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The Ethnic Restaurateur

by: Ray Krishnendu

London UK: Bloomsbury Publishing Co. 2016, Hardbound
ISBN: 978-0-85785-836-8

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Spring Volume: 2017 Issue: 24(1) page(s): 20

Not a cookbook, this is a pathbreaking contemporary view of the American culinary scene mostly in New York City public eating places, their chefs, restauranteurs, and culinary consumers. It shows migrants becoming established in new places and play important roles influencing their home and adopted food cultures. One sees them impacting newspaper reporting and guide books, their toil, tastes, and ethnicity making for what is eaten in the places they work and those they own, but less than one might imagine.

In 1980, for example, Chinese, Italians, and Mexicans were nearly seventy percent of restaurant workers, but did not account for anywhere near that amount of ethnic foods consumed in the US.

Khrishnendu discusses their haute aspirations and restaurants they own and/or work in. He looks back to recorded restaurant beginnings in the 1850s when many had few Chinese staff. Their occupations were first recorded from that year. Now there are more correlations between ethnicity of food service workers and foreignborn restaurant cooks, an item slow to change.

The author, from the Indian sub-continent, reports that since the Civil War, French, German, and Chinese restaurant workers were most discussed in newspapers and Zagat-rated eateries. After 2010, there are almost four million Chinese in the US that now own more Chinese restaurants than all McDonald, Burger King, and Kentucky Fried Chicken eateries combined. Their eateries grow quickly with more Chinese restaurants growing more quickly than other eating places.

Lots of Chinese restaurants serve food that did not originate in China such as alligator Chinese style and a Chow Mein Sandwich, both unknown in China. Most Chinese restaurant workers, some half million in the past decade, came from the Fujian Province and the south of China; they are not serving nor touting these foods.

The two oldest food service worker populations in the US are Chinese and Mexican, most not serving Chinese nor Mexican foods they know best. Thanks to people such as Misa Chang both of these populations have redefined many parts of the places they work in or own, and include take-out and delivery of their mixed culinary offerings.

They are not represented by the less than twelve percent of James Beard awardees who are female, yet the more than that percentage are females in the restaurant industry. There restaurant foods are a culinary mix, their work experiences and food memories further from the foods that their ‘tastes of home.’

There is robust sociology literature about ethnic entrepreneurship and correlations between food service workers, new immigrant groups, and how their foods move to new eateries. Ray does report that most restaurant cooks are foreign born, do not serve the foods of the countries they came from. As one example, Queens County in NY has many Asian cuisines and in 2014 the Chinese were the largest population among the sixty-one different ones reported working there. There are almost four million Asians living in the US while French food this city’s most expensive, far from the one most often served. Chinese cuisine is the second most frequently consumed foreign food, Italian served most often. There are very few French living in this city, few French restaurants, and no relationship between price, availability, and these populations.

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