david chang/ugly delicious

For light TV, these cooking shows show just enough substance. I caught some “Ugly Delicious” over the holidays. I knew nothing about David Chang, but he’s the pretty famous chef of Momofuko, which he started at age 26. (Can you imagine? Did I even understand how to do my own laundry at that age?) Momofuko was supposed to be a dismal failure before it even opened its doors, so Chang said the hell with it and cooked wildly. He was rewarded with great reviews, commending him for his originality and inventiveness. His co-host on “Ugly Delicious” is a food critic who gave him one of his early stellar reviews. He says Chang came up to him at a concert, and he told himself, either they were going to become best friends and he would never review him again, or he could keep reviewing him. He chose friendship! (I didn’t catch his name. He is a white guy with glasses.) Now they are like an old married couple who don’t talk anymore.

Chang shows a lot of humanity for the peeps in restaurants and comes across as very humble (could be a lie. Chefs can be as rude and obnoxious as office CEOs.) In the Episode Two: Tacos, he mentioned a Philly taco mistress who walked across the Mexican desert to immigrate illegally to the US so her daughter could become a nurse. Her daughter is a nurse, but this taco mistress’s own status is up in the air. She’s married to a U.S. citizen but illegal herself. Her husband says it’s difficult to expand their restaurant when they live in limbo, how he wants to live in a country where you can be free to be yourself. I have read about people’s arduous journeys in these illegal immigration paths, but it hit me differently when I saw the person who did it. That’s some toughness. Someone like that does well in our country. That seems to be the type of people we’d want. Chang concludes that episode saying his dad became a handyman because it was a job he could do without knowing English. Chang says he has always empathized with the immigrant just trying to do right by their family.
On Episode One: Pizza, he vehemently defends Domino’s pizza as delicious. These is apparently a sacrilegious statement in his profession, since chefs are not supposed to like fast food. The other food experts with him look uncomfortable. Chang is being so public because he hates being told what to do and think. Same. Also, same for my dad. Is this a Korean trait? Can someone tell me? I so identify with it – I go against the grain simply because I’m told not to. For better or worse, it’s one of the instincts that have shaped my life path so far.

Anyway, if I’m not careful, I will end up summarizing every single episode, so let me quit while I’m ahead. Watching this show makes me realize professional cooks are part scientist, part artist. Chang’s wife mentions she didn’t know food could remind her of childhood (I heard of that idea in a play, but thought it was a flamboyant confection) and a Toyko-ian BBQ world-class chef discusses his charcoal as “a living thing.” All these chefs are humble and touched as Chang shouts and curses to the camera about how awesome they are. I love it. Also, the show features a plethora of Korean Americans and other Asian Americans with all sorts of American accents. They are funny, weird, irreverent successful dudes. It’s an ABUNDANCE OF KOREANS! Bring it. I’m ready. (My only wish is I’d like more, ahem, weird Korean ladies on the show.)

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