The Thin Man

You know there is something wrong when a gringo knows more about your own culture than you do.

I felt this way about chef Rick Bayless. How can this skinny, freckle-faced guy be telling me how they eat in Mexico? Although Señor Bayless does an excellent job and is very knowledgeable, he is still just a gringo from Chicago who gets a lot of press. His fame only motivated me to conquer Mexican cuisine on my own terms. I interviewed my own family members, remembering the things I was taught by my grandmother and mother about our tradition and food. I know it will take a lifetime, but I am not going to let a pinche gringo flaco tell me how we eat.

Recently I catered a birthday party for a gringa and I had the Rick Bayless reaction all over again. Her house was built in the 1920s with thick adobe walls constructed in a Mexican architectural fashion. The interior is filled with religious candles, Talavera pottery from Puebla, hand-carved wood Alebrijes from Oaxaca, hand-woven rugs and original art, all from Mexico. My own home, as Mexican as it may be, pales by comparison.

So off I went to make things right. I started by visiting my little friend Felipe at Bellas Artes de Mexico on Indian School Road in Phoenix.

Bellas Artes de Mexico is a wonderfully fun store full of treasures from Mexico. If you cannot find what you are looking for, then Felipe will order or make it for you. Hailing from Guadalajara, this family has been in the business of Rusticos Mexicanos for years and is a clan of expert craftsmen and woodworkers.

Custom-made rustic doors finished with elaborate wrought-iron handles and hardware are abundant in the back warehouse, as are wrought-iron sculptures. You can also find a good selection of plain pine furniture and mesquite hand-carved traditional pieces. The prices are right on the money as well. I am building a traditional "hacienda"-style home in Baja and have been pricing many of the items there. What I have found is that Bellas Artes' prices are better than the furniture stores in Mexico. I'll be making arrangements with Felipe for my home in Mexico as well as the items I need for my home here in Phoenix. Trust me, folks, I'm no Scottsdale type in fact, my budget is more like trailer park. It may take me a lifetime to raise the funds, but I will finish my casa Mexicana, maybe with a big Virgin de Guadalupe in the front yard.

I like Rick Bayless as much as the next person, so don't bother sending hate mail. It's just that I enjoy being driven by this visceral reaction I have to him. Someday, I'll meet him, shake his hand and thank him for the motivation and inspiration. And I'll tell him, "Ricardo, you are too flaco. Eat, eat, eat!"

The author is a local chef and restaurant owner.

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Silvana Salcido Esparza