Pot Luck

Anthony Bourdain on Illegal Immigrant Labor in U.S. Kitchens

While working on this week’s feature about Hugo Ortega, I needed someone in the restaurant industry to explain the situation honestly. Understandably, no restaurant owner in Houston wanted to come out and say he was hiring illegals. So I e-mailed Tony Bourdain, who is not only a television star and a best-selling author, but is also one of the most outspoken chefs in America. He supplied me with a long quote on the subject. I couldn’t use all of it in the article, but you can read the full quote below. -- Robb Walsh

"People have differing opinions on what we should do about immigration in the future. How open or how closed our borders should be. Fine. But let's be honest, at least, about who is cooking in America NOW. Who we rely on--have relied on for decades. The bald fact is that the entire restaurant industry in America would close down overnight, would never recover, if current immigration laws were enforced quickly and thoroughly across the board. Everyone in the industry knows this. It is undeniable. Illegal labor is the backbone of the service and hospitality industry--Mexican, Salvadoran and Ecuadoran in particular. To contemplate actually doing without is to contemplate mass closings, a general shake-out of individually owned and operated restaurants--and, of course, unthinkably (now) higher prices in the places that manage to survive. Considering that our economy and employment picture is now largely based on us selling hamburgers to each other, the ripple effects would be grave. I know very few chefs who've even heard of a US born citizen coming in the door to ask for a dishwasher, night clean-up or kitchen prep job. Until that happens--let's at least try to be honest when discussing this issue."

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