“Food is nothing less than our identity, our health, our stories, the focal point of our culture, our love,” Taco Mario chef Carlos Salgado says.
The second season of Life & Thyme’s Emmy-winning The Migrant Kitchen starts on Wednesday, Nov. 8 (KCET in Southern California and Link TV nationwide), and the series continues to proudly shine a light on the immigrant experiences that drive the food scene in and around Los Angeles.
The first episode is about three chefs who are modernizing, elevating and redefining Mexican food. You’ll learn about Food & Wine 2015 Best New Chef Carlos Salgado’s roots and his quest to use heirloom corn for tortillas at Taco Maria. You’ll see Broken Spanish’s Ray Garcia plating his beautiful chicharrón dish. You’ll hear Guerrilla Tacos’ Wes Avila talk about how he’s merged fine dining and tacos in a food truck and why he’s almost ready to drive that truck into the ocean.
This season also includes episodes about Vietnamese, Japanese and Indian food, all of which were represented by dishes served during last week’s premiere screening at L.A.’s La Plaza de Cultura y Artes. L.A. food is immigrant food through and through.
Here’s what some of the featured chefs have to say about why it’s important for them to tell their stories:
“Food is nothing less than our identity, our health, our stories, the focal point of our culture, our love,” Salgado says.
The chef is holding his infant son, also named Carlos, and points out that this is the baby’s first interview.
“All the joy in our lives comes from food,” Salgado says. “The colors of those stories and nuances of those stories are bound to places and people and languages, and that’s worth preserving.”
“Doing things like this allows people who maybe haven't had an Indian food experience or an Indian friend growing up to taste those flavors and see that it’s not so scary,” says Nakul Mahendro of Badmaash, whose family is profiled in the Nov. 15 Indian episode. “I think the definition of 'America' and 'American' needs to be revisited, and now’s the best time for that. We really believe that Indian food should be as much a part of American food as apple pie. That’s the beauty of this country. We’re all from somewhere else, trying to do something amazing.”
“I very much consider myself an American,” says Minh Phan of Porridge & Puffs, who’s in the Nov. 29 Vietnamese episode alongside Cassia’s Bryant Ng and Kim Luu-Ng. “I’m Vietnamese by ethnicity, but I’m an American. I can’t [make this food] anywhere else in the world. I can only do it specifically right now in L.A.”
“Our reference point isn’t white America,” says Diep Tran of Good Girl Dinette, who’s also in the Vietnamese episode and notes that Southern California has massive Vietnamese, Korean and Indian populations. “It’s other immigrants.”
“I think the food industry is changing very rapidly right now, especially in L.A. where everything is so multicultural ” says Tetsu Yahagi of Spago, who’s in the Japanese episode where Charles Namba and Courtney Kaplan of Tsubaki are also featured. “There’s a lot of food culture that never had a spotlight. Like, Filipino food’s coming up right now. As a chef, I learn a lot from these cuisines. I learn a lot from South American cuisine, Indian cuisine, all these cuisines that never got attention.”
Yahagi runs the kitchen at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago, so his appearance in The Migrant Kitchen is a reminder that even the food A-listers eat at awards-season parties is immigrant food. Puck himself is Austrian. Hugo Bolanos, who runs the kitchen at Puck’s Hotel Bel-Air, is Guatemalan.
“That’s the beauty of Los Angeles,” Yahagi says. “I’m very fortunate that I work here and get to be connected with a lot of influences.”
And L.A. is very much a community where chefs and restaurant owners want to see other chefs and restaurant owners succeed.
“I think it’s just a time in America right now where we have to have each other’s backs,” Mahendro says.
L.A. clearly appreciates the diversity of flavors in its dining scene. Mahendro expects to get a lot of catering orders for butter chicken sauce on Thanksgiving because there are many people who like to rub their turkey with Indian flavors. At the same time, the Badmaash family will “go super Martha Stewart” for their own Thanksgiving celebration with a beautifully roasted traditional turkey, three kinds of stuffing, mashed potatoes and creamed corn.
I ask Salgado what he’ll be eating on Thanksgiving.
“Tamales,” he says. “One answer. Tamales.”
Will there be any American food beyond that?
“You know, it’s typically fairly American,” Salgado says of his Thanksgiving feasts. “But there’s going to be tortillas.”