Tribute: Anthony Bourdain held Mexico in high esteem

Anthony Bourdain enjoys a classic Zapotec meal on Oaxaca outskirts. Photo: CNN
Anthony Bourdain enjoys a classic Zapotec meal on Oaxaca outskirts in 2014. Photo: CNN

Anthony Bourdain traveled the world, but it was Mexico that stole his heart and made him a fierce advocate — not only for the country’s cuisine — but for migrant workers in the U.S.

Mexico lost that advocate when Bourdain took his own life Friday at the age of 61.

His marvelous story-telling skills were at work when he enlightened the world on Mexico’s under-appreciated heritage.

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He toured Tijuana and Mexico City, but also ventured into less populous destinations such a Oaxaca’s Teotitlán del Valle, where he encountered the traditional Zapotec cuisine in a family restaurant belonging to Abigail Mendoza. “Look at the strength of your hands, the power. It is impressive and beautiful,” he told her.

But Bourdain’s relationship with Mexico was not limited to gastronomy and travel. On Tumblr, the chef defended the role of Mexican migrants in the United States. “Mexico. Our brother from another mother. A country with which, like it or not, we are inexorably and deeply involved, in a close but often uncomfortable embrace,” he wrote.

“Look at it. It’s beautiful,” Bourdain continued. “It has some of the most ravishingly beautiful beaches on earth. Mountains, desert, jungle. Beautiful colonial architecture, a tragic, elegant, violent, ludicrous, heroic, lamentable, heartbreaking history. Mexican wine country rivals Tuscany for gorgeousness. Its archeological sites—the remnants of great empires, unrivaled anywhere. And as much as we think we know and love it,  we have barely scratched the surface of what Mexican food really is. It is NOT melted cheese over a tortilla chip. It is not simple, or easy. It is not simply ‘bro food’ halftime. It is in fact, old– older even than the great cuisines of Europe and often deeply complex, refined, subtle, and sophisticated. A true mole sauce, for instance, can take DAYS to make, a balance of freshly (always fresh) ingredients, painstakingly prepared by hand. It could be, should be, one of the most exciting cuisines on the planet. If we paid attention. The old school cooks of Oaxaca make some of the more difficult to make and nuanced sauces in gastronomy. And some of the new generation, many of whom have trained in the kitchens of America and Europe have returned home to take Mexican food to new and thrilling new heights.”

The love of Mexico and its food, he said, was hypocritical of Americans.

“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, and 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,” Bourdain wrote on his “Parts Unknown” blog in January. “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 a prep cook. Mexicans do much of the work in this country that Americans, probably, simply won’t do.

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Bourdain defended the work of more than five million migrants living in the United States and praised their strength.

Bourdain’s show didn’t reach Yucatán, but he did co-produce a documentary that revealed the life of a famous Mérida expat, Jeremiah Tower.

Sources: El Pais, Huffington Post Mexico

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