Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Why Are Gustavo Arellano and I Against Eater LA Being Accused of Columbusing by Mexicans?

Former unlicensed vendor, chef Wes Avila's Guerrilla Tacos  (Avila is a Mexican-American chef who grew up in Pico-Rivera) has become one of the most important restaurants in L.A., thanks to his talent and an ethnically diverse local media that has documented his rise to fame from street stand to licensed food truck

On January 13, 2015, Eater contributor Lucas Peterson, wrote an article about an elotero, or Mexican street corn vendor based in Lincoln Heights, a predominately Latino neighborhood in Los Angeles. It came as no surprise to me, as Eater has been doing great coverage of street food lately--I read the article and found it to be a good read. I got the charm of the vendor and some good background on a story I've not pursued here in Los Angeles. Reason--I'm a street corn snob, and until someone breaks out with a cacahuazintle, or heirloom corn varieties, or at least some real Mexican field corn, I'm not biting. So, I was pleased to hear this story and it made me even think I might be missing out on something, but never did it enter my mind the ethnicity of the writer because it doesn't matter.

Eater followed up with a photo and quick blurb about the buzz they'd created for this vendor--Eater has a huge readership and apparently they're hungry for street food. As a blogger and writer of street food in LA and beyond for quite some time, and now as a writer and contributor for Los Angeles Magazine and fixer for television shows; I think it's great, but apparently some other Latinos felt differently.

I got wind of a Facebook post shared by many Latinos criticizing Eater's outing of the street corn vendor. Eater L.A. editor Matt Kang commented, as did other L.A. writers like LAist's Krista Simmons--her last comment pretty much ended the uncomfortable discussion.

The thread started out with a dialogue about ethics, but after it was shared with others in the Latino community, accusations of Columbusing, the practice of white people claiming another cultures discovery for themselves, were made about Eater's street corn post. Apparently, Lucas (who is part Asian) had no business writing about elotes and Eater was too white to understand these vendors and the challenges in the community. Estupidez!

I had ignored this manufactured controversy other than some posts on twitter in support of Peterson and Eater, but the fact that Eater felt the need to defend themselves from a racially motivated attack when there was no Columbusing made me reconsider. Gustavo Arellano (who's calling this elotegate) wrote about this in OC Weekly's Stick a Fork in It--Arellano and I are two Latino food writers who've been writing about unlicensed vendors since back in the day, and we've always supported non-Latinos who've documented illegal street food in all media.

Jonathan Gold wrote about Breed Street when he was at the LA Weekly, the massive street vendor fair I brought to L.A.'s attention back in 2007--it was my 2nd blog post and the beginning of all of this for me. Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern have made a career of covering unlicensed vendors, and street food in general. Not only do I support them in this noble pursuit, but I've been a consultant for both shows and have appeared with Zimmern three times as a fixer and on-screen guide, once on the same show with Gustavo Arellano. I brought Huell Howser to the Mercadito and recently CNN on an underground street tour of Los Angeles delving into one of the most clandestine eateries in East LA. Are Bourdain, Zimmern and Gold Columbusing? Any Latino that thinks this way have the huevos to accuse them in such a racist manner? All three of these people are huge supporters and promoters of Mexican cuisine, Latino cuisines in general, and street food.  

Arellano, along with his good friend and cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz, is one of the two biggest reasons in the country white people rarely get away with Columbusing Mexican and Latino culture, so much so that they both ended up working for Fox's Bordertown because the show feared doing it without them. For my part, I'm the guy who turned chef Rick Bayless's Red-O into a no-media fly zone after he came to town and said he was bringing southern and central Mexican cuisine to our Oaxaqueños, Michoacanos, Poblanos, Yucatecos, Guerrerenses, Zacatencanos, Jalicienses, Mexiquenses and Chilangos serving Mexican food in LA. He did not bring it, at all, and after my blog post along with the huge contribution from Arellano and Jonathan Gold (unintended) I'm proud to say Bayless keeps his opinions to himself when he comes to town and no major publications cover him here; mostly because we're too busy covering real Mexican cuisine. Gustavo and I know about Columbusing.

Journalists write stories, and food writers cover the food and drink of their territory, period. This was the response echoed by NYC based critic, Robert Sietsema, "If the food is there, we cover it, no apology necessary. The only requirement is that we be respectful, and not too harsh in our judgments." This is the job, and if you disagree with this you're not a writer. LAist's Krista Simmons who also commented said over a phone conversation. "The job is to cover stories as a writer and it shouldn't matter what my ethnicity is--what, I can't write about Mexican, Thai or Burmese because I'm not a member of those groups?"

Eater defended itself, even justifying their ethnicity and the permission given to them by the vendor, but this was all a waste--Eater did nothing wrong and ethnicity doesn't matter. Lucas, who I don't know, wrote a good story, and he has the right to write about it--no apologies necessary. Furthermore, Eater wrote about a stand---they didn't claim to discover anything or bring it to the masses, it was just a routine story about an elotero, and it's an absurd notion that the article could lead to closing the vendor down.

What about the vendor? Well, while I'm uninterested in letting you know my motives for doing things as it's not important, I've had several interviews with a former health inspector, who's a current consultant and professor still very connected to the Street Food unit of the health department. The biggest piece of the pie in respect to visits by the health department to street stands are calls from residents, businesses, and inter-agency referrals. A sliver of the pie is indirect, or word of mouth--that's where we could potentially come in. But, word-of-mouth existed before blogs, Yelp, Jonathan Gold, Andrew Zimmern, Gustavo Arellano, myself or Eater. The po-po isn't reading us (the why I know shall remain confidential for obvious reasons), and if they did, they'd have a hell of a time finding the handful of unlicensed street food vendor posts buried in the mountain of scrolling headlines produced each day on sites like Eater.

Case in point. When Breed Street was shut down, it was the residents who were making all the calls according to Boyle Heights resident Mynor Godoy (Godoy is a regular attendee to Boyle Heights city council meetings)--this was confirmed years ago when I spoke to Boyle Heights residents during the Breed Street crack down--they viewed the weekend event as a blight on their community.

The Breed Street vendors like Nina Garcia and Carmen of Antojito's Carmen themselves were aware of the lack of community support for what they did as many of the stand owners were Boyle Heights residents themselves. Big surprise that some of these same residents are now upset about gentrification--the closing of Breed Street is one of the pivotal events in paving the way for today's crisis in Boyle Heights. And for all the Eater haters in Boyle Heights, the elotero is in Lincoln Heights, not in your neighborhood.

Arellano and I encourage everyone to cover Latin cuisines and street food, especially the often more delicious unlicensed variety--the racist attitudes that made Eater and Lucas Petersen feel the need to defend themselves are unwarranted. Save the Columbusing for when it's a legitimate reason.

Remember, the street vendor has opened in a conspicuous location with signs, balloons, rainbow umbrellas and maybe even a grand opening banner with his catering number on it; the line for food is conspicuous--you are standing in that line, and even if you aren't writing about it, you brought your friends (some may not be Latino). You can't stand there in line whether you are a Latino, non-Latino or a writer (Latino or non-Latino) and say you are being responsible because you're not posting about it. You are contributing to this spectacle that's seen by all passersby and you've no moral ground to stand on. That goes for Latinos in Boyle Heights, or "territorial food writers", as Midtown Lunch LA blogger, Zach Brooks stated in the Eater comments section of one of the posts in defense of Peterson. The only way to change the law is for more people to write about, enjoy and share the L.A. traditions of street vending.

Gustavo and I are known for our writing about Latin cuisines, not because of our ethnicity but because we do our homework and are well-traveled when it comes to our subjects; our being Mexican or pocho means nothing and Lucas' background shouldn't concern anyone either. I'm happy to work for a wonderful editor, Lesley Barger Suter, who supports me in writing about unlicensed vendors, because if I didn't have that freedom I wouldn't be at Los Angeles Magazine. Eater has jumped into the ring and that's great, because if you aren't including unlicenced street vendors in your coverage of this town, you aren't really covering food in L.A.  

Friday, December 5, 2014

Tijuana After Dark, the Rebirth of Prohibition-Era Tijuana on Friday, December 12 with Club Tengo Hambre, Chef Javier Plascencia and Caesar's Restaurant

I'm thrilled to announce our first Repeal Day, Prohibition-themed event for Club Tengo Hambre in collaboration with chef Javier Plascencia, Caesar's Restaurant with live jazz and burlesque at an undisclosed location in Tijuana's Red Light District.

After many chats with Plascencia about the Golden Age of Tijuana we've turned this dream into reality. Tijuana's seedy past and present collide with the glamour and raciness of Hollywood during the 20's and 30's--hey Big Spendors, let's all go south of the border for a good time.

Tijuana After Dark by Club Tengo Hambre, Chef Javier Plascencia, and Caesar's Restaurant
Friday, December 12 @ 6:30pm
$110.00 a person
For tickets and more information go to this link.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Vitamina T Alert! Chefs Wes Avila and Eduardo Ruiz are at Corazon y Miel This Monday, December 8, 2014

Christmas is coming early this year. This Monday night, a monumental taco tasting will pair two of the rising stars of Alta California cuisine, chef Wes Avila of Guerrilla Tacos and chef Eduardo Ruiz of Corazon y Miel. This Taco Monday tasting will consist of 6 courses for $45, from 6pm to 10pm at Corazon y Miel in Bell, California.

This will be one of the most important events of the year for taco aficionados and will feature some surprise ingredients, and special tacos created just for this event. You'll not want to miss out on this street gourmet experience.

Taco Tasting with Chefs Wes Avila and Eduardo Ruiz
Monday, December 8. 2014
6pm to 10 pm
$45 for 6 courses, to get tickets click on this link.
Corazon y Miel, 6626 Atlantic Bl., Bell, (323) 560-1776

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

It's 4 Stars for Los Putos on YELP?

Update: as of 11/30/2014, Yelp has corrected the mistake and Los Putos is now listed as their real name, Los Poblanos. Great news for them.

Putos, a delicious Filipino treat

Bad form!

I don't think Yelp meant to call Los Poblanos, a cemitas poblanas truck in Boyle Heights, Los Putos, which while has wide acceptance in Mexico, is the Spanish word for a derogatory name used towards homosexuals.

I have no clue how Yelp operates nor how that happened but how could a popular website in Los Angeles not know what that word means?

Yelpers, you're an interesting bunch, from your Yelp Elite eating spree events, to Payola scams, to your ridiculous reviews but this is an all-time low.

Los Putos, http://www.yelp.com/biz/los-putos-los-angeles
4 Stars on Yelp

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Thanksgiving in Baja with Club Tengo Hambre, Saturday, November 29th

Please join us at chef Javier Plascencia's Finca Altozano for a Baja wine country cook out with wines poured by Victor Segura of Las Nubes. For more information go to clubtengohambre.com or click on this link

Thanksgiving in Baja
Saturday, November 29th
Finca Altozano

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Club Tengo Hambre, Mexico City for Street Food Essentials

Club Tengo Hambre, the roving supper club I founded with Jason Thomas Fritz (Tijuanalandia), Kristin Diaz de Sandi and Antonio Diaz de Sandi (Both of Life and Food Blog) has begun to offer our Street Food Essentials tour after months of test runs since our inaugural outing. This tour highlights the most delicious and sought after local street foods in Mexico's capitol. For those who've joined us over the past two seasons in Baja California, expect the same commitment to presenting the best local cuisine, chefs, cooks, and artisans; attentive service, and a fully curated experience that replicates our own personal adventures.

Join us for a taste of Street Food Essentials in Mexico City with a local, food loving chilango guide with the best tour company in Mexico's capitol--we capture the bold flavors of Mexico City like no other. Tours are available now at clubtengohambre.com! See you in Mexico City.

Club Tengo Hambre

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Mariscos El Cristalazo: The New L.A. Standard in Sinaloan Cuisine in Los Angeles Magazine

Tamales barbones at Mariscos El Cristalazo

Well, it's easier than you think to find great new spots in L.A. for street food and mom and pops given our limitless urban sprawl. South Central is particularly rich in Mexican street food during the weekend mornings and afternoons; East LA, Boyle Heights and South Central are also constantly losing and gaining food trucks, stands and casas (houses); and MacArthur Park has the same fluid motion in terms of Guatemalan and Salvadoran street food. But 2014 has yielded an even more substantial trio of exceptional finds: Carnitas El Momo, Tacos Quetzalcoatl and now Mariscos El Cristalazo.

Chilitos Cri Cri--bacon wrapped chile güeros stuffed with shrimp and cheese

Mariscos El Cristalazo is a traditional seafood vendor from Escuinapa, Sinaloa that bridges the gap between the conventional barra fria (cold bar) and barra caliente (hot bar) of our local Sinaloan seafood restaurants and the contemporary Mexican seafood practitioners like Guerrilla Tacos, Tacos Puntas Cabras, Bizarra Capital and Taco Maria.

Cocktails: the Cristalazo--shrimp ceviche, aguachile and call de hacha with a chabela, a super-sized michelada 

Ninive Vargas brings in fresh seafood products from Mexico just like Coni'Seafood from Sinaloa's southern neighbor, Nayarit, which shares a similar seafood tradition, but with both subtle and unmistakable differences. You can read more about this delicious find in Essential T: Tamales Barbones at Mariscos El Cristalazo and Mariscos El Cristalazo Sets the Standard for Sinaloan Seafood in L.A. in my latest posts for the Los Angeles Magazine Digest.

Tacos de marlin

 Best callo de hacha in L.A.

 Lemon pepper shrimp

Botana Reniz: callo de hacha, oysters, and a little spice

 Shrimp albondigas, grandmother's recipe 

Tlaxtihuille, a pre-Hispanic mole with shrimp, one of the best Mexican dishes to enjoy in Los Angeles

Follow Mariscos El Cristalazo on Instagram @el_critalazo