The Migrant Chef
The Life and Times of Lalo García
by Laura Tillman
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Pub Date 23 May 2023 | Archive Date 30 Apr 2023
A chef’s gripping quest to reconcile his childhood experiences as a migrant farmworker with the rarefied world of fine dining.
Born in rural Mexico, Eduardo “Lalo” García Guzmán and his family left for the United States when he was a child, picking fruits and vegetables on the migrant route from Florida to Michigan. He worked in Atlanta restaurants as a teenager before being convicted of a robbery, incarcerated, and eventually deported. Lalo landed in Mexico City as a new generation of chefs was questioning the hierarchies that had historically privileged European cuisine in elite spaces. At his acclaimed restaurant, Máximo Bistrot, he began to craft food that narrated his memories and hopes.
Mexico City–based journalist Laura Tillman spent five years immersively reporting on Lalo’s story: from Máximo’s kitchen to the onion fields of Vidalia, Georgia, to Dubai’s first high-end Mexican restaurant, to Lalo’s hometown of San José de las Pilas. What emerges is a moving portrait of Lalo’s struggle to find authenticity in an industry built on the very inequalities that drove his family to leave their home, and of the artistic process as Lalo calls on the experiences of his life to create transcendent cuisine. The Migrant Chef offers an unforgettable window into a family’s border-eclipsing dreams, Mexico’s culinary heritage, and the making of a chef.
About the Author: Laura Tillman is a journalist and the author of The Migrant Chef and The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts. She began her career as a newspaper reporter at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2007, before moving to Mexico City in 2014. Her reporting, which focuses primarily on migration, justice, and food, has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Nation. She graduated from Vassar College with a degree in international studies and Goucher College with an MFA in nonfiction writing, where she is currently a member of the faculty. She lives in Mexico City with her family.
"In The Migrant Chef, five years of meticulous reporting passes into art. Laura Tillman illuminates not only the life of a remarkable chef but the world around him in which we all live." - Suzannah Lessard, author of The Architect of Desire and The Absent Hand
"What makes the internationally renowned Mexican chef known as “Lalo” so extraordinary is inseparable from what makes him so ordinary. His hardscrabble childhood in the Mexican countryside, the traumas and challenges of immigration, the unbreakable work ethic and personal values rooted in faith and family, a brave and resilient character, brought his very individual genius to full flower. Laura Tillman, an exceptionally observant and gifted writer, tells both stories, the extraordinary and the ordinary, with amazing vividness, drama, empathy, and understanding." - Francisco Goldman, author of the Pulitzer-finalist novel Monkey Boy
"The Migrant Chef tells the history of a culture and cuisine, and also the story of a gifted Mexican cook and his family, enduring and surmounting the toils and injustices of immigration to the North. The book has fascination, drama, and heart. It was a pleasure to read." - Tracy Kidder, author of Mountains Beyond Mountains and Rough Sleepers
"Laura Tillman's compelling chronicle of chef Lalo García's rise—and fall, and rise again—is a necessary respite from the well-worn path of celebrity-chef-as-hero. Best of all, layered between the stories of his struggles and successes, it offers a subtle indictment of the American dream. Highly recommended." - Tracie McMillan, author of The American Way of Eating
"Lalo is a true inspiration. His story will surely encourage every ambitious chef, whatever the challenges they may face and wherever they start from. That’s the magic of this story. The food scene thrives because of people like Lalo, and particularly here in Mexico, he is a great pride for us. He has proved the possibilities of doing truly great things in food, literally starting from scratch, in the most delicious ways." - Gabriela Cámara, chef, restaurant owner, and author of My Mexico City Kitchen
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 2 members
This is a great biography of a man who became a world-class chef despite his very humble beginnings. The author spent 5 years researching Lalo and it shows: this is a wonderfully written biography that reads as easy as a novel ... you know for all those non-fiction-loathers in your life.
There is a lot in this book about how he overcame inequalities and that was inspiring: this is a definite MUST-READ for Hispanic Heritage Month!
Highly recommended to those interested in biography, social justice or someone just looking for a great read.