In Ugly Delicious, award-winning chef David Chang journeys to culinary destinations along with writers, artists and other chefs to explore how food breaks cultural barriers. In the process, they bust a few misconceptions about food.
Creator: David Chang
Directors: Eddie Schmidt, Jason Zeldes, Laura Gabbert, Morgan Neville
Seasons: 2 (2018, 2020)
Streaming on: Netflix
It’s more than just food porn
The good thing about Ugly Delicious is that it makes a particular dish or cuisine the starting point for a larger conversation about the world, covering issues such as health, cultural appropriation, gender and economics. For instance, the third episode, entitled ‘Steak’, explores gender and economics by discussing cuts of beef. Chang visits various establishments that serve steak at different price points, from Outback, an Australian-themed chain restaurant in Florida and Macelleria (recommended by actor Danny Mcbride), a fast-food steak joint in Bondi to Firedoor, a Sydney-based purveyor of high-end dry aged beef, cooked over a fire cavemen style. Chang questions the legitimacy of the notion that eating steak is for the elite, people who would spend hundreds of dollars in a steakhouse, and wonders why those who buy their steak from Costco are looked down upon.
Chang’s curious spirit and willingness to acknowledge the areas in which he isn’t well informed is often what drives episodes and makes for a compelling viewing. For example, in the episode ‘Don’t Call it Curry’, Chang visits India with comedian Aziz Ansari to learn about a vast and varied food culture he knows little about and one that he admits is intimidating for him. In the episode, he gains new appreciation for India’s impact on global food culture. He visits The Bombay Canteen kitchen where chefs Cardoz Floyd and Thomas Zacharias serve up bhutte ka khees. (Their version of the street food from Indore is a corn fritter.) Padma Lakshmi rustles up fish curry and serves it with a side of lessons on how to eat with your hands. Chang and Ansari have an ayurvedic meal. Chang is skeptical about the physical and mental benefits of ayurveda, but that changes when the doctor they are interviewing, Dr Pankaj Naram, accurately diagnoses conditions that Chang and Ansari have. For instance, predicts that Chang will suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, a condition that Chang already has. He tells Ansari that he’s going through some sort of mental upheaval, which is not hard to imagine given the #MeToo scandal involving the comedian.
Padma Lakshmi, Aziz Ansari, Bill Simmons show up
This season has a fun line-up of special guests, including Aziz Ansari, Bill Simmons, Padma Lakshmi and Danny McBride. Simmons accompanies Chang to Outback Steakhouse. Chang’s reaction to one of the restaurant chain’s specialty dishes, the Bloomin’ Onion is proof of his willingness to admit that food can be good regardless of its price. Chang has a homey Indian meal at the Ansari home in North Carolina with a wise-cracking Ansari, his brother and parents. Danny McBride makes a somewhat surprising suggestion to visit Macelleria, a no-frills fast food steak joint in Bondi. The canteen style of the place challenges the idea that ordering steak needs to be a big event.
In each episode of the series, Chang learns something new. Watching the chef explore uncharted areas of food and culture is both fun and full of insight about culture and humanity.
Ugly Delicious is a culinary docuseries that effectively uses food as a vehicle to talk about culture. It’s a must-watch for anyone interested in cuisine.