TL;DR – A fascinating documentary dissecting every facet of food, from its history, its traditions, and the future.
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
As a food culture, we have really started to focus on tradition, authenticity, style and presentation, but have we lost something in the process? This is something that chef David Chang is trying to get to the heart off in his new series Ugly Delicious which he hosts with food writer Peter Meehan. Chang who is known from his Momofuku restaurants is pulling apart what makes food the way it is, what makes something traditional and something rebellious, and what is the soul of the food we may eat on a daily basis.
So to set the scene, Chang is known among the culinary world as a bit of a rebel, but he is just someone who likes to make good food and does not care if he steps on tradition to do it. Change is a second-generation Korean, born in America, with classical French training, and this is a mix of influences that shape his food. However, as he has grown older, he has looked back on his life, his heritage, his journey and is looking to incorporate that into a new food venture. This is what Ugly Delicious is charting, each week David looks at a different type of food, like pizza, tacos, BBQ, or fried chicken and charts its traditions, why they became traditions, and what is the future of the food.
One of the key things that will immediately draw you into Ugly Delicious is the beautiful way the show is filmed. There are wonderful touches that really help elevate the show because it is clear that the people that created it took time and effort when putting it together. You see it in the way they locate every place that they visit, it is not just a little note in the bottom left corner and then done, it works into the style of the episode and the locations the show is visiting. You also see it in the opening credits which is different for every episode, including a little I want to say friendly dig at another of Netflix’s food documentaries Chef’s Table (see review). Credits are something you put together once and then don’t touch it again because why would you, it is just costing you money each time. So when you see a show take that time to craft every detail, well it is great to see. As well as this, just in general everything about the show is really well filmed, with a good use of cross-coverage, lingering shots, and can really show the frantic energy of cooking on the screen.
Now each episode breaks down one common item of food and looks at every aspect of it, its past, present, and future. So for example in the first episode, we have pizza, everyone loves pizza and everyone eats pizza, but it is also incredibly divisive as to what goes on pizza #PineappleIsAGoodPizzaTopping. So the episode goes through the traditional styles of pizza in America, and what constitutes a good pizza, is it New York style or Chicago style, or one of the many others. It then takes us to the very heart of pizza looking at the source of all pizza, Naples and then problematizes the crap out of all of it. This is a show about food that will take the time to explore the type of food that everyone eats, the fast food option, as well as the cutting edge like how pizza is being interpreted in Japan, and everything in between. It is actually really quite impressive how much they can cover in each episode.
Now if this was as far as Ugly Delicious went, it would have been a perfectly serviceable show about food, but it does not stop there. Instead, it looks at issues that may be confronting for some, and unknown to others. A good example of this is the episode on fired chicken which explores roots of one of the world’s most popular forms of food, but also the deep colonial legacy it has across America. It explores the conceptions of fried chicken and how they exist in the national consciousness and what that means for African-Americans. Food does not exist in a bubble and has just the same amount of historical issues as many other parts of modern culture. So what does it mean when say a global corporation takes something local rips it from its context and then markets it across the globe without giving it the context it needs? What does it mean when hipsters are taking something entrenched in African-American culture modifying it for a more affluent white audience and then outcompeting the original shops? If you are an up and coming African-American chef do you go and make soul food or do you make anything else to step out of that pigeonhole people put you in? Why some foods are considered cheap and others considered fine dining? These are all difficult questions and none of them provides easy answers. It is really good to see a show taking these issues but in an informative and often times entertaining way, because I think it will reach more people and get them to think about their food and what it means.
Looking at the season as a whole, there were a couple of things that didn’t quite work out, though these are only minor issues. When it comes to the order of the season it is odd that they have the home cooking episode as the third one in when it is the episode that sets up the drive for the entire season. As well as this, if you binge watch it, as one is want to do on Netflix, you do start to see same locations start to pop up time and time again.
So in the end, do we recommend Ugly Delicious? Yes, of course, we do. It is a beautiful look at food, the traditions that drive it and the people explore their depths. It will take you to amazing locations across the globe, and also delve into a subject that you don’t often see in food documentaries. As well as doing all this, it also has time to be deeply funny, often poignant, and bloomin’ emotional at times. If nothing else watch it for the time David Chang orders Dominoes to a famous Brooklyn pizzeria, oh and also the time when David goes home to cook Thanksgiving Day dinner with his mum, look it is great just give it a watch.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Ugly Delicious
Directed by – Eddie Schmidt, Morgan Neville, Jason Zeldes & Laura Gabbert
Created by – Morgan Neville
Starring – David Chang & Peter Meehan with Aziz Ansari, Rene Redzepi, Dave Choe, Fuschia Dunlop, Jonathan Gold, Walter Green, David Simon, Alan Yang, Massimo Bottura, Daniel Boulud, Roy Choi, Amelia Gray, Gillian Jacobs, Harley Kaplan, Jimmy Kimmel, Jennifer 8. Lee, Wolfgang Puck, Eric Wareheim, Ali Wong & Steven Yeun