As a consultant, or source for Parts Unknown Mexico, I was of course eager to see how the episode turned out--that is to say I agreed to a phone conference with CNN's Mexico bureau to suggest where host Anthony Bourdain and ZPZ Productions should visit in Mexico, to reveal the unknown parts. In the half hour I spoke with CNN, I emphasized the importance of Tepito's food scene and about some other locations I feel have been underexposed that have tremendous cuisine. I was busy that Sunday and wouldn't see the episode 'til later that evening, but I saw a heartfelt blog written by Bourdain that made me feel very optimistic before I saw a tweet from Monterrey, Mexico's Chef Guillermo Gonzalez Berestain (Pangea), one of the founding fathers of Modern Mexican cuisine (No, he doesn't live in San Diego or vacation in Cabo, Mr. Bourdain), lamenting the shows content.
The episode was not the great show that had just done very food-centric programs in India, Las Vegas, and Lyon--perhaps the most food orientated show this season--instead it showed Mexico as a non-stop bloodbath, with everyone running for cover, and sort of glossed over the food. When it wasn't sensationalizing the drug war, it was doing ads for the Grey Goose of mezcal, Del Maguey, owned by a Texan, and doing the Fodor's guide tour of Oaxaca, visiting places that have appeared in practically every food show ever shot in Oaxaca. A viewing of your old episodes of Chef Rick Baylesses Mexico: One Plate at a Time would have done the trick. A surly Bourdain responded in the comments section to A Gringo in Mexico blogger Scott Koenig's Open Letter to Bourdain with a decisive dismissal of any concerns about Parts Unknown Mexico by San Diegans and Spring Breakers out to have Mexicans carry their golf clubs (the same ones that washed dishes at Les Halles). But why Mexico, at a time when the biased media has backed off of this story--was this an attempt to get ratings from low lying fruit, or was the show simply mistitled?
Berestain said that it was a "pity that Bourdain dedicated 75% of the show to drug traffickers and the cartels. This country is much more than this", he added.
Lastima que @Bourdain le dedicó el 75% de su programa sobre Mexico a hablar del narco y sus cárteles. Este pais es por mucho, mas que eso.
— Guillermo Gonzalez B (@GGBeristain) May 5, 2014
From the Valle de Guadalupe, chef Roberto Alcocer responded, "It's like that?"
@GGBeristain @Bourdain así es!!
— Roberto Alcocer (@alcocerroberto) May 5, 2014
One of Mexico's most important culinary power couples, Claudio Poblete Ritschel and Silvia Ayala agreed with Berestain, too.
“@GGBeristain: Lástima que @Bourdain dedicó el 75% de su programa sobre México al narco y sus carteles. Este país es más que eso.” /+1000
— Culinaria Mexicana (@cmexicana) May 5, 2014
On my personal Facebook page post on this subject, Mexico's chefs and food lovers from all over Mexico(Not San Diego) expressed outrage, and discontent with the show's content--it was clear that Mexicans, including myself, did not feel this was an accurate portrayal of Mexico, nor is it our reality.
Bourdain had this to say to Koenig:
Perhaps the basic misunderstanding here is this:
This was not a story about a COUNTRY–though it took place in one. As always, I did not seek to portray a country or its character in its entirety in one hour of television. That would be facile, impossible and unworthy of a far more complicated far bigger story. It was the story of a few ordinary but very courageous people, facing head in at great personal peril, a status quo that most are unable or unwilling to address.
That is all it was. To “balance” those stories–to make audiences more comfortable? To make a tourism economy more viable? Would be a betrayal of the people who spoke honestly with us at no small risk to themselves.
The points of view expressed on my programs by the way are mine. And only mine. Any suggestion that my network, or anyone else suggests, contributes, steers or influences that point of view or my choices of subject matter or even the editing process is dead wrong. Anyone who believes that doesn’t know me very well or believes in black helicopters.
Parts Unknown is produced independently by me and my partners at ZPZ production. CNN is the customer. We go where I want and tell the stories I choose in the way I choose to tell them. Period.
The problem is that this show wasn't titled Parts Unknown: The War on Drugs in Mexico, it's Parts Unknown: Mexico! Period. This is misleading and certainly not consistent with the rest of the shows, that are seem to be viewed through a Euro-centrist lens. Europe is about food, celebrity chefs and the good life, and Latin America is about drugs, prostitutes (that quip in Tepito, as if anyone gets prostitutes there), and violence. If Mr. Boulud was unhappy with the show I'm sure respect would be given rather than cracks about San Diegans--Sr. Berestain is one of the Bouluds of Mexico and that matters to me and the entire Mexican food scene--it should also matter to the biggest food rock star and biggest promoter of celebrity chefs on the planet.
Yes, some of the individuals in Parts Unknown: Mexico are living a nightmare, especially Anabel Hernandez, who has chosen this courageous path, but the show didn't make any distinction between her reality--and others in the show--and the rest of the country.
If Parts Unknown made a habit of exposing the social ills of all its destinations, we'd understand, and furthermore, there was no new ground covered here--the drug war has been covered ad nauseam; there are thousands of documentaries and programs that have done a far better job with more fair coverage. Newspapers in the U.S. including the LA Times had regular columns on the War in Mexico during Calderon's presidency. Your famous wit just doesn't get beneath the surface here--a friend says you're trying for an Emmy, perhaps?--well, I hope you get one, but this retreaded tale probably won't suffice. Maybe if you interviewed Celerino Castillo III?
I don't golf, and don't vacation in Cabo or Cancun--Mexico has 31 states and a federal district--Cabo, Baja and Cancun aren't the only safe places in Mexico, and I've been through 28 states, plus Mexico City (that's why your people called me) and have never felt unsafe, nor have my friends, family, or myself been victims of the cartels. My family lives in Aquascalientes, Mexico City, Puebla, Jalisco, Baja California and this terror is not their reality. I was in Ciudad Juarez on a regular basis during the worst years of the crisis; I've been in Apatzingan, I've been all through Sinaloa, Michoacan, Nuevo Leon, and Chihuahua without a film crew with or any fixers in tow.
The worst root causes of the drug war are here in the U.S. where consumption drives the market (you should know), our weapons maintain the cartels (some even provided by the U.S. government), our banks launder the money, some Zetas members were trained in the U.S., and our prohibition laws keep the prices high on the street--lucrative for the cartels. We have our own drug violence here in the U.S. 80,000 killed in Mexico from the drug war?--more U.S. citizens have died in the same years from which these figures are derived from handguns--here at home. So, let's not make this about figures.
Aside from time spent on the drug war theme at its most base level--which was also prominent in your Baja California show on No Reservations (oh, and some of the chefs featured in that show were surprised that so much time was devoted to the drug war), the time spent hyping a cult religion--Santa Muerte--a commercial brand of mezcal that's not even consumed in Mexico (you can find it in San Diego, though), and the missed food opportunities in Tepito, Cuernavaca, and Oaxaca, it really wasn't a good show--at all. It was not a representation of Mexico, it did not break ground on Mexico's struggle against the cartels--in a country that is still a top travel destination for U.S. tourists--how is that possible with the image you promoted?--yes, many are going to Cancun, but they're also in Colima, Nayarit, D.F., Puebla, Jalisco and Hidalgo--you'll be just fine in any of these places as well as the majority of the states. Oaxaca, too! Then, there are the huge population of U.S. retirees in San Miguel, Lake Chapala and Baja--should they sell the condos and make way for Cabo?
Yes, the war on drugs rages on--all over the world--it's a world issue that could end tomorrow through legalization here in the U.S.
It's not about Parts Unknown just doing shows that drive tourism, although you did sell me on Lyon, and you did find time to shamelessly plug(by your own admission) your chocolate venture with Eric Ripert in Peru. I would just like to have seen a good show, and Mexico, it's chefs, and myself included, really love what you do--you are the most interesting man in the world. Mexicans know how much you love the food, the line cooks, and the culture, but Mexico deserved a better show from you, and Anabel deserves a forum where breakfast micheladas aren't one of the most memorable things in the show.