You’ve probably heard of David Chang’s food empire Momofuku, famous in New York for bringing creative ramen to the East Coast’s trend-aware hungry masses. He’s expanded it to outposts in Las Vegas, D.C., Los Angeles, even as far as Toronto and Australia – mostly by proffering a pic-worthy blend of Japanese and French influence, with the occasional foray into pastas and craveable desserts like “crack pie” (from Milk Bar).
So what’s left? Turn on Ugly Delicious, February 23 on Netflix, to find out. The original documentary series is named for Chang’s hashtag, which maintains that the uglier food, the better it can be for us all.
Teaming up with world-renowned chefs, food writers, filmmakers and the occasional celeb, Ugly Delicious gets to the heart of our ever-shrinking globalized world. It took years for Chang to go back to his Korean roots, and he now thinks the “what if” scenario is sometimes more interesting than the truth.
We caught up with him to chat about dried deer tendon, Chinese tomato sauce and the future of food.
With the availability of social media, everything seems to be about image. Has the substance of food suddenly fallen away? Has everything been done before?
Everything has been done before. That happened over time. [Suddenly], every time I came home from a restaurant I thought, “wait this doesn’t make any sense at all. I want to eat out less at the fancy restaurants.”
In the show, you jump around a lot: US, Denmark, Norway, Mexico. There’s a running joke where you’re teased about connecting every culture’s cuisine back to China. Do you think it is?
China basically created everything before antiquity. What if the Chinese created tomato sauce first? What if the Chinese actually influenced [Mexican] food? It allowed for a conversation [showing how] Mexico is one of the most inclusive food scenes. Also, if something makes me feel like it tastes like har gow or dim sum, that’s not a bad thing.
What are your three most memorable bites from the show?
I’m still ashamed about the dried deer tendon, still mad at myself that I had to spit it out. I would have vomited and that would have been worse. I hope I can get to a point where I can eat it, but I don’t know if I’ll ever love it. I love Peking duck, easily one of the best foods in the world and never enough. Also Vietnamese crawfish in Houston.
You tackle a bit of farm-to-table, immigration, sustainability and inclusion. What are your parting thoughts on Ugly Delicious?
The future of food right now is to make it more inclusive, from the people growing the food and making the food, to the diners and how they behave. On the macro level people are accepting different things. [Because of that] people will eat more food that is of value to everyone. The more knowledgeable people are, the more we can get away from unsavory episodes of food. MSG isn’t bad for you, being closed-minded is.