Chef Cesar Cano, Masterchef finalist and owner of Taque_Son PopUp Dining, said something that really opened my eyes to the inequality reigning in fine-dining. In his VoyageHouston interview, he asks,
So we asked him to further speak on the issue of the disparity in fine-dining cuisine, and this is what he said:
In that interview you mentioned, I was asked where I ranked Mexican cuisine. The question prompted me to share my thoughts on how minorities are viewed in this country, but more importantly how minorities view themselves and their culture. We don’t give ourselves the credit we deserve, and I’m trying to change that.
This goes back centuries. Both South and North America were conquered and colonized by European countries. The conquering and colonizing societies erroneously believed they were farther along in the evolutionary chain than the indigenous communities inhabiting this side of the world. I will not deny Europeans brought many ideas and technology that ultimately benefited all of humankind. What I object to is that all indigenous thoughts, believes, and practices were discarded. Native Americans were eradicated or removed from their homelands. There was no absorption or merging of both cultures. Ever since then, we have lived under a European veil that elevates European aesthetics like architecture, language, art, and food on a plain higher to its indigenous counterparts.
I unknowingly encountered this biased when I first immigrated to Houston. I had to learn to speak English and of course for the first few years I had a pronounced accent. My accent was a source of embarrassment for me, but then as I grew older I started to see the double standard!!!
French, British, Italian, and even Spaniard accents are viewed as romantic and exotic! As a kid, I couldn’t understand those accents any better than people could understand me! Movies, cartoons, and TV shows work to reinforce these stereotypes. Characters with Asian or Latin accents are portrayed as lesser than those characters that speak “normally”.
This mindset of inequality permeates many aspects of our society, even food. Food is tied to celebrations: birthdays, anniversaries, promotions, new homes, etc. To celebrate, we eat! What types of places are mostly sought out for these celebrations? Restaurants that are deemed “fancy” (read expensive). People want the white (don’t get me started on how the color white is a symbol for purity and excellence in mostly all literature and dark tones like black and brown are symbols for the opposite lol) tablecloth, the maitre d, the servers in elegant clothes, etc. etc. etc. In other words, food service based on French tradition. I love all of that too! I love French food, but I’m trying to change people’s perceptions as to what food is deserving of a particular price tag and what food is seen as a cheap. I do not discredit any cuisine, but I do want my cuisine (and that of other minority groups) to be viewed as deserving of praise and sought out to enjoy during life’s monumental events.
Why is an eclair sold for $3 but a churro for $1? They are literally the same dough! One is baked and the other is fried! Why does the beurre blanc evoke images of fine dining, but salsa plops you down on a street corner? Both sauces are equally complex and require practice to perfect.
I didn’t start cooking Mexican dishes until 3 years ago. I was learning the European techniques and flavors because I love them, but cooking Mexican dishes has felt the most meaningful because they are rooted in memory, in family, in centuries of tradition.