Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay of Hell’s Kitchen fame attempted to make Puerto Rican pegao on the most recent episode of his YouTube series, Scrambled: On the Road, and quickly drew the criticism of viewers who took to social media to tell the Michelin chef that what he made was absolutely not pegao, and to assert that pegao itself isn’t even a dish.
To many Puerto Ricans and people of Puerto Rican descent, pegao is the most prized part of any well-cooked rice dish, whether it be a simple pot of white rice, a delicious Arroz Mamposteao or a moro like Arroz con Gandules. It’s the crispy layer or rice that’s left at the bottom of the pot, when rice is cooked just right. It’s like a little crunchy treat, and there’s never enough to go around.
Gordon said he was going to “elevate” Puerto Rican pegao and proceeded to take a precooked rice and beans dish, mushed it into a flat layer in a cast iron pan and added some butter to make it crunchy. He essentially eliminated the technique and skill it takes to create true pegao, and turned the byproduct of properly cooked Puerto Rican rice into its own bastardized dish. Puerto Rican Twitter was not having it and they let it be known.
“This isn’t pegao this is a hate crime,” said Twitter user AntillanaSoy. Puerto Rican-born chef and recipe developer Reina Gascon-Lopez explained, “you can’t just make it by itself without the rest of the rice along with it,” in a statement to NBC News correspondent, Alejandra Ramos.
“The way I still wanna throw a chancla at Gordon for that ‘pegao’ is just…,” Reina later tweeted from her page, SofritoProject. “It’s just frustrating to see white male chefs get applauded for doing the bare minimum (and incorrectly, for that matter) about cuisines they know nothing about and then get heralded as experts. Bruh. How???,” she tweeted after the episode aired, getting to the crux of the issue.
It’s just frustrating to see white male chefs get applauded for doing the bare minimum (and incorrectly, for that matter) about cuisines they know nothing about and then get heralded as experts. Bruh. How???
— Reina | The Sofrito Project (@SofritoProject) June 28, 2021
The larger problem is really a lack of representation. If Puerto Rican chefs were given the same platform to promote our traditional foods and our culture, more authentic versions of our food would be introduced to the world, as opposed to the over-simplified attempt Gordon made at explaining and replicating a food that Puerto Ricans hold so dear.
“What’s most problematic here is that with the reach and size of his audience, his fans are going to take what he says at face value, even when a dish is incorrectly named and/or executed,” Reina told TODAY.
“How many Puerto Rican chefs have you seen on television cooking arroz con gandules?,” Puerto Rican food writer and author of the upcoming cookbook Diasporican Illyanna Maisonet questioned in response to the entire idea that a network like National Geographic has a white, non-Boricua chef representing Puerto Rican food.
Some Puerto Ricans did come to Gordon’s defense though, pointing out that he’s a renowned chef and that it’s okay to experiment with food. “A lot of [expletive] talking but at least he’s trying something different. Regardless he’s one of the best chefs in the world,” Instagram user cintron.on.ice pointed out on the TeamPuertoRico Instagram page. “yes and they have to check out that episode, he made several dishes and he was so humbled by the people, the ingredients found on the island and the whole experience. He gave us mad props,” replied Instagram user, marilyntee_1.
The thing is, we know Gordon can cook, and the dish he made was probably delicious, but pegao it was not. He may have been inspired to create a new dish by what he learned while in Puerto Rico and that’s cool, but he never should have called the dish something it wasn’t. It was a misstep and culturally insensitive one at that. Perhaps instead he could have taken the opportunity to feature a Puerto Rican chef or even a home cook, making rice the proper way and explaining what a treat pegao truly is and why. So the answer to the question he posed on YouTube when the video was posted, “Can Gordon Ramsay Make a Puerto Rican Crispy Rice Dish?,” is he probably can, but this ain’t it.