Podcaster Wesley Wright: Talking foodie-ism off its pedestal.
Image: Wesley Wright
Written by: Mecca Bos
Who is The Un-Bougie Foodie?
When Wesley Wright told his sister— or any of his Black friends and acquaintances really— that he was going to do a radio about food, she said: “Eew, that sounds bougie!”
“And I said, ‘You know I’m not. And no, no, no. Trust me. That’s now what this show is about.’”
Bougie— short for bourgeoise— defined by the Urban Dictionary as “People pretending to (or think they are) high class and but they're really not (or don't realize they aren’t)” is pretty much a dis in Black vernacular. And while Wright knew he was in fact not bougie, as he thought about creating a radio show about food, there was something deep down inside that nagged at him too. What, exactly, did he think he was doing?
“It felt scary. It’s when the impostor syndrome creeps in. I mean, am I really? Are folks going to think, ‘He’s this person who thinks he knows all about food?’ Will I be able to be sincere? Will I be able to connect?” Celebrating almost six years as host of “The Un-Bougie Foodie,” available on Saturdays on St. Paul’s 104.7FM WEQY-LP, at 10a.m., or streaming anytime worldwide, the answer is yes, he is really, he knows plenty about food, he is sincere, and he definitely connects. And yet, he remembers: “I had never saw a Black chef or heard about a Black chef.”
Growing up Wesley Wright
Growing up in Los Angeles with an extended Belizean family, speaking Creole and eating panades, garnaches, 'black dinna', tamales, cow foot soup, and oxtails with red beans and rice, as the only boy in the family, he still spent a lot of time alone. “I’d take a tape recorder into a room and make up four or five different voices and I’d have different conversations with myself.”
At 17, he got his first radio gig as a late night “smooth grooves” R&B host under the alias Mark Champagne. His parents were not impressed when they found out, and nor were they happy about his penchant for the kitchen. As a boy, he was expected to steer clear of his mother’s apron strings, and not hang around the women being a “such-and-such,” as his dad put it.
But eventually, over time, something surprising happened. His budding culinary stylings caught the attention of his family— even his dad— and became a language that they could connect over. Their otherwise difficult relationship could relax for as long as it took to cook and eat a meal. Wright wanted to find out about how other families, and other cultures, did things similarly. It had nothing to do with being bougie.
“We could be going through some really serious stuff, but when it comes to pork roast and oxtail? That connection really does help. It quells dramatic moments. It’s why I feel so strongly about hearing other people’s family stories through food.”
But the fact remained the same—he hadn’t seen many role models who looked like him in the food world— either cooking professionally— or even talking about it.
“I saw Jacques Pepin on TV and thought, ‘Looks good, but looks complicated.’ I saw Julia Child.” It left him wondering, and nervous, about how he’d pull this off.
“I had to be on my game with everything. I had to do the research. I didn’t see anybody Black talking about food and people don’t feel that a Black person’s opinion has any kind of credibility.”
But today he’s not focused on that.
Instead, he’s looking at the positive side, and seeking to leave people with that feeling of positivity. Over the years he’s explored topics from curry to tipping culture to how diet relates to Sickle Cell Anemia, disproportionally affecting Black people. When people think “Oh they’re just going to be talking about restaurants I can’t afford,” Wright wants them to remember: it’s all in the name.
Particularly after the worldwide uprising in response to the police murder of George Floyd, Wright was inspired to take an even more “Un-Bougie” approach to food conversations.
“In 1992 I was in the Watts Riots and there were no grocery stores. [In 2020] I found myself in the same situation. People were focused on where to get food. Nobody wants to talk about ‘This dude is going out to a restaurant.’ We’re going through a deflation.”
If “Un-Bougie” were a dictionary sanctioned word, it might translate loosely to “proletariat”— the wage earners; the working class; those of us who are employed for our daily bread. The Un-Bougie among us is most of us.
“People are interested in finding out about the human experience through food,” says Wright.
Nothing bougie about it.
Wesley's Saint Paul Insider Tips
Favorite St. Paul place to take a visitor/ guest: Tongue in Cheek because they create food based on humanely treated animals. I'm a carnivore, but because their plant-based dishes are so wonderful I could go there and enjoy myself to the fullest partaking in the various vegan and vegetarian dishes they offer. I really, really enjoy one specific one called "The Vegasm."
Favorite St. Paul neighborhood and what is its vibe?
Payne-Phalen neighborhood because it gives a main-street-of-town feel and offers a variety of food options.
Fave St. Paul place to eat or drink: Brunson's! I love their deviled eggs with Lovejoy's "Burn Your Face Off" hot sauce.
Fave St. Paul media personalities:
MN Fleet DJs is a collective of local DJs within the Twin Cities covering genres of Hip Hop, R&B, dance and EDM. These artists have known each other for decades. Some have grown up together, fine-tuning their artistry from when they were in high school. Oftentimes they will produce mixtapes with specific themes, or for certain occasions and holidays. All focusing on listeners having a good time and enjoying the music that they've curated.
Mecca Bos is a Twin Cities-based food writer and professional chef. Thinking of tacos and travel are hobbies. Her work can be found at meccaboswrites.com
Mecca Bos is a Twin Cities based food writer and professional chef. Thinking of tacos and travel are hobbies. Her work can be found at meccaboswrites.com