Netflix’s latest food documentary, Ugly Delicious, follows James Beard Award-Winning Chef David Chang as he tackles the misconceptions, social and cultural barriers and differences in food. The 8-part series is directed by Morgan Neville.
For some strange reason, as part of my involvement at Ready Steady Cut, I am the only person so far assigned to providing coverage for food documentaries. This usually results in my stomach rumbling and my mouth salivating for an entire day. Unfortunately, this means there is a required effort to maintaining optimum concentration so I can prepare an acceptable review. Fortunately, in the case of Netflix Original Ugly Delicious I needn’t worry, because it is not just about how great the food is; there is real education to be found from someone who knows what they are talking about.
David Chang clearly knows his shit. He is such a specialist in his industry that he does not hesitate for a second to challenge a friendly rival, even if there is a chance he may be wrong. That confidence can only be applied if you are at the top of your game. With that conviction, you trust the Award-Winning chef through the 8-episode journey as he endorses great food, analyses different approaches to recipes, and discusses cultural issues.
Each episode discusses a different food group. For example, the opening is about pizza. My cynical mind suspected that the episode was going to be about how great pizza is, but I was delightfully surprised. I mean, pizza is great, but what David does is spend the time to see how different chefs from different nationalities and communities take on the idea of pizza. Interestingly, you begin to learn how each case study wants to own the best pizza. The reoccurring theme that David applies in this documentary is that it is not important how a certain food type came to be, it is important how other cultures have embraced it. You begin to learn that David wants food to be available to everyone, in all shapes and sizes.
With food documentaries, it is easy to view them as a celebration of food. Ugly Delicious puts in a concerted effort to teach the audience about food groups as much as possible. I recently watched Netflix Original Somebody Feed Phil which saw food and culture through the eyes of the tourist. Everyone is an expert here; there is not a tourist feel to it. The most divisive episode that raised important questions is the one that discusses fried chicken, tackling the stereotypes of the relationship between black people and the meal. David attempts to discuss the issue from many angles, from a positive and negative perspective, and look at how certain communities own the stereotype and how some wish not to.
The better moments come when David is frustrated and challenges a chef’s method or attitude towards food, especially if they disagree with different approaches. He does not hold back; in fact, he fearlessly challenges them, safe in the knowledge that he knows what he is talking about. The passion comes through on the screen.
Ugly Delicious will not blow you away. It will not captivate you for days. But what the Netflix documentary will do is provide a great education about food and cultures in an eight-episode series. Even if you are not bothered about its teachings, the food on the screen will sustain the entertainment.