Armenian food, Mexican bakers, American setting — I love SoCal

First off, read the story in full (and check out all the photos). To quote the introduction:

So how did a pair of childhood buddies from Zacatecas, Mexico, turn into two of Los Angeles’ most popular Armenian bakers?

On West Adams Boulevard, Francisco Rosales and Jose Gonzales did it by adopting Leon Partamian’s family recipes — and then getting “adopted” by Partamian themselves.

The crusty owner of the 60-year-old A. Partamian Bakery in the Mid-City area liked the way they cooked his sarma and lahmajune. And he liked the two of them.

So when Partamian died 17 months ago, he gave his bakery business — and the building that houses its vintage ovens and bread display cases — to both of them.

Now on the face of it, a classic ‘human interest’ story, which it is. It’s meant to make you smile, get you interested in the subject matter, the usual sort of stuff. Given that the focus is also to do with food, it should also get you hungry (rightfully so — I’ve not been to this place in question but I’ve had a couple of excellent lahmajunes over the moons, given my shamefully limited experience with Armenian cuisine, and if these guys cook some of the best, that’s a sign enough for me).

There’s a larger significance, though, and rightfully the author of the piece doesn’t spell it out entirely, nor do I need to — but it’s good to note the contextual web of assumptions and axioms. It’s very much a classic ‘American’ success story, one that undercuts, indirectly, a variety of overriding narratives, nearly all of which are laden with stereotypes if not bigotry. Grab a Malkin or a Dobbs or the like and say something like, “Yeah, there was this Armenian American businessman who worked out getting green cards for his two assistants from Mexico years after they arrived here…” and see how quickly they will prevent you from completing the sentence before something charming is said that shouldn’t be repeated.

The point is not to balance stereotype with stereotype, however — we live in a land of imperfections and sadness of all kinds, of exploitative bosses and desperate people under the radar, and this article doesn’t wipe that slate clean. The story of Partamian, Rosales and Gonzales is one story, not all stories, yet it’s a story of the land of opportunity made manifest. It undoes the question of authenticity in favor of the one of skills, learning, passion — Rosales and Gonzales didn’t grow up with the food? No, but they learned it from someone who did, and who in turn made sure they knew.

There’s a long-standing association and preference in America — likely many other countries — for the food at a restaurant identified with a particular national cuisine to be made strictly by people of that nationality, and yet that’s a well-meaning myth at best. Ditch it. What matters is what’s done and how well, and what a chef can bring to it, and what people pass on to their assistants, and so forth.

This story covers everything from hard work (consider the hours mentioned that Rosales and Gonzales put in) to the transformation of an ‘immigrant’ cuisine into a home one (the one patron who isn’t Armenian but grew up with the food as a youngster because of where she lived) to the value of community and family knowledge (Partamian never wrote a will but it was recognized by all who he wanted to deed the business and building to, and after time it was all resolved in the duo’s favor). And it’s a very LA story — it couldn’t have just happened here, no, but there’s a combination of everything (from Anglo-Saxon/English probate law to Armenian immigration after the horrors of a century ago to the search for work in Mexico and the United States and more besides) that can result in something like this happening here, recognizably in this area.

And above all else, there’s no sense that anyone involved is a plaster saint — just folks doing what they can, and hopefully to the best of their ability. Now that’s all right.

Here’s where the bakery is, off the 10 via La Brea or Fairfax — they’re probably going to get a big spike in business. Well deserved, I’d say.


2 Responses to “Armenian food, Mexican bakers, American setting — I love SoCal”

  1. Aaron Vanek Says:

    Wow. I was just looking up the Buzzcocks on Wikipedia (long story), and your name turned up. A little more Wiki, and here I am!

    We should get together for dinner sometime! We can talk food and music. I still have one or two cassette tapes of our KLA metal s how around here somewhere. Are they worth anything on ebay?

    best wishes,

    Aaron, But Without Long Hair

  2. Alex Says:

    I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!

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