A couple of weeks ago, I posted on Instagram the above picture of me with food legend Anthony Bourdain, and said that the photo would make sense soon enough. The speculation ran rampant—was I just a stalker? A guy who randomly happened to walk through Olvera Street late at night and bugged him for a shot? Was he grooming me to replace him, the way someone once said I should ask the late, great Huell Howser to do? (Huell laughed when I told him that, then said, “No.”).
None of the above, of course. Bourdain was kind enough to invite me to appear on the season premiere of his CNN show, Parts Unknown. This episode focused on Mexican (really, Mexican-American) culture in Los Angeles, and Bourdain’s angered astonishment that we don’t get nearly enough love from the rest of the country. He hit the expected (legendary Oaxacan restaurant Gish Bac, Ray Garcia of Broken Spanish, why Mexicans love Morrissey—although he didn’t ask me about it…) and the surprises (name-dropping Cannibal and the Headhunters? HELL YA!!!).
My cameo was specific: I was to clown on awesome comedian Al Madrigal, who’s even more whitewashed than me. Bourdain, Madrigal, and myself talked about the intricacies of Mexican-American identity over the legendary taquitos at Cielito Lindo, which Bourdain quickly devoured. I explained to him the meaning of pocho, and Madrigal, who starred in the hilarious 2015 documentary Half Like Me (on which I served as a consulting producer), admitted to Bourdain that he is sometimes made fun of because his Spanish is basically non-existent. I jumped in to say that Mexicans hating on each others mexicanidad has been happening since forever, and that was unfortunate…and then told Al he should speak more Spanish–SAVAGE!!!
You can watch Parts Unknown on reruns, or soon online. Here’s the beginning of my clip—no embeds yet, so click away.
And now, the question everyone wants to know: How was Bourdain REALLY like? Not only was he a gentleman off-camera to me and Al, but he’s a mensch. We had a late-night shoot, and ended around midnight. We then waited for Bourdain’s car—and in that span, at least a dozen people of all different ethnicities and social classes came up to speak to Bourdain and ask for a picture. Not only did Toño (“Tony,” in Spanish) oblige, but he listened intently to everyone. It seemed everyone had a favorite episode of No Reservations and/or Parts Unknown, and Bourdain shared anecdotes of each with his fans. THAT, everyone, is a REAL chingón…