. Viva La Raza!