Pizza, ribs, fried chicken: All at the top of most people’s comfort food list, but low on the agenda when it comes to aesthetics. In a world that’s increasingly geared towards ‘likes’, our Instagram feeds are becoming bloated with highly-stylised shots that span calorific sweet treats like Nutella lasagne to the ubiquitous smashed avocado on toast. In the last year, freakshakes (an OTT milkshake topped with cream, cake, sauces, sprinkles…), bubble waffles (a sweet-style burrito filled with much of the same) and rainbow-tinted everything (if Starbucks’ Unicorn Frappuccino was overkill, then last year’s penchant for multi-coloured cheese toasties was full-on offensive) dominated trend-hungry social feeds, leaving an edible glitter trail in their wake.
Rarely a brunch goes by where you aren’t ordered to hold back from tucking into your artfully arranged stack of pancakes, just so one of your fellow diners can orchestrate the perfect flat-lay for their feed. Filtered food fatigue is setting in, and worst of all, our pasta’s getting cold.
Enter David Chang – the founder of the Momofuku restaurant group has been turning out noteworthy Asian fusion food since 2004. He and Peter Meehan, who co-hosts segments of Ugly Delicious, used to produce quarterly culinary mag Lucky Peach. Now, they’re on our screens exploring the way food makes us feel and the memories we associate with certain ingredients.
As the show’s name suggests, these dishes are a treat for the tastebuds, if not for the eyes. Named after the hashtag Chang uses to describe not-for-social concoctions, the series is an antidote to style over substance. In fact, it’s for everyone who’s ever fancied a night in with beans on toast, rather than queuing for teeny tiny photogenic fads.
Unlike some cookery shows, there’s no elitism here. As well as travelling the world to sample authentic margheritas in Naples and sushi-topped pizzas in Tokyo, Chang challenges Mark Iacono of celebrated Brooklyn pizzeria Lucali by whipping out his phone and ordering a Domino’s. Yes, Iacono is horrified (“If you ever send Domino’s to my pizzeria again we’re going to be rolling around on the sidewalk”) and claims that it’s “not pizza”, but as Chang explains, takeaway pizza is often the only version many people eat. Why shouldn’t it be celebrated in the same way?
Tacos, fried rice, crustacea. Yes, these dishes can be beautiful (the guacamole at Mexican chef Martha Ortiz’s new London spot, Ella Canta, is bejewelled with pomegranates). But when you get down to it, this is food for eating with your hands and getting stuck into, away from the cameras. In a world where a humble bowl of porridge often comes embellished with edible flowers, and burger buns have been replaced with mushy avocado halves, Ugly Delicious in all its greasy glory is extremely refreshing.
Ugly Delicious is available to watch on Netflix now.
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