The Digest

David Chang Is Mainstream & Other News

2nd March 2018

Words: James Hansen

The latest Netflix food special, the search for Korean pancakes, and how bees can save the world: all in this week’s selection of the best food media on the web

Jaya Saxena charts the incremental mainstreaming of David Chang at The Outline. The thesis is simple: “Chang’s views have become mainstream, largely because of Chang himself. Surprisingly, he just hasn’t quite caught on yet.” The medium for his views is new Netflix show Ugly Delicious, whose eight episodes each focus on an individual food and its cultural resonances, however problematic or challenging they may be. As Saxena puts it: “It asks questions about tradition versus fusion, appropriation versus homage, who gets to “elevate” which cuisines, what does “authenticity” look like — and, most importantly, if it matters.” The problem is that Chang’s rebel-with-a-cause attitude addresses a cause long since championed, interrogated and approved: “a decade ago, this show would have been a challenge to the establishment from a rebellious young chef. Now, David Chang is the establishment. Maybe, one day, he’ll enjoy it.”

Helen Rosner focusses on another side of Chang’s show at The New Yorker. A comparison of New Orleans and Houston and their diametric approaches to crawfish cookery jumps off into an exploration of the paralysing illogic of a certain kind of isolating authenticity: “by anchoring a place’s culinary identity in an idealized history, a culture closes itself off to the values and traditions of those who have arrived more recently.” Rosner is smart and quick to point out what this means for a show about exuberant celebration of immigrant identities in the Trump era; she also rightly calls out Chang for his under-exploration of gender’s place in the conversation. If that’s not enough Ugly Delicious, make a beeline for Greg Morabito and his play-by-play episode guide at Eater — it’s a fan of what’s good, and critical when it needs to be.

Esha Chhabra tells how wild farming can inspire political peace at Wired. Central Indian states Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have recently been plagued by insurgency and terrorism; Chhabra details that “Across India, an estimated 350,000 people have been displaced due to the insurgencies. Between 2002 and 2006, an estimated 300,000 people were killed.” One solution comes from father and son Dr. Ishwar Singh Hooda and Amit Hooda, harvesting honey in affected areas using sustainable methods to provide a stable, supportive income for affected families. It’s worked wonderfully, but Amit remains grounded: “Think about it. Bees are the only creature that selflessly add so much value to the environment. Every single activity they do produces positive results. I would love it if I were like that, if humans in general were like that … But we’re not.”

Laurie Woolever and Chris Thornton launch Carbface, “a podcast about food and food media”. Between “putting on airs” by saying ‘crudités’ and discussing a “single abortive attempt at waterskiing”, Woolever and Thornton (alias ****foodblogger) talk to restaurateurs Jen Agg and Anthony Bourdain on such varied topics as aggressive monkeys, healthy collaborations, the democratisation and fading relevance of food criticism, effectively counteracting restaurant misogyny and dress codes in establishments. This is a podcast unafraid to call out the bad stuff, name names where necessary and be unabashedly witty: all good things to add to the food media carousel.

Noah Cho goes in search of bindaetteok at Shondaland. At Gwangjang market in Seoul, South Korea, Cho bypasses all manner of pork products in search of the mungbean pancake of his childhood, seeking to taste the bindaetteok that his halmoni (grandmother) made for him in southern California, where Cho was born and raised. Recounting his own clumsy attempts to recreate the food and his halmoni’s wilful sabotage of his mother’s attempts, Cho alights at the market, where he tastes a bindaettok — “too big, too chunky, not really spicy” that nonetheless brings back memories once lost.

Image: Ugly Delicious Season 1, Episode 2 (Netflix)

Posted 2nd March 2018

In The Digest


Words: James Hansen

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