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A Long, Withering Takedown of Rick Bayless on Occasion of Him Receiving an Award from Mexico, or: Rick Bayless, the Michael Bolton of Mexican Food

Categories: Indigestion

Xoco's torta ahogada comes beached, not drowned. Why? Because the bread is not made to handle being doused with a sauce. The spicy sauce began creeping up the bread on the way over to my table, and there's no hope for the second half of your sandwich. And, enough with the two-whales-sticking-out-of-the-water plating, chef: it's a sandwich! Chef's torta aguada comes with plenty of heat, I'll yield on that point, but there was a powerful herb that came with the spice. Here's the thing--in Mexico our salsas are about the flavor of chiles, while in America chiles often take a passenger seat to the other ingredients driving their gringofied salsas.  It was overpowering, and superfluous. The manager said that Chef Bayless uses hoja santa, which is great for wrapping fish for grilling, and in Veracruz's caldo de acuyo (regional name for hoja santa), but it's too much in the ahogada sauce, which should reflect the beauty and fire of the Yahualica chile, a regional chile de arbol. Couldn't get a sense of the carnitas at all.                  

The whole point of this sandwich is the pan salado, and excellent salty carnitas with the Yahualica heat, but fine: you you don't care about authenticity. So let me refer you to Cook's Tortas here in Southern California, where you'll get an elevated torta ahogada that's better in quality and flavor than the one at Xoco and the bread is made in house, by non-Frenchy bakers. If you must pay more for a torta ahogada, go with Cook's tortas, not Xoco. 

churros_azteca.JPG
Bill Esparza
Churros and chocolate at Xoco


The churros and Aztec chocolate suffer the same fate of the multiple grandmother's approach. Bayless--unless you've ever been hit upside the head with a chancla, you can't claim these abuelitas! Churros are about the dough, not the sweeteners; again Bayless overspices the churros with unnecessary flairs, and the Aztec chocolate drink finds no balance between chocolate, spicing, and chiles. I felt a little uneasy for the next few hours from these clashing elements, but held it together thanks to the $5 Victorias--the best thing about Xoco, besides the friendly staff and the lovely Marcela, a hostess from Guadalajara.      

What good is having multiple regions under one roof if the food is lame? Saying you're above Mexican cooks and chefs, the people that teach you how to cook just because you put overpriced churros, pozole, and tortas ahogadas on your menu is not valid. The argument is as pointless as the guitar amp in Spinal Tap that goes to 11!

You want to see Chef Bayless' real craft, try his awkward adventure menus when he's playing with the flavors and not just cooking someone's recipe. He's really an average chef without the stolen recipes. Shouldn't the Mexican government, PBS and Bayless' publishers award the hundreds of uncredited cooks and chefs that have taught Rick Bayless how to make these plates? If some of those abuelitas tasted Xoco's ahogada, Bayless just might actually get a chancla upside his head.

I'm more convinced that Chef Rick Bayless has benefited far more from Mexico than Mexico has benefited from him. Mexican cuisine has conquered America through the mom and pops, through combo plate joints, and even through companies like Frito-Lay and Taco Bell (all inspired directly from Mexicans). In LA and the OC, we've been eating authentic Mexican from day one. If it's just for promoting Mexican cuisine that he's received the Order of the Aztec Eagle, then shouldn't Taco Bell, Pace and El Torito also receive recognition? 

We wouldn't bother questioning this diplomatic nod, if Sr. Bayless showed a little respect for actual Mexicans. Ask the countless Mexican cooks and chefs that have approached him to express their gratitude--obligatory--only to be given a cold stare, or to even be ignored. Ask the poblanos, oaxaqueños, chilangos, and jarochos who've not even received a mention in his cookbooks, or the insulted Los Angeles Mexican chefs and cooks that were told that he was bringing real Mexican cuisine to LA. Hell, ask Gustavo and Jonathan Gold about their unpleasant encounter with Rick a couple of years ago. Bayless wants his tres leches, and to eat it too.

Red O, Frontera Grill, Xoco, and Tobolobampo aren't better than the Mexican mom and pops in LA and the OC, and our handful of Mexican chefs like Rocio Camacho leave these restaurants in the dust, yet they won't receive an Aztec Eagle, nor will they attain the commercial success.

Bayless would be wise to follow the example of the Rolling Stones, who used their celebrity to showcase and revive the careers of artists like Buddy Guy, who they had learned from. A little humility and gratitude would go a long way. Singers Bobby Caldwell and Michael McDonald--known as blue-eyed soul men--always showed respect for African-American soul artists, earning their rightful place in the R & B world. But Rick Bayless chooses to be the Michael Bolton of Mexican cuisine; the American pop singer who just came in and butchered soul classics without any regard for its authors and audience.  

Chef Rick Bayless has a part in this American and global fascination of Mexican food, but as a profiteer, nothing more. He is a successful restaurateur, but is not a great Mexican chef, or a great non-Mexican, Mexican chef. He should follow Wolfgang Puck's lead; smile, be nice, keep your delusions private, and collect the check. As for his receiving the Order of the Aztec Eagle, Insignia class--chale!
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17 comments
skypylit
skypylit

Sad, 'cause you didn't win the prize, emanations from a hopeless toady.

Por que tan Enchilado!
Por que tan Enchilado!

I agree with some points, not all. Most of the article is beyond biased. Sounds angry honestly. It Kinda discredits the validity of the arguments. Then again it's a blog article....as I read somewhere, "graffiti with punctuation".

Scooby Snacks
Scooby Snacks

but like I said atleast their more going on dialogue wise about food.

ScoobySnacks
ScoobySnacks

hahaha you just got called out and now thats the best you can come up with? no wonder nobody takes your shit seriously and your only local appearances is on KOCE with the good old boys' as their token mexican lol hell Bliss and Ghetto juice are newer mags that aren't even necessarily about OC  and those are gone the instant they come out  mean while you can always find the lowly stack of wasted paper that is OC Weekly lol Its used to be a fun read now its just boring and bitter with the same stories just different faces over and over and over again.

Scooby Snacks
Scooby Snacks

Gustavo, thats part my point you dont bash Two Hot Tamales and they are doing the same thing? Is it because it is easier to bash the white boy okie than the lesbian? (all in all Iam stoked that on either side there is this much conversation going on about food in general in today.) oh and fuck you on the laughable insight punk bitch, you aint go know clue who the fuck your talking to when it comes to food. I've been in the food game longer then you have been draggin this mag into the ground at 17 I was cooking for one of the best  in the USA and being invited to cook with Julia Child so suck it easy lol

Bill Esparza
Bill Esparza

 Will do! Felicidades on the zesty latina wife. Mexican Made Easy Season 5--it just gets better and better. 

Scooby Snacks
Scooby Snacks

I like on Mexico One Plate of a time he is a great promoter of mexico, there seemingly  is hate and bitterness from OC Weekly for the sake of having it. Its weak. Like rather than appreciate the fact that at least a white boy okie is doing this much you just wanna shit on em. Its like "oh well Rick just didnt do it the way Gustavo and Bill thinks he should have so let shit on him for it...fuck the fact that he hsa done more to at least put mexican cooking on the radar then Gustavo has ever done and quite possibly whill have ever done.(although credit is due to Gustavo to getting the  few thousand readers of OC Weekly to venture in to OC they normally wouldnt go to. ) Also there are some good (not amaziing etc) chefs on tv you just have to look for them and be willing to watch foriegn channels. Although Kim Chi Chronicles is good, and Pattis Mexican Table. And how bout that one nun who cooks I forgot what channel she is on in Spanish And who cares about if he promotes a brand isn't that what OC Weekly does too? Oh heres our new story....dont foget WE brought it to you first..... blah blah

selena
selena

 hello. My name is Miss Selena, I was looking for a man for friendship serious, when I came across your profile and decided to leave this note for you, I'm asking for serious friendship with you, I'm lonely and bored and I do not hide my feelings, please, I want you to contact me directly to my private email address for easiest communication, (selenaob@yahoo.com). I will send my pictures to you and tell you more about me when I hear from you. I'll be waiting to read your mail in my email box. Thank you. (selenaob@yahoo.com)

Bill Esparza
Bill Esparza

 Hello Lesley! It is specifically in regards to the various interviews, two of which have been attached to this post, where he said he was bringing southern Mexican cuisine to LA where there are a ton of oaxaquenos, poblanos, michoacanos, and chilangos while saying that the Mexicans here were making burritos and tacos. In the other interview he's asked why he's the best Mexican chef in America he responds by saying because he's not bound by traditions. There are other interviews where he does the same--it wasn't necessary to list all of them here. The Feast interview is really enough. I've spoken with Mexican chefs who've approached him and have been ignored, I've heard from chefs in LA who were confused by some of his proclamations, and some that were very upset. There are other people here that I'd rather not mention as it's a small world. Myself, I found it an absurd statement.  I don't doubt Rick minded his P's and Q's in Puebla, a place he has a lot of respect for. No one is disrespectful to everyone. Bayless promotes a brand, Authentic Mexican is just a pitch man's phrase his team throws around--it's a campaign. The Mexican government is unaware of how Mexican food has developed in the US--that's no surprise. Truth is, it has been the mass produced products that have promoted Mexican cuisine, and ultimately the irresistible combination of flavors. El Torito has reached more people than Bayless, and have practically brought them to the same foods give or take a mole or two.  He came to LA with non-Southern flavors, not shaking hands with local chefs and cooks bringing food items people in LA and the OC have been eating for years. Shaking some hands in Puebla doesn't change any of this. "Probably made some Mexicans pay attention..." Indeed. The perception that Americans have learned about Mexican food because of Rick Bayless is a myth. There's no evidence for this and no way to substantiate it. There's overwhelming evidence to the contrary--it's all in Gustavo's book, and estoy de acuerdo. And, yes, I agree he's a smart business man, that's fine, the Walmart family is full of geniuses. He has the success, but is asking for something else he doesn't deserve. His peers aren't asking for this: Puck, etc.  Well, that's a whole other thing--why don't we have more kick-ass Mexican chefs like Marcela on TV? Why aren't their more Asians on food television?  Let's discuss this more after at least 6 drinks at La Mascota listening to our favorite band, and splitting a chamorro. Besos y abrazos!            

Lesley Tellez
Lesley Tellez

Bill, you know how much I love to hear you talk about Rick Bayless, but I still don't entirely get your argument. You said in a comment: "It's about him dissing real Mexican chefs, it's about him passing himself off as the best Mexican chef in America, and not being even close to mom and pops, haute cuisine in Mexico, or our Mexican chefs doing fine traditional cuisine here, let alone in Mexico." Which specific Mexican chefs has he dissed? When I saw Bayless at the Mole Festival in Puebla this year, he had squeezed in time to visit with Poblano chefs and cocineras, and they were all honored that he visited their restaurants. (Or at least they were outwardly.) Also, I don't remember him specifically saying that he's the best Mexican chef in America. Maybe I missed that? I think the spotlight is on him because he's a smart businessman and he's learned how the game works. Of course we could use more high-profile, kick-ass Mexican chefs on TV and in the mainstream media, and I think we're already heading in that direction. Marcela is totally kick-ass, and I'm a huge fan of Patricia Jinich. But I don't think Bayless is saying he has to be the king.  One other thing I wanted to mention, in regards to the Order of the Aztec Eagle, is Mexico's complicated relationship with its own cuisine. A lot of trendy fondas and restaurants in Mexico City don't actually embrace Mexican cooking -- there's still a sentiment here that any food from the United States or Europe is cooler/better. All of this to say that by being a gringo promoting Mexican food, Rick Bayless probably made some Mexicans pay attention, or at least caused them to rethink their stance about Mexican food not being good enough. Here's a link to the proclamation that ran in the Diario Oficial: http://www.dof.gob.mx/nota_detalle.php?codigo=5251077&fecha=06/06/2012

Bill Esparza
Bill Esparza

 Ha! Well, Marcela is a dear friend, and is one of the most amazing people I know, but I'm married to a hot Brazilian, so you tell me. Mexican Made Easy is amazing, Marcela is divine.

Chuy Nomas
Chuy Nomas

Mr. Dodd, Obviously there is a war on Baja cuisine...Give me a list of places to go to in Baja and I will compare them to what Mr. Esparza has on his blog. If the places you go to are better than Esparza's suggestions I will personally bring you a bottle of rare wild tequila, otherwise you will have to eat your words. Fair? Let's get it on. Chuy Tovar

Bill Esparza
Bill Esparza

 Do you have jalapeno pop corn or something spicy? Some Victoria's too if you have them.

Bill Esparza
Bill Esparza

 I love that this is coming from a twitter follower that asks where eat good Latino food.  Could that be--passive-aggressive?

Bill Esparza
Bill Esparza

 NOBODY here is on his case for being a white guy who cooks Mexican. There are plenty of examples that I shall not list as I'm not interested in taking the race bait here. Rick is one chef, and doesn't represent White-Americans anymore than he does Mexican-Americans. Can we move on from that?--because that's not what we're talking about. You know what, every housewife that heads to Oaxaca to take the Seasons of my Heart classes, or any other mole cooking courses can do a damn good mole, but it doesn't make them Mexican chefs. It's about him dissing real Mexican chefs, it's about him passing himself off as the best Mexican chef in America, and not being even close to mom and pops, haute cuisine in Mexico, or our Mexican chefs doing fine traditional cuisine here, let alone in Mexico. Puck, Keller, etc.don't go around claiming to be the best Chinese, French, etc. I also don't agree with the political merit of the the Order of the Aztec Eagle in this case. Some agree, I disagree. Mexican line cooks work in practically every sushi restaurant in LA prepping and doing hot foods, but Japanese food sucks in Mexico. I also believe Japanese make the best Japanese sushi masters. It's not blood my friend, it's the formative experience. Mexicans are from all races, ethnicities, but their experience as Mexicans living and eating in Mexico makes a huge difference. Just like Rick's huge accent in Spanish, his cooking has a tremendous accent, which could use a dash of reality, and a pinch of humility. This has nothing to do with your chilaquiles, which I'm sure I'd enjoy.       

Agliopiccante
Agliopiccante

Keep milking that Baja cow for your own agenda Esparza...

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