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When Netflix Lets You Down: Ugly Delicious Left Me Wanting More Representation 

click to enlarge COURTESY OF NETFLIX
  • Courtesy of Netflix
Editor's Note: The following is The Big Spoon, an opinion column on San Antonio's food and drink scene.

The trailer for David Chang’s new show left me salivating. Cut after cut of namesake Ugly Delicious dishes, followed by cuts of Chang positing how he could help further cultural conversations through food were enough to seal the deal: Ugly Delicious was a show I would watch with gusto and glee.

Or so I thought.

Ugly Delicious is eight episodes worth of impeccably shot food (even if it isn’t always the most Instagrammable), panel discussions by industry leaders and Chang’s friends, and conversations about what makes food the great connector.
In all fairness, the show does strike plenty of compelling chords. The “Pizza” episode asks great questions about what exactly authenticity means; the “Tacos” episode spend a great deal of air time on the history of corn (remember, sin maíz, no hay país); the “Home cooking” episode pays homage to moms and begs for a Mama Chang spin-off; the “Fried Chicken” episode teaches the viewer the horribly troublesome roots of one of the world’s favorite dishes that began as a means for slaves to save up money to buy their own freedom; in “Fried Rice,” Chang and co. tackle the racial stereotypes associated with MSG, used by processed food manufacturers more so than Chinese restaurants.

At 50 to 60 minutes a pop, Ugly Delicious demands attention from the get-go. This isn’t the kind of show you listen to in the background as you clean, and it’s definitely not TV Zoloft in the form of The Great British Bake Off (where contestants are pleasant, judging is harsh but fair, and their accents lull you into a sense of safety and warmth that lets the viewer not think about Donald Trump, or how the plastic blob floating in the ocean is now twice the size of Texas). Sit down, pop open a can of whatever, or bottle of your finest Two Buck Chuck and take it in. Don’t forget the snacks.

But the problems are quick to arise during viewing. In “Pizza,” the 46-minute episode includes all of three women. In “Tacos,” he follows Rosio Sanchéz, the owner of Copenhagen’s Hija de Sanchez and first generation Mexican-American. Instead of focusing on Sanchez’s amazing story – she nixtamalizes her corn, and we never even learn where it comes from – the director pivots to Rene Redzepi, a longtime friend of Chang’s and owner of two-Michelin star restaurant Noma, where Sanchez cooked for five years, and his Mexico pop-up. In “Shrimp & Crawfish,” whilst chatting with Georgette Dang, owner of the New Orlean’s Cajun Corner, Chang tells the Asian-American owner that she’s not “from here,” but is quickly corrected and thankfully so. “It makes me just as Cajun as anyone else here,” Dang says.

Then there’s the matter of Tex-Mex. If you’re going to tackle ugly delicious, what could possibly fit the bill more so than Tex-Mex, perhaps the ugliest, but most delicious food around, with a rich history that’s still gaining traction? I’m obviously biased.

No, the lack of women in the industry isn’t Chang’s fault, but given the platform, and that this isn’t his first rodeo, Ugly Delicious left me wanting so much more.

“We should be talking about stories that aren’t being told as well,” said Chang during an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, a guest on the “BBQ” episode.

Let’s hope a second season helps tell more of those stories.

So many restaurants, so little time. Find out the latest San Antonio dining news with our Flavor Friday Newsletter.

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