Chef Gordon Ramsay made a name for himself as a man of exacting standards who demands nothing less than perfection from the cooks in his kitchens, but it was a video of his own cooking this week that drew scathing critiques on Twitter for his take on Puerto Rican pegao rice. Though some viewers seemed pleased he was bringing attention to the island, others were disappointed by his approach.
The video is from his YouTube series "Scrambled: On the Road," a digital companion to his National Geographic travel show "Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted." The clip features the chef guiding viewers through a recipe that some say bears little resemblance to the Puerto Rican pegao he says it is.
Though later changed, the title of the video in question was first posted as "Can Gordon Ramsay Elevate a Puerto Rican Rice Dish?" and in the segment, he happily promises to do just that, first calling it a “beautiful dish,” then asking, "How do you elevate that? How do you lift that up to the next level?”
In the video, waves crash against the rocks behind him while he cooks what he says is pegao but in actuality resembles more of a fried rice or even another Puerto Rican dish, arroz mamposteao.
To people who grew up eating Puerto Rican pegao, the demonstration was equal parts confusing and infuriating.
“This isn’t pegao this is a hate crime,” said Twitter user @AntillanaSoy in reference to a TikTok clip of the original video.
What is pegao?
To understand the backlash, it’s important to understand what pegao is and what it means to many Puerto Ricans. The word itself is a colloquial form of the Spanish word “pegado,” which translates to “stuck.” Within the context of Puerto Rican food, pegao refers specifically to the crispy, thin layer of rice that sticks to the bottom of the pot when making traditional island rice dishes like arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas). It’s not an easy technique to master, and all the chefs I spoke to were quick to note it took them years to learn.
In his video, Ramsay talks about pegao as though it’s a dish in itself, but it's really more of a feature of another dish. To declare that you are about to make (or teach!) pegao is akin to roasting a whole chicken and referring to it only as "crispy chicken skin."
Gascon-Lopez calls pegao “the end result of cooking a pot of rice," pointing out that “you can’t just make it by itself without the rest of the rice along with it."
Others on social media echoed that Ramsay’s dish was definitely not pegao, and joined in with jokes, Ramsay-style insults and other, more nuanced critiques.
Neither Gordon Ramsay nor National Geographic responded to requests for comment.
Puerto Rican-born chef and recipe developer Reina Gascon-Lopez, who tweets as @sofritoproject, got to the heart of what many people with true knowledge of the island’s cuisine were feeling.
“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," she tweeted.
Eric Rivera, chef and owner of the restaurant Addo in Seattle, who responded to Ramsay’s video with an incisive thread pointing out the issues with the demonstration, hints at the joy Puerto Ricans feel when they think about pegao by calling it “the buried treasure” and the “byproduct of a baller dish.”
Rivera explained, “Pegao is probably the most sought after part of a rice dish … The supply is scarce but one bite is the best bite …"
Frustration seemed to be a common reaction to Ramsay’s interpretation of pegao from other Puerto Rican chefs and food writers.
“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,” Gascon-Lopez told TODAY.
Illyanna Maisonet, a food writer and author of the forthcoming Puerto Rican cookbook, "Diasporican," pointed out the issue of having a network like National Geographic promoting a white, non-Puerto Rican chef’s recipe, when so many others with actual knowledge and skill are regularly excluded from the conversation.
“How many Puerto Rican chefs have you seen on television cooking arroz con gandules?” she asked. She noted how often food professionals like her who have “dedicated (their) lives to documenting Puerto Rican food” still have to “beg and plead” for national attention, while celebrities like Ramsay are given a free pass with seemingly little pushback or questioning.