Mazatlan chef made an altar of the dead in honor of Anthony Bourdain


When chef Luis Arce Mota moved from Mazatlan, Mexico to New York City in search of work, he did not speak a dash of English. “I needed a job to survive and I knew that if I went to work in a restaurant, I would at least have something to eat,” does not count.

Undaunted by the language barrier or the lack of connections, he began his career in the early 1990s as a dishwasher and slowly ascended the ranks, working with chefs such as César Ramírez, David Bouley and Michael Romano. By 1998, I was at the Brasserie Les Halles, the classic French restaurant that Anthony Bourdain famously made in Kitchen Confidential. The memoir, published in 2000, was Bourdain’s brutally honest (and funny) account of what really happens in the kitchens of restaurants. It was at the Brasserie Les Halles where Mota met Bourdain – who died in June at the age of 61.

“Bourdain’s love for Mexicans was not new,” says Mota. “Even then he treated us all with respect and you could see that he had an admiration for us, the food and the culture.” Mota describes the pre-famed Bourdain, as someone very polite and joking with the staff. After realizing Mota’s last name translated into “marijuana” in English, Bourdain imitated smoking a cigarette while the two shared a laugh.

Over the years, Bourdain’s appreciation of Mexico was well documented through his CNN travel program, Parts Uknown: a michelada in Tepito, tacos al pastor in Mexico City, mezcal in Tijuana. And in January 2018, Bourdain spoke in favor of Mexicans and immigrant restaurant workers. He raged against people who eat their food, use them to take care of their children and enjoy their beaches, but still refuse to respect their basic humanity.

This fleeting interaction, together with Bourdain’s continued public support for immigrants, left a lasting impact on Mota. So to honor him, the chef is dedicating his Day of the Dead in La Contenta Oeste , in the West Village, to Bourdain. Another offering will be built at Mota’s sister restaurant, La Contenta, on the Lower East Side, dedicated to Pete Accurso, the deceased manager of the speakeasy The Back Room. The ritual of building an altar for loved ones who have passed away is a part important of the Day of the Dead traditions. The altar is decorated with candles, the deceased’s favorite dishes and flowers of cempasuchil, which is believed to light the way home for the dead.

There will be BBQ tacos and resting tequila on the altar so that Bourdain will enjoy them when he returns to the land of the living. In the Accurso there will be tacos de asada and mezcal. Mota invited first, second and third graders from the Bronx and Greenwich Village to help with the installation. Many of them are not Mexican, but Mota thinks it is a good opportunity to expose young people to Mexican traditions.

Guests can also place a photo of their loved ones at the altar and there will be a special Day of the Dead menu at both restaurants. Some of the seasonal dishes will be shrimp tamales, chicken enchiladas, pan de muerto and champurrado.

“We Mexicans are workers and Anthony saw it,” says Mota. “This is just my way of saying thank you.”

Source: food and wine español

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