Mr. Chow and Mercado Chefs on Offensive Historic Menus: "It's So Racist, It Becomes Pop Art"
Michael Chow and Jesse Gomez examine the stereotypes that have dominated L.A.'s ethnic cuisine.
This story first appeared in the July 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Chow: Fu Manchu vs. Asian Nerd
Funny, it's so racist that it becomes pop art. The Chinese man is either Fu Manchu or a nerd. I prefer Fu Manchu -- you know why? Because Fu Manchu has sex. I don't want to be a nerd. I want to be Fu Manchu.
Even today, you have all these takeout boxes with pagoda writing. It's ridiculous. It shouldn't be called Chinatown, it should be called Chinese Town. Chinatown is a very bad word in my opinion. I hate it when I hear it. I go nuts.
I devoted my whole life to create something that communicated with the East and West. I appointed myself to bring Chinese culture to the restaurant world. I was self-conscious because I know Chinese food is the greatest food of all, but at the same time, historically speaking, in the West, Chinese restaurants are not very good. I wanted to convey respect with food, the Chinese in me wanted to make sure the West respects Chinese people and culture.
Gomez: Sombreros No Mas
My family had a restaurant in L.A., El Arco Iris, for 50 years. Thank God, I don't remember us partaking in that menu style. This is someone's depiction of Mexican people at the time. As you know, there are Mexican people with blond hair, blue eyes; there are Mexican people who are fat; there are Mexican people who are super trim.
I've always looked at early Californian Mexican food as being Americanized, not to attract a certain crowd, but because we couldn't get the ingredients we needed. That's why Mexican cheese became cheddar cheese. Unfortunately, I think that shaped the image of Mexican food 20 years ago: greasy, cheese-laden enchiladas.
There's a shift now. Mexican food has become more authentic. Not just better ingredients but better quality. Twenty years ago, it was OK to serve any kind of crappy meat in a tortilla as long as you had salsa; now we're the great chefs in the food world.