David Chang travels the world to reveal the stories and the history behind the foods we eat without the pretension that often surrounds the food culture that we typically consume.
Story by Shannel Whigg
With Instagram, Food Network and cool food sections in magazines like the one you’re reading now, food has become the trendiest social currency. Chefs like Guy Fieri and Gordon Ramsay have become canonical memes on sites like Twitter and Tumblr. We all know that posting a photo of your perfectly positioned poached egg, atop a well seasoned avocado toast, is sure to make you an insta celebrity for the day. In Netflix’s Ugly Delicious, chef David Chang and some famous friends bring knowledge to some of America’s favorite foods in a way that is not trendy.
In each episode of Ugly Delicious meals that are staples of the American diet are presented. Pizza, Tacos, BBQ and fried rice are just some of the foods that are made and eaten, but unlike other food shows, we get more than our host trying, with difficulty, to explain what makes the dish so good. These delicious and familiar foods serve as a structure to examine the world. Everything we see Chang eat furthers his point that food, no matter the status that we ascribe to it, has been passed through a chain of people and events to get to us. Whether our food is ugly and delicious, low class and delicious, or 5 star and delicious food tells a story, and as it evolves it will continue to tell the story of the people who make it and eat it. “Fried Rice” examines Asian identity, “Shrimp & Crawfish” and “Fried Chicken” look at the racism that lingers in American culture, “Tacos” looks at immigration, and all these episodes show you great food. Our bombastic host, Chang, does not think twice about saying what is on his mind in a way that is unheard of in food media. Chang is loud, he curses, and he identifies every elephant in the room in a way that Emeril would never do. Chang’s friends are equally loud and without boundaries, like comedian Ali Wong, who insists on calling the soup that squirts out of a soup dumpling the “jelly jizz” or artist David Choe who, when eating Korean BBQ with Chang and actor Steven Yuen, insists on discussing everything from Korean BBQ becoming mainstream to the importance of Yuen’s sex scenes on The Walking Dead. Ugly Delicious is smart and fearless and encourages food lovers and makers to be so as well.
Though this show is impeccable in its execution and content, it reveals a lack of diversity in the food world. Ugly Delicious is just one show that has an insane budget in which a male host travels the world to eat food. Where are the women? Why are channels so opposed to letting women travel and explore food culture and history? If we see this show as an attempt to make food accessible, which it is, we must acknowledge that the female chefs are left out of this equation and are kept, quite literally, in the kitchen. As much as this show serves to examine food culture, it forgets that sexism happens in the kitchen. Where are the women challenging this picture perfect food culture, that travel and make their opinions known as loudly as David Chang? To be fair, we do meet female chefs and celebrities while Chang is on the road, the most important of them being Rosio Sanchez, a Mexican-American chef cooking in Copenhagen. Rosio furthers the narrative of the movement of cultural cuisine, but it seems as though her purpose in the show is to introduce Danish chef René Redzepi, one of Chang’s good friends, who was once a mentor of hers and becomes a mainstay in the show. In a show that takes so much time subverting the status quo, it is important to see how gender is a part of the conventional food culture that needs to be addressed.
Ugly Delicious is a food show for today’s viewer. It is funny and audacious, while being critical and informative. It challenges the perfection and pompousness of food culture and brings food culture to the everyday people. Though it falls short in some ways, it can be appreciated that Ugly Delicious has the potential to create conversation where there is none, and encourage the Instagram foodie and the 5 star chef to eat and create with a craving for knowledge.