My pal Russell Contreras over at the Associated Press' New Mexico bureau always pulls out amazing stories about the magnificent state (yes: he's the one who first gave nationwide attention to the Breaking Bad tourism industry that now rules Albuquerque), and he had a doozy yesterday about a controversy involving Anthony Bourdain and the Land of Enchantment.
Seems Bourdain has filmed a New Mexico episode of his CNN show Parts Unknown, and he swung by the Five and Dime store in Santa Fe's historic plaza to try their legendary Frito pie, that fascinating concoction of chili and Fritos served in a bowl or–better yet–in a Fritos bag. Bourdain was unimpressed, stating on the show it reeked of Hormel, stating “New Mexico, you have many wonderful things…I think, let Texas have this one.”
After the store's manager complained, Bourdain apologized, but only after pissing off most of the state, which relishes Frito pie as one of their culinary traditions. Hate to break it to you, New Mexicans, but the Frito pie ain't New Mexican–not even close.
I've had the Five and Dime's Frito pie, and it's a fine specimen (although the chile relleno burritos sold in the cart in front of the store is better). But, by definition, the Frito pie isn't New Mexican. Its base ingredients–Frito and chili–came from San Antonio. Kaleeta Doolin, daughter of Fritos founder Elmer Doolin (who bought the original Fritos recipe from a Oaxacan immigrant), has a recipe for Frito pie that her grandmother concocted back in the early 1940s, long before any New Mexican could cite it as their own. Not only that, the Doolins were notorious for making recipes based on Fritos–I still have a Life magazine clipping that is a Frito advertorial urging Americans to use Fritos as stuffing for their Thanksgiving turkey.
New Mexico has embraced the Frito pie tradition more than Texas–you can buy it from carts across the state. But ustedes are better off promoting your fabulous green chile cheeseburgers than a Texas import. And Russell: please don't sic La Santa Muerte on me for writing the truth…