• Gordon Ramsay. (Kitchen Nightmares)Source: Kitchen Nightmares
The optics of a middle aged white man visiting foreign cultures and foods in order to show them up is a kind of cultural colonialism served light and cold.
Tasneem Chopra

3 Aug 2018 - 3:00 PM  UPDATED 3 Aug 2018 - 3:40 PM

Many of us from culturally diverse backgrounds know the sanctity of preparing a traditional dish from scratch. Whether it’s samosas, biryani, pho, momos, gnocchi or saganaki – we all have that one aunt or relative who makes it best. In no iteration of these recipes can one find an aunt (or uncle) that is Gordon Ramsay. 

It comes as a great disappointment to learn that a proposed series from National Geographic entitled ‘Unchartered’ will feature Gordon Ramsay as the touring Chef who will parachute into foreign food cultures and show the locals he can cook their cuisines better than they can.

Perhaps Natgeo may consider renaming the program to ‘Unwarranted’.

As an Aussie-bred cooking novice, attempting to fuse western schooling with Indian recipe mastery, I have been known to obsess over quantifying every step with metric precision.

I remember being perched on a kitchen stool with my pen, poised to record secret family recipes from desi matriarchs.

In the process, I was usually met with an aunt’s thumb and index finger approximating a magical amount in the air to signify a quantity. When I pressed for precision – ‘a teaspoon?’ A tablespoon?’ - the aunties stared at me blankly and responded with a thumb gesture ‘just this much’.

I learned early on the inability to convey exactness in recipe quantities is directly proportional to the supremacy of the dish. Genius copyright technique. Well played, Aunties.

This week, Sashi Cheliah won Masterchef Australia 2018’s coveted apron. Born in Singapore, Sashi created several signature dishes during the series in homage to his Singapore-Malay heritage, including sambals, lemak and curries. The calibre of his cooking, while impressively high indicated an innate learned knowledge of this genre of cooking that held him in winning stead. 

A white chef competing with local chefs on how to cook local cuisine is beyond parody.

Indeed, shows like MasterChef prove diverse foods are consistently prepared best by people from those traditions, for a reason. 

The presumptions laden in Ramsay’s show are obvious. The optics of a middle aged white man visiting  foreign cultures and foods in order to show them up is a kind of cultural colonialism served light and cold.

A white chef competing with local chefs on how to cook local cuisine is beyond parody.

To this end, the shift from appropriation to gentrification of cultural food by outside experts has sadly reached our neighborhoods. While reformulating source foods can be creative, too often the end point is a far cry from where the food started.

However which way you wrap it, the nuance of cultural food prepared by the people who invented the recipes and passed them down for centuries, represents the essence of what culture is. They tell us the stories of a people. These people – the workers and creators are usually unpaid mothers. But it is white people, who are the chefs and “specialists” who corporatise and profit from their work.

Enter “Chai Tea” lady, a white American woman who made a multi-millionaire dollar spiced chai business after being “inspired” by the impoverished chai sellers of India. 

Cultural food is living history on your plate, which any outsider may share of and attempt to replicate, but could never feign ownership of because their DNA is not embedded in the method. Nor can it be. All hail Aunties and mamas everywhere. The world might not recognise you but we do.

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