David Chang's new Netflix show 'Ugly Delicious' breaks down 'out of date' food myths
"Ugly Delicious" is the latest food show on the block, and you should certainly let it capture your attention.
The original Netflix documentary series stars James Beard-Award-winning chef of Momofuku, David Chang and was created with Academy Award-winning director Morgan Neville.
Over the course of eight genuinely eye-opening episodes, each focusing on a different food like pizza, home cooking and fried chicken, Chang and a changing group of peers and friends break down the biggest myths, misconceptions and histories in food.
Ahead of the February 23 release of "Ugly Delicious" on Netflix, AOL Entertainment sat down with David Chang to talk about how his latest venture came about, the importance of knowing a food's history before you eat it and how the series reflects greater truths about culture beyond just food.
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Check out our full conversation with David Chang below:
First talk to me about the name "Ugly Delicious." I think I know what it means, but I want to hear it in your own words.
The idea of “Ugly Delicious” came out even before Instagram. It was the whole idea of me finding the food that I’m comfortable making, because the food that I was eating and still loving I was ashamed to actually embrace. Tie that in with now, when food is more popular than ever before -- particularly with social media.
Some of the most delicious things -- the things that I grew up eating -- I’m now more comfortable embracing, and so much of the most delicious stuff falls under "beauty being in the eye of the beholder." When I was kicking around that idea as a joke, Morgan Neville and Tremolo were like, "Maybe that’s a good name for the series." I was uncomfortable with that at the time, but it really does encapsulate what the show is trying to be.
There are a lot of food shows out there right now. How did you plan on having "Ugly Delicious" stand out in such a crowded landscape? Did you always have this vision of what it was going to look like?
We had a lot of ideas in terms of what we wanted to talk about, because a lot of the DNA came from [magazine] Lucky Peach, which in and of itself was tied to the first TV thing we ever did -- where we tried to tell stories and educate myself and other people about things that weren’t being told. When we were able to meet up with Morgan, who I’ve known for three years and worked with on another project, we realized that it touched on a lot of themes that he liked talking about, as well, which was looking at truth from another angle and using food [to uncover that truth].
You get at this a bit in the series, but social media plays a huge role in the food world right now and has made a lot more people interested in food, perhaps in a different way than people have historically liked food in the past.
Exactly. It’s one of the questions that I still have -- and I don’t even know if I’ve answered it myself yet -- how much of something do you need to know about something before you enjoy eating it? I think fried chicken is a perfect example of that. In and of itself, it’s super delicious, which is why I think it has won the world over. But the kind of fried chicken that most people are eating is based on a really hard time, born out of some real difficulties for black Americans. It’s a story that people don’t really want to talk about. [The show] is also me discovering and learning about these things and not being afraid of them.
Pizza, then, seems like the perfect food to focus on for your first episode. It's something that pretty much everyone has an opinion on or preference about.
Well, the thing is that there’s really no correlation between one episode and another. They’re all very different.
Right, but it's the perfect entry point for even just a casual viewer.
Yeah. We tackle some tougher subjects and have some difficult conversations, but pizza tackles -- in a roundabout way -- a very difficult subject, which is, "Why do you like something?" The fact is that almost everyone loves pizza. I don’t want to make a hyperbolic statement, but it seems that way. It’s something that everyone can relate to, and pretty much everyone knows that it came from Italy and then was popularized in New York and Italian-American cuisine. But the interesting topic here was, "Can you admire Domino's while you can admire food in Naples?" I mean, some of the best pizza in the world is in Tokyo! Part of that is, "Why is that hard to accept?" What we try to do, which is important, is have every episode be open-ended.
Aziz Ansari appears with you on that episode, as do some other notable friends like Jimmy Kimmel and Ali Wong. Talk to me about the idea of bringing them on.
It’s been a crazy run, and what I’ve learned over the years is that everyone -- comedians, athletes -- wants to eat well and know where to go. Through Momofuku, I’ve been able to know a lot of these people. Part of it is just having connections to people. Food is a small world once you know the chef community, so that was it. The important part to that was that I’m not the food expert on everything, but someone else might know more than I do, and they don’t have to be a chef.
In the first episode, you proclaim that something you just ate was "delicious," and then immediately say that it felt weird saying that on camera. What did you learn about featuring food on TV?
I didn’t mean that to be meta. [Laughs] But you don’t want to dumb down something for the audience. If you genuinely like something you want to express that in a genuine way. Honestly, a lot of it was direction from Morgan and their team, and they let us just figure it out as we go. In terms of how people perceive that, we wanted to give them a real reaction to something, without it feeling like it was set-up.
At the end of the day, "Ugly Delicious" seems to be making a statement beyond just food: With food and culture and politics and whatever else, it's about breaking down centuries-old ideas of how things "should" be done.
I appreciate that. That was one of the biggest things we wanted to tackle, which was that a lot of food truths aren’t wrong -- but they’re out of date.
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