Chef Gordon Ramsay has made a name for himself as a man of exacting standards who demands nothing less than perfection from cooks in his kitchens, but it was a video of his own kitchen this week that sparked some scathing reviews on Twitter for his take on Puerto Rican. pégao rice. While some viewers seemed delighted that he was drawing attention to the island, others were disappointed with his approach.
The video is from his YouTube series “Scrambled: On the Road,” a digital companion to his National Geographic travel show “Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted” (a show which itself has received quite a bit of criticism for its approach to exploration of international cuisines). The clip features the chef leading viewers through a recipe that some say bears little resemblance to the Puerto Rican pegao he says he is.
Although later changed, the title of the video in question was first published as “Can Gordon Ramsay Raise a Dish of Puerto Rican Rice?” And in the segment, he happily promises to do just that, first calling it a “beautiful dish,” then asking, “How do you raise that?” How do you take this to the next level? “
For those of us whose cuisines are routinely considered “ethnic” or “other”, the word “raising” already serves as a red flag. Why does cooking need to be elevated? And why would a non-cooking expert think he could improve it?
In the video, waves crash against the rocks behind him as he cooks what he says is pegao, but in reality looks more like fried rice or even another Puerto Rican dish, arroz mamposteao.
For some of us who grew up eating Puerto Rican pegao, the demonstration was both puzzling and infuriating.
Imagine, for example, the absurdity of watching a video of a chef assembling an elaborate fruit salad while calling it “the most amazing smoothie”.
“It’s not pegao, it’s a hate crime,” Twitter user @AntillanaSoy said in reference to a TikTok clip from the original video.
Others on social media echoed that Ramsay’s dish certainly wasn’t pegao, and joined in jokes, Ramsay-style slurs and other more nuanced reviews.
Puerto Rican-born chef and recipe developer Reina Gascon-Lopez, who tweets as @sofritoproject, got to the heart of what many of us, truly knowing the island’s cuisine, were feeling:
“It’s just frustrating to see white male chefs getting applauded for doing the bare minimum (and wrongly, for that matter) on kitchens they know nothing about, and then being hailed like experts,” he said. – she tweeted.
Frustration seemed to be a common reaction to Ramsay’s interpretation of pegao by other Puerto Rican chefs and food writers.
“What’s most problematic here is that with the reach and size of his audience, his fans are going to take what he says at face value, even when a dish is misnamed and / or performed.” , Gascon-Lopez told me.
Illyanna Maisonet, food writer and author of the upcoming Puerto Rican cookbook, “Diasporican,” highlighted the problem of having a network like National Geographic promoting a non-Puerto Rican white chef recipe while so many others with knowledge and skills regularly excluded from the conversation.
“How many Puerto Rican chefs have you seen on TV cooking arroz con gandules?” She asked, noting how many times food professionals like her who have “dedicated (their) lives documenting Puerto Rican food” still have to “beg and advocate” for national attention, while that celebrities like Ramsay are given a free pass with seemingly little hindsight or questioning.
Neither Gordon Ramsay nor National Geographic responded to requests for comment.
What is pegao?
To understand the backlash, it’s important to understand what pegao is and what it means to many Puerto Ricans. The word itself is a colloquial form of the Spanish word “pegado”, which translates to “stuck”. In the context of Puerto Rican cuisine, pegao specifically refers to the thin, crispy layer of rice that sticks to the bottom of the pot when preparing traditional island rice dishes like arroz con gandules (rice with peas cajan). It’s not an easy technique to master, and every chef I spoke to quickly noticed that it had taken them years to learn.
In his video, Ramsay talks about pegao like it’s a dish in itself, but it’s really more of a feature of another dish. Saying you’re about to make (or teach!) Pegao is like roasting a whole chicken and calling it just “crispy chicken skin.”
Gascon-Lopez calls pegao “the end result of cooking a pot of rice”, pointing out that “you can’t do it on your own without the rest of the rice with it”.
Eric Rivera, chef and owner of Addo restaurant in Seattle, who responded to Ramsay’s video with a sharp edge thread highlighting the problems of the demonstration, alludes to the joy Puerto Ricans feel when they think of pegao, calling it “the buried treasure” and the “byproduct of a bullet dish”.
Rivera explained, “Pegao is probably the most sought after part of a rice dish… Supply is scarce but a bite is the best bite…”
It was precisely the lifelong memories and love that many of us have for pegao that struck a chord and led to the heated reaction.
In an attempt to understand how Ramsay developed his recipe, I watched the full Puerto Rico episode of “Uncharted”.
The exoticism of Puerto Rico
The premise behind the show is typical of the genre, reminiscent of Bobby Flay’s Food Network series “Throwdown!” In each episode, Ramsay visits a country and spends a few days participating in pseudo-adventures to find ingredients that he then uses to challenge a local chef in a final cooking competition to see who can cook the best ones. versions of local cuisine.
In defense of the show, Ramsay noted in 2018 to Entertainment Weekly that the concept allows him to highlight “some of the best (culinary) talent that has yet to be noticed.”
In the episode I watched, I didn’t see him show off any unnoticed cooking skills. The featured local chef is Jose Enrique, possibly one of the island’s most famous and awarded chefs. Jose introduces Ramsay to a variety of food producers who are only mentioned by first name, with the exception of Draco Rosa, the former Menudo and famous music producer who now owns a coffee farm in Utuado, Puerto Rico.
Even more scandalous for an island where much of the food and traditions are prepared and shared by our mamás, tias and abuelas was the almost total lack of women. It’s only 30 minutes after the show starts that we meet the only Puertorriqueña in the whole episode, a farmer named Suley who teaches Ramsay how to harvest vegetables for a few minutes.
Ramsay repeatedly mentions how “resilient Puerto Ricans are,” noting that in Puerto Rico, “everything is tough,” as he takes on various adventure challenges around the island like a culinary Indiana Jones. He jumps from a helicopter which “is not allowed to land” in search of coffee, rappels down a mountain to meet a shrimp fisherman, and does a large task of the “terrifying” flight in a small plane to the smaller Puerto Rican island of Culebra, where he spearheads for local snapper. The challenges are reminiscent of amusement park rides; the helicopter was hovering just three feet off the ground when Ramsay jumped in, and the flight to the small islands (which I took!) is about 20 minutes long and, while not particularly luxurious, hardly anything the host of an adventure series should challenge (interestingly, no one mentions the ferry, which is how most locals travel.)
As a Puerto Rican chef and woman, the exoticification of the island where my family is from and the lack of context regarding our food was painful to watch. I understand that the purpose of a television like this is entertainment; I have certainly participated in silly hijackings in front of the camera, but doing it under the guise of education is irresponsible and ultimately only serves to exploit and further perpetuate the limiting myths and stereotypes about cultures that are regularly denied a genuine spotlight in traditional food media.
It’s true that in Puerto Rico right now, a lot of things are difficult, but it’s not because people have to face “Survivor” style challenges during their day. Ramsay could have used the privilege of his platform to show how real-world hardships such as regular power outages, the impact of the Jones Act of 1920 on the cost of food, or the continuing effects of Hurricane Maria have a direct impact on the way people eat and cook. Instead of prioritizing celebrities and gadgets, he could have spent more time with Suley or other food innovators who are doing the work of making the island more self-sufficient. Maybe somewhere along the line he’d even learned what pegao really is.
Ultimately, what’s important to remember is that when people from a community or culture raise our voices over things as seemingly harmless as a cooking video, advocacy is all about. not really the amount of ingredients or the technique. It’s a question of representation. It’s a matter of respect. It is about the right we all have, as residents of this land, to be seen, honored and heard.