Ugly Delicious: It’s all in the best possible taste, my dear

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FOOD ON TV

Ugly Delicious: It’s all in the best possible taste, my dear

Chef David Chang doesn’t bother making food pretty

Jessica Brodie

David Chang is a culinary bad boy in a crowd where most  of the boys are bad. He has a destabilising philosophy of food that has enabled his wild, exponential success and a host of harsh critics. In an industry with few rules, Chang nonetheless keeps finding ways to break them. He doesn’t take reservations, and he doesn’t do vegetarian options. He deplores traditional fine dining, and yet his intimate dining room in New York cannot shake its two Michelin stars.He’s now at the head of a restaurant conglomerate which relies on one underpinning principle: deliciousness. With that in mind he has taken the tired and tasteless food travel format and given it a Chang-style makeover.
The series, recently produced for Netflix, is called Ugly Delicious and completely forgoes our image- and Instagram-obsessed food rhetoric. The series is influenced by Chang’s Korean-American heritage, which episode by episode covers unsightly favourites, everything from pizza to fried rice.
The episodes are intelligent and curious, and give the watcher access to pretty much every major player on the international food scene. Chang is friends with everyone from Rene Redzeppi at Noma to Wolfgang Puck. The conversations are gloriously candid. Watching the chefs banter is like sitting down at a real chef family meal. They talk shop,  a chef-specific mixture of war wounds and fishing stories.It is heartening to watch a series in which the food culture being celebrated is multicultural comfort food. That could itself be the epithet for South African cuisine. There is no denying that objectively a large platter of braai lacks culinary finesse and aesthetics. There is no way to photograph vetkoek that doesn’t highlight its cellulite-y visage. Tripe? Bobotie? Biltong? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We are blithely content with our delicious, misshapen multicultural cuisine. In light of the current trend of austere temple food and Japanese precision knife skills, it is comforting to return to something much closer to our own food culture.It’s a relief to return to food without pretention, focused on telling interesting stories in a meaningful way.The show manages to be modern, traditional, skilled and subversively radical. Ugly delicious itself, like sitting down with a peppermint crisp tart, resplendent in a Pyrex dish.

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