10 questions with gerardo gonzalez and andy baraghani
words by devonn francis // photographs by sarah boisjoli
This story is an ongoing conversation that started by reaching out to people in the food industry about the politics of queerness and race as it pertains to their own personal and professional histories. I wanted to shed light on day-to-day circumstances in the kitchen or in the workspace that make it next to impossible to feel seen, heard, or valued in the work that queer, black, and/or brown people do. I remember coming to New York at 18 years of age and feeling misunderstood in my goals and creative pursuits. I'm hoping that by sharing our collective experiences we can pave a better road ahead for marginalized individuals and at the very least, let those who feel like they are struggling on their own know that they have friends and allies in many sectors of the community.
I met Gerardo while he was running El Rey. I would come in for coffee dates with friends, immediately falling in love more and more with the cozy and colorful vibe of the space. On my first visit to his new restaurant, Lalito, Gerardo pushed additional plates of food out to me and my dinner companion because he not only wanted our opinions but also valued what we might have to say. Gerardo and Andy have been friends in the food world for many years and it's always nice to see camaraderie between peers.
Andy and I met while we were both working at Estela in its beginning years. He spent his early days working with Alice Waters at Chez Panisse before making strides in New York's food scene. Now a Senior Food Editor at Bon Appetit Magazine, Andy has taken liberties to bring his ideas of food and culture to an eager audience of readers.
Devonn Francis: Will you start by introducing yourselves for folks who may not already know you are?
Gerardo Gonzalez: My name is Gerardo Gonzalez. I’m 34 and I’m from San Diego, California.
Andy Baraghani: Hi, my name is Andy Baraghani. I’m 27 and I’m from the Bay Area.
DF: I want to get to know you both in terms of the ‘younger you’, let's talk a little bit about what growing up was like for the both of you in being from Cali. How did food play a role at home?
GG: My parents immigrated when they were 10 and 2. [San Diego] somewhat identifies with Mexico as it shares a close border with it. Border culture has a lot to do with the food growing up. One influencer affects the other. Lalo is what my family called me growing up—a shorthand for my full name. I haven't gone by Lalo in a longtime except for when I am at home. It's a reference to what my family knows me as. (And this is what the inspiration is behind the name Lalito.)
DF: And how would they describe young you?
GG: As a loner. I had extreme social anxieties that I was internalizing. Especially growing up in a large Mexican catholic family and being kind of different. San Diego is pretty conservative and can be kind of onenote. As a kid you don't really see it. When I got older I started to go out more and party a bit more. Though I eventually grew bored with that.
AB: Well to use my proper name, it is Andisheh Baraghani. In my house we played host to neighbors and family all of the time. My mother cooked often. She’s a fantastic cook. My father’s father was a gardener. I would help him in the garden and he is the one who introduced me to my lifelong love—the tomato plant. I love the vines, the fruit, the leaves. He would grow carrots and snap peas and wild mint. I loved helping him.
DF: If someone were to describe Lalito as 'Mexican Food' how would you react to that?
GG: I jokingly refer to it as New Age/Hippie Mexican food. Hearing other people's reactions when they eat here—It really put some things into perspective. I want to make food that is not necessarily innovative but fun. If it's in the press as a new kind of Mexican food people still ask for what they consider Mexican and before the menu hits the table people are asking for guac and margaritas. It's a fascinating part of cultural identity. I know Mexican food as so much more.
We were really conscious of the design of the space—my partners are from Australia so I explained the layout of what I wanted the space to reflect the food vibe. We made a point to not have particular troupes of culture. It feels culturally lazy to always go directly to those things like the Virgin Mary and Day of the Dead Skulls. Playing too much into margarita happy hour for the sake of making money is not my thing.
DF: Going back to this idea of Lalo and your parents—have they been [to Lalito] yet?
GG: Mom went to El Rey and I'm hoping they'll make it out here.
DF: Gerardo, what sort of experience are you looking for with Lalito?
GG: I guess I’m looking for what I was happy with about El Rey. You walk in and feel like there is magic in the air. I want people to walk away feeling buzzed from that. Like a euphoric high.
DF: And Andy, what about your mom. What does she think of how you make your rice?
AB: (laughing) She will always make her rice better than I do!
DF: Food and identity are tied together because the things we make tell the story of who we are, where we have been and where we are going. Were you ever ashamed of your cultural heritage?
AB: Like every kid I was uncomfortable in my own skin. The last thing I wanted was for my parents accents to be heard at daycare, or friends to come over and to say that it smells like turmeric or saffron in this house because all I wanted to do in school was to not stick out.
I have become so proud of my cultural heritage, how hairy I am, how dark I am... I am excited to be who I am because minorities—queer, brown, black—do not love each other enough and I am sick of that.
DF: Well it also seems that while working at Bon Appetit you've been able to give a voice to your cultural heritage? What has that been like?
AB: Half the shit I’m getting praise for is because of my cultural heritage.
DF: And what about the politics of your workplaces? What have you learned from working in food?
GG: I have to constantly check my privilege as one visual cue that allows me to pass is my light eyes and how tall I am. But actually there is a big range of Mexican [identity]. We put Latinism into two different appearances. There's like the novela latinos, the ones that look like they're from soap operas with really fair skin. My dad's side is that while my moms side has different features. People treat Mexicans differently based on this. With that I really want to create an energy of family and good vibes with this current restaurant.
AB: Well my mother has a very unique work ethic because she has the ability to work on a lot of different things at once and keep her cool. I hope to be like her. We have a lot of PHD’s and MD’s who weren’t born here. Leaving California has increased that pressure for me to do well.
DF: What advice would you give to young people who want to be creative in a professional environment but may be treated unfairly because of how others perceive their identity?
AB: I would also say to young people—know your self-worth without having an ego. Flattery goes a long way so you shouldn't be afraid to reach out to people. Work with people who inspire you, but know when to leave when you’ve gained as much as you can. Do not waste your time.
GG: Once you understand that your actions have a real effect on other people, I think you kind of put yourself on a more compassionate level. Male ego doesn't think of the repercussions of your day to day actions and the minutia of the day.
You don't have to go by someone else's standards. It's important to sometimes say, ‘fuck the standards. Let's change it.’ It's helpful to surround yourself with like-minded people who can help you do that.