|My age:||I am 33|
David Chang may be the most famous chef of his American generation, who went on from his groundbreaking Momofuku Noodle Bar to open a series of well received restaurants in New York and around the globe. Chang's new food documentary, an eight-part series titled "Ugly Delicious," debuts on Netflix Friday. Houstonians with more than a passing interest in food may want to binge-watch, but my guess is the majority will leap ahead to the fourth episode, much of which was shot here.
But Houston itself emerges as the episode's main character, right along with ringmaster Chang himself. I hate the way it looks" Chang says of our city in a voiceover. What he loves, though, is a culinary scene shaped by lateth-century immigrants his own parents came to America from Korea in the s — where chefs and cooks and diners "will take a chance on the new.
To prove that theory, Chang takes the viewer on a whipsawing ride from New Orleans to Tokyo to Beijing to Ho Chi Minh City and back to Houston again, hopscotching from traditional Cajun crawfish boilers to a Japanese shrimp vendor, from a a platter of Szechuan-peppercorned stir-fried Chinese crawfish to a bowl of shrimp gumbo served by Nikki Tran, a Houston expatriate now cooking in Vietnam. Along the way Chang — who reveals himself to be as much a journalist as a chef at heart — asks hundreds of questions, thinks out loud, and comes to terms with uncomfortable truths that fly in the face of his idealism, his conviction that food should lead to an opening up, not a closing in.
He's profane and blunt and, underneath the cool-boy surface, he reveals himself to be sentimental and even sweet. There are no truer moments in the Houston episode I screened in advance than the scenes back in some kitchen where he and a cook are laughing uproariously.
Houston's best vietnamese restaurants
So it's fun, this Houston episode, and I'm guessing the rest of the series as well. It's also disconcerting in a pleasantly bonkers way. During a cartoon segment pitting a shrimp against a crawfish, and during a stylized fantasy sequence framing the romance of the classic shrimp cocktail in vintage film-noir terms, I felt as if the White Rabbit had slipped me some kind of pill.
But then it was on to the next kitchen, the next table, the next rapid-fire series of Chang interlocutories. I scarcely had time to wonder what had hit me. I never did figure out the larger point that was being made about crawfish versus shrimp, but that was OK, because the minute the credits came on, I knew I wanted to watch the episode again.
I wanted to think about the many, many directions in which it leaped, the questions it posed, the people to whom it introduced me. I wanted to call a friend and blurt, "You'll never guess who's a waiter at Galatoire's now.
David chang's 'ugly delicious' makes case for houston as the most interesting food city in america
Chang admits that as a cook "I'm always trying to find a new edge," so his affinity for Trong Nguyen, who has never stopped elaborating his recipes, makes sense. The camera zooms in lovingly on Nguyen's new ginger and lemongrass crawfish, bristling with heaps of fresh-cut ginger root.
And, at a new-school Vietnamese barbecue staged by Chris Shepherd in Underbelly's parking lotthe lens lingers on the lettuce wraps clasping smoked pork cracklings that have been basted in fish-saucy thit kho broth.
It's instructive to see these dishes through a shrewd chef's eye. Chang frets over the merits of steaming crawfish versus boiling them.
This montrose kitchen is shattering the mold with an inventive female chef’s bold vision
He wants to take a stab at stir-frying crawfish with garlic and Szechuan peppercorns to approximate those he tried in Beijing. My favorite scene of all was Chang gasping and coughing over the heat levels in that dish.
I felt so, so vindicated, and I was glad they hadn't edited that moment out. But as much as Chang clearly values change, there's a moment when Yu walks him through our Bellaire Boulevard Chinatown and he succumbs utterly to the classic joys of the elegant Hue-inspired cuisine at Nam Giao. Le shakes his head.
Americans love Vietnamese food, and we go from there. I even get a couple of lines here and there in the episode, in between satisfyingly messy bites of Trong Nguyen's lemongrass crawfish at Crawfish and Noodles. I am happy and relieved to report that I do not embarrass myself, or my city. Yu, Shepherd, Nguyen and Le prove to be eloquent ambassadors for Houston. Chang has gone on record saying he thinks Houston is the most interesting food city in America today.
By the end of the episode, breathless and sort of poleaxed from the wild ride, I thought he'd laid a foundation for his case. Amazon's founder was one of four people on Blue Origin's first crewed flight.
By Andrea Leinfelder. Most Popular.
The restaurant specializes in the Vietnamese cuisine of Hue. More for you. Billionaires are in a space race, and Texas has a front-row seat.
Elon Musk brings exploding rockets, real estate to South Texas. How we got the story on SpaceX and Blue Origin.