Since starting his culty comfort food temple-turned-international brand Momofuku in 2004, David Chang has eschewed the fine-bladed image of celebrity cheffing. From loud, viral dishes (caviar and fried chicken, crack pie) to his highly graphic foodie bible Lucky Peach (R.I.P.), Chang has always fused the high and low.
That scruffy, uninhibited approach to food is the basis for his new show Ugly Delicious, coming to Netflix tomorrow. Like his last major TV gig on PBS’s Mind of a Chef in 2012, Ugly Delicious sees Chang deep-dive into various pockets of food culture. But the new program incorporates more of Chang’s long-percolating, avant-garde outlook on food—due in part to the generous creative control afforded to him by the studio. “Netflix was easily the choice,” he says. “And once it was pitched, there was no pushback and they understood what we were trying to do.”
Directed by Academy Award-winning documentarian Morgan Neville (20 Feet From Stardom), Ugly Delicious (a reference to Chang’s hashtag to describe food that prioritizes flavor and freshness over conforming to aesthetic or cultural conventions) spans the culinary landscape in its eight episodes, each devoted to a different food group. With guest spots by everyone from writer Ruth Reichl to comedian Ali Wong, Chang explores each food’s origins, while highlighting those in the field who are breaking from them—from noma’s take on tacos to chef Christian Puglisi’s mission to bring Neapolitan pizza to Copenhagen.
The theme of authenticity, says Chang, has been a point of contention in his career. “It’s something I’ve battled when critics or diners say, ‘This isn’t so-and-so because it’s better in this country,” Chang explains. “Early critics would say, ‘It’s not authentic’ [because] instead of getting katsuobushi from Japan, I’m using country ham. In my opinion I was being respectful [by] not trying to import every ingredient possible; I think the best way to respect it is incorporating things that are local.”
Chang’s skepticism of “authenticity” may come as a surprise given the unvarnished style of his food. And indeed, as a creator and consumer of popular culture, Chang strives for realism. “I tend to gravitate toward things that have actually happened,” Chang says. “I wanted [Ugly Delicious] to be educational, and to have the DNA of Lucky Peach, so that I and others could learn.”
That seriousness, Chang says, often extends to his own Netflix-and-chill habits (“If you look at my Netflix feed versus my wife’s,” he says, “mine is not the happy-go-lucky one.”) but there are exceptions. “When my wife told me to watch The Great British Bake Off, I was like, ‘No, no, no’ – I was being a total snob,” says Chang. “And then when I saw it I was like, this is the best thing I’ve ever seen. There’s so much emotion! I don’t know why the British shows are so much better.”
While Ugly Delicious may not be quite as confectionery as GBBO, it makes the case—like Chang’s Netflix tabs—for niche and mass-market coexisting. Case in point: a cameo in episode one by super-establishment chef Wolfgang Puck. “What I admire most is that he’s a rebel in the culinary world even though he’s the establishment simultaneously,” says Chang. “I think he really set the template of what American food could be, which is essentially what American food is: a little bit of everything.”
Lately, Chang has followed in Puck’s Californian footsteps by expanding his presence in Los Angeles, opening his highly anticipated restaurant Majordomo last month. Here, Chang gives us his guide to his favorite L.A. spots.
Cup of Joe: Can I plead the fifth? I don’t really drink coffee. I get caffeine in other ways, but I don’t really know anything about coffee. I tried. Sometimes I drink diet cokes, sometimes energy drinks, but mostly caffeine isn’t good for me because I’m already too hyper.
Power Lunch: For me, I like to Cassell’s Hamburgers and get a patty melt for lunch. I know there’s a lot of “power lunch” places in L.A., but that’s what’s impressive to me.
Cocktail Hour: Here’s another thing… I’m like the most boring person. I don’t even drink that much anymore. But Apotheke just opened up near us. That’s cool, right?
Retail Therapy: You’ll be disappointed to know that I really don’t shop. I like Patagonia. This shirt is from Best Made or something that my wife got me. I just have an allergy to shopping as a whole. I’m the least fashionable person you’ve probably ever spoken to.
Field Trip: In L.A. I think it’s worth it to go to the SGV – San Gabriel Valley. It’s not that far away if you’re on the East Side or Downtown. If you’re on the West Side it’s tougher. All the restaurants there… I can’t pick one. I like Kang Kang Food Court a lot. I always joke that you need to get a weekend eating apartment in the SGV.
Date Night: I’ve been meaning to take my wife to Providence in Los Angeles, which is run by Michael Cimarusti and its easily considered one of the finest restaurants in the world. That’s where I’ve been planning to take her for date night.
Don’t Miss: Besides all the amazing tacos, I’ve been spending a lot of time in Koreatown, which can be foreboding and I think at times xenophobic because they don’t want anyone to know where to go. Because everything’s in Korean, so it’s hard to navigate. But it’s such a great place to eat. You can have restaurants that just have one kind of thing. You have Korean barbeque, you have this place BiergartenLA. It’s obviously a beer garden but it’s done in a way you wouldn’t imagine. You’ll get lost in K-Town.
Hidden Gem: Something that’s not a hidden gem, but still – I think people should get the grilled cheese at In-N-Out. Spicy with chili peppers. Oh, and if it’s not busy you’ve got to get the griddle tomato in there. That’s key.