The following review contains spoilers.
If you were to watch season one of “Ugly Delicious” without prior knowledge of David Chang’s somewhat acerbic “Chang-ian” demeanor — one that has vaulted him into fame since his founding of Momofuku Noodle Bar — you may bristle to Chang’s authoritative ideals and opinions within the culinary landscape. Chang’s insistence towards (East and Southeast) Asian prominence colors your understanding and position of food cultures dominated by people of color when juxtaposed with his myriad of support from his white colleagues. A simple comparison of the Jaliscan shrimp taco to that of the Cantonese har gao merits a discussion of hierarchical race structures within the United States, similar to the exclusion of Black contributions in American barbecue within a barbecue episode exploring the differences of American and East Asian barbecue. For those familiar to Chang’s ideals and mannerisms, this may only seem as a thematic highlight to “Ugly Delicious” — Chang’s person is one that highlights his brutal honesty and pride toward his Asian American identity.
The premise of the first season of “Ugly Delicious” revolves around curiosity — a desire to learn about other food cultures that may not necessarily pertain with your own racial and ethnographic identity. But with the release of season two of “Ugly Delicious,” Chang shows remarkable growth as a host, perhaps even humility, that spans past his own identity and advances global questions within food. Season two tackles uncertainty and learning of food knowledge head-on in a way that wasn’t clearly addressed in season one.
The Season two premiere of “Ugly Delicious,” “Kids Menu,” delves into the deep end of Chang’s internal struggles with becoming a new father — one that he compares to his sentiments to his current “kids” of the Momofuku empire. Chang comes into full reckoning of his past achievements and temperament — his former methods and attitudes that aided him in his past won’t work when raising a child. Succinctly, Chang states, “There’s a big moment of reckoning right now between old Dave Chang and ‘Dad’ Dave Chang.”
In this sense, Chang’s introspection in “Kids Menu” sets the tone of the entirety of season two. In admitting his own ignorance and holes within his knowledge, he sets himself up as a host who puts aside much of his preconceived opinions and humbly listens to the knowledge of other food cuisines. Notably, Chang puts himself within the backseat rather than the foreground of the show, letting other cast members and cuisine experts of Indian, Turkish and Western steaks shine with their knowledge.
This isn’t to say that Chang doesn’t completely let go of his former somewhat abrasive demeanor that was on full display during the first season. Comedically, Chang savagely pokes holes within his lack of understanding, in particular to his ignorance towards Indian and Turkish cuisine. He also roasts individuals who like well-done steaks, though the show cautions with a caveat that consuming well-done steaks may have religious connotations.
While seasons one and two are presented as short, informative documentary essays, the second season is a far more cohesive and convincing one. Taking the best of season one — the concise, informative narrative of each episode — season two adds the voices of prominent PoC and Womxn voices within the food industry and criticism ranging from that of Floyd Cardoz, Lolis Eric Elie, Helen Rosner and Malakeh Jazmati. The further and wider addition of PoC entertainers such as David Choe provide additional levity as Chang allows his circle of colleagues and friends to share their own stories and perspectives as they conduct their own mini-interviews. Is the absence of Peter Meehan noticed? Yes, but the show doesn’t decrease its own presence or authority any less with its new Season.
Through his inner turmoil and reflection throughout Season two of “Ugly Delicious,” David Chang ultimately becomes a better advocate for PoC and womxn voices in the food industry, simply by putting aside his ego, listening to others and allowing others to speak on his own platform.