“No one smells of chicken and thinks of racism! ”
I remember the first time I felt nervous about what I ate. “Nervous,” as opposed to “apprehensive,” which describes how I felt the first time I ate ant eggs, corn smut, and some rattlesnake. alta cocina Tijuana temple. (I don’t need it: the eggs were textured, the charcoal was ruffled, and the rattlesnake looked, you guessed it, like a richer, more gamer chicken.) Nervous, as in “Are you okay?” ? It was my first time dining at Arterra, the Del Mar restaurant co-founded by award-winning chef James Beard Bradley Ogden and local star Carl Schroeder, which opened Market Restaurant + Bar. I don’t remember the exact wording of the menu, but it must have been quite a handwriting as the very descriptive verbiage somehow obscured what became clear to me when the dish arrived: I had ordered a version very sophisticated fried chicken and watermelon. The watermelon was prepared in three ways: a shooter of consomme, grated and marinated, and… well, everything was delicious. Corn…Is it correct?
Years later, I saw Gabriel Iglesias stand-up on making a racist gift basket for a fellow comedian – another black comedian, a certain G Reilly – who was visiting Fresno for the first time. The first thing he puts in the basket is fried chicken. Then watermelon. Kool-Aid, malt liquor, a rack of baby back ribs… you get the idea. And the actor was delighted to have the basket, because as Reilly himself has impassive, “No one smells of chicken and thinks of racism!” I didn’t know it was racist until I returned to my neighborhood!
But of course some people smell like chicken and think racism. Said American kitchen author David Page, “Fried chicken, on the one hand, has been used as a racial abuse and, on the other hand, has not necessarily received the recognition it deserves as a dish created by people who worked as slaves. I’m not trying to sidestep the controversy surrounding its origins in the book. There was fried chicken in Africa, and the aroma and the way it developed here was, I believe, mostly the product of African slaves.
And yet it was the white man, Colonel Sanders, who made it mainstream, just as it was the white-owned Anchor Bar that made Buffalo Wings famous, as have most Competitive barbecue pitmasters are white.
But while Page’s Book isn’t afraid of the racial component in making American cuisine, it keeps things complicated enough. There is a way that my quesa tacos at Mr. Birria “began with the Spaniards who violently and by force introduced their eating habits against the indigenous peoples of Mexico and South America”. The Spaniards, he notes, introduced “among other things beef, wheat and the technique of frying. And then these foods would evolve. Imperialism and conquest have all been linked to a lot of what people end up eating.
The bad story doesn’t mean the food he produces isn’t good. “The word ‘appropriation’ is difficult when it comes to food,” concludes Page. “Does a white man have the right to make food that was originally created by Asians or African Americans?” I think so, if it’s done with respect for where it comes from and who you’re interpreting.