Things I’ve Written This Week - An Illustrated History of Ramen [First We Feast] Delicious Meats On Sticks In Los Angeles [KCET] Best Taco Joints in Los Angeles [Food Network]
Monday, August 15, 2011
Top Shill Alum Marcel Vigernon and the Pico de Gap Truck Bring About the Tacopacalypse
Tacos have taken a beating here lately in Los Angeles. The first wave of fancy taco trucks that chased the new LA street food movement created by the Godfather, Chef Roy Choi, and Kogi's honk heard round the world brought forgettable tacos from Kogi's impetuous imitators. The next wave focused on ethnic cuisines, mostly steering clear of further taco infractions. The Sunset Strip; once the domain ruled ruled by rock gods: Doors, Van Halen, and Guns n Roses; has become the Tortilla Strip: Rosa Mexicano, Pink Taco, Pinches(Fucking)Tacos, and Cabo Cantina.
Last year, a slew of new restaurants capitalizing on Mexican cuisine's increase in popularity--run by non-Latinos including chef Rick Bayless--added to the stomach-moving violations. These attempts at upscale tacoing were laughable--they even made Sunset magazine taco spreads look chic.
The so-called gourmet food trucks(or better, Luxe Lonchero, as coined by Gustavo Arellano of the OC Weekly) have never bothered me. I prefer traditional stands and vendors but I loved a few of the fancy trucks. Although there are some that have associated me with them, I only have written about a handful of trucks on this blog. I don't dine at gourmet food trucks, but I support what they do--I haven't been a critic of these businesses. I've been indifferent to the most obnoxious of the commercial trucks, but I do agree with Roy Choi and Josh Hiller that things have gotten out of hand.That piece was written before we heard about this Pico de Gap. Pico de GAP is guilty of high crimes against street food culture, and the Los Angeles urban scene. We've gone from Art Walk to City Walk.
Nixtamalization, the food science that makes tortillas possible has existed for thousands of years, and as long as these flat-breads have been around, natives of the Americas have been filling them. Today the taco continues to evolve in Mexico with endless styles of tortillas, fillings, and constructions. Even the worst versions of this ancestral food in Mexico are better than 99% of what we have here in the US, but those mediocre taqueros still respect the tradition. They undergo a formal training as much as any other food specialist.
I thought I'd seen it all until I heard the Gap was doing a taco truck promotion with chef Marcel Vigneron I about ruptured a blood vessel in my eye. Nothing wrong with a little commerce. Roy Choi did the menu for the ESPN truck to promote World Cup:chido! Camarena Tequila executed a successful campaign with tequila infused tacos. When they were getting started the marketing team enlisted bloggers including myself to take them to the best Mexican street stands in LA, and they tried in earnest to hire traditional taqueros to create their menu. On their recent run they used a member of Rivera's kitchen to design their menu. In both of these cases the promotion was a "good fit", but a taco truck isn't a one-size-fits-all when it comes to marketing.
Why didn't the Gap go with a Mexican taquero? It seems the only spot for a Mexican on the Gap Trucks would be making the pants that come with the tacos at a maquiladora somewhere along the Mexico-US border. Actually, the GAP no longer manufactures in Mexico, as they were able to find Indians and Bangladeshis willing to work for even less. In light of its child labor violations and sweatshop practices in the Third World, I find it odd that the GAP would attempt to serve an ethnic food.
We all are wearing clothes made in a sweat shop, yes, but this is ridiculous--the Pico de Gap Truck!GAP is one of the largest clothing retailers along with corporations like Wal-Mart;they are the principal players in driving down wages and promoting sweat-shop practices worldwide.
Is there no one in Chef Marcel's entourage that has the balls to tell him that this was a douchey move?
Chef Marcel has Fallen into the Gap.
As for the tacos? I wouldn't be caught dead at the Pico de Gap Truck. Clearly the menu and style is drawn from our gabacherias(non-Latino owned taquerias) here in town. Cotija cheese isn't a common condiment at a real Mexican taqueria; it is used more by antojitos vendors. Cotija is never used on lamb, which is almost always prepared as barbacoa:pit-roasted. Should cotija be spinkled on everything? Probably not. Radishes are served on the side, not in the taco. It's almost as if Chef Marcel saw condiments meant for other foods and threw them all in the store bought tortilla.
Chef Marcel muses about how he has to change everything he cooks up a little as to suggest he's on the edge--perhaps the chemical fumes of deconstructivist cooking have warped his thinking. The tacos are traceable to local, trendy presentations. Looks a lot like Tinga with all that cotija madness.
Just having a well-braised lamb doesn't make a taco--I'm sure Chef Marcel can braise a lamb--it's every component. I really enjoyed the Hatchi dinner at Breadbar Chef Marcel did a while back;I thought it the best tasting I had the entire Hatchi series, but participating in such a farce doesn't make much sense, even for the money. This isn't the gig of a serious person and stains the toques of our other celebrated chefs that are working hard to make LA the place to cook.
And what was that about how "Pico de Gap", because we're bridging the gap between tradition and cool? Good grief!Serio?
In the video he boasts of all the hotspots the truck will be hitting--like the Glendale Galeria?
Maybe Vigneron should have stuck to his bag of tricks, or have done his homework? I had a taco of foam served in a mason jar at Pujol in Mexico City. It was brilliant; you could taste and smell the chicharron taco as if you were on the street. And when you hit the gritty, little spot of chicharron at the bottom of the jar it was like striking gold.
There are tons of contemporary and avant-garde style tacos in Mexico, and your amateur effort doesn't even register.Many chefs around town work really hard to incorporate other cuisines and ingredients into their repertory with dignity.
Some of our chefs have come under fire for their celebrity indulgences and have been unjustly lumped in with chefs like Marcel. Our chefs have confidence and attitude,they're on TV and have tattoos, but in the end they are humble people with respect for their profession AND other cultures.
Even if Vigneron could pull it off, it'd still be the fucking Gap Truck. It's most disconcerting when Chef Marcel's tacopacalypse gets de-pantsed by a fashion show to plug the GAP's line of pants.(note: the commercial has been removed from the internet, so I've substituted another video)
There's nothing nifty nor hip about the Gap truck, but the Pico de Gap Truck has some interesting things you might not have known.
Here are the Top Ten things you didn't know about the Pico de Gap Truck.
1) Chef Marcel will resonate with Mexicans as they remember the valiant Wolverine and his brave visit to DF during the swine flu panic. "Mira, el taquero parece como el pinche Wolverine, que no?"
2)Chef Marcel's turn as a taquero inspired a traditional taquero in Mexico City to start a molecular gastronomy cart.
3)The Pico de Gap truck will always arrive fashionably late to "design" an authentic Mexican feel.
4)Chef Marcel will now incorporate nixtamalization into his avant-garde techniques.
5)The actual uniforms used on the truck are by Banana Republic.
6)Pico de Gap employees got lectured for nicknaming the truck "the sweatshop ".
7)The original name for the Pico de Gap truck was "A Day Without a Mexican".
8)Chef Marcel will be replaced on the second leg of the Pico de Gap truck by a street vendor from Mumbai.
9)The Pico de Old Navy will be hitting up high school campuses and Citywalk in the fall.
10)If there is a Hell, then Pico de Gap is its truck!
Pico de GAP! Stop your awful sweatshop and child labor abuses. Leave our Redwoods and our tacos alone.