David Chang and his “boyfriend” Peter Meehan return to the screen in foodie series Ugly Delicious. I feel a special connection to Mr. Chang as the google search “is david chang gay?” used to have my blog as the top hit [he is not, and we meet his lovely wife in this series]. Now it’s at the top of page 2. Unlike PBS sponsored The Mind of a Chef (which I reviewed here) Ugly is a netflix original, which means Chang’s copious F-bombs and other vulgarities are not bleeped out.
I have mixed feelings about the new series. Chang has great stage presence, his bromance with Peter is fun to watch, and it’s addictive as ever watched Chang devour food. The cartoon segues concerning food history are cute. But the pacing is horrible- in the “Tacos” episode we are constantly jumping back and forth between Mexico and Los Angeles, and Chang’s ultra liberal politics are sledgehammered on viewers. In one scene Chang tries to convince a conservative Vietnamese American on open borders. The conservative Vietnamese American politely points out that if they followed the rules, why should not everyone else? Chang later sputters over his failure to “make people more open.” I don’t care what your politics are, but it is ALWAYS a mistake to “lecture” in a documentary. So I take points off for that.
I’ve watched only three episodes so far- “Tacos,” “Shrimp & Crawfish” [squeamish viewers beware, crawfish are cooked alive!], and “Stuffed,” but there is less cooking than in The Mind of a Chef which is a disappointment. There’s more talking in Ugly, mostly food experts and other foodies philosophizing on food and dissing commercialized food. In one scene Chang & Co snobbishly jaunt through a Taco Bell drive-thru, mocking the lowly fare they purchase. Other scenes are just stupid- the xiaolongbao VS tortellini “debate” felt like a badly produced middle school skit.
If I were to give Chang and Meehan documentary advice, it would be to slow the pacing down, focus mainly on the two of them visiting fewer restaurants/ food carts, talking in depth to the chefs and closely examining their kitchens. Drop the blowhard politics. The cartoon segues are cute but don’t overdo them. Stop the silly skits! And show more cooking, especially of Chang cooking.