Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Mind of a Chef

By Erin Jackson

Monday the 5th marked the final episode of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. Nope, no more reservations. None of them. I was mopey the whole day, and as that last episode unfolded, I was inundated with a seemingly never ending stream of horrible reality shows that would take its place. The one premiering afterword had something to do with a dude who travels to "dangerous places" (aka places with brown people) to find the best coffee beans. And the current favorite genre of cable "infotainment" channels like the Travel Channel, people who go around and find crap in storage lockers/hoarder's houses/suitcases and sell it at auctions. The show finished as soon as I finished eating my Asian fused vaguely Chinese tofu dish from Huntsville, Alabama and I couldn't help but think Tony Bourdain hates me. He's leaving TV and he thinks I eat horribly and I'm going to be stuck with nothing but cooking competitions and meaningless travel shows. There would be no witty voiceovers, no rhapsodizing over the simply beauty of street food or traditional peasant food, no exclusive looks into the real lives of cutting edge chefs.

It looked like the future of televised food would be a bleak Bourdain-less blur of blah. But then, on the horizon (or, rather, my Tumblr dashboard) came a clip of a new show on PBS called The Mind of a Chef. It featured David Chang (of the revered Momofuku) along with a few buddies including Parks and Rec's Aziz Ansari. They were eating a sandwich that looked at once beautiful and terrifyingly fattening and then I heard that voice and knew what it meant: Anthony Bourdain is back and (probably) doesn't hate me. David Chang is the focus of the show, but Anthony produces it and does the voiceover. And it's a wonderful show.

It's not a No Reservations clone, but it definitely has a good share of its DNA. There's a little bit of Good Eats thrown in there for good measure as well. It isn't so much a travel show as it is a show that explores what makes certain food what it is and what some people are doing with it. The first episode is all about noodles, more particularly ramen, and I will never look at a package of Top Ramen the same again. At one point David makes gnocchi out of pulverized noodles, explaining along the way the starch content of noodles and making a few quips about how Asians invented pasta, but that he still expects Italian people to roll over in their graves "…even the living ones" when they see this concoction. This is just minutes after he takes out an uncooked block of ramen, sprinkles it with the seasoning packet and scarfs it down.

Watching the third episode, titled "Memories" my mind wandered into that horrible metaphor that America is a giant melting pot. David mentioned how part of the reason he became a chef was that he wanted more people to eat the food he grew up on and didn't want people to think he was weird for eating kimchi rather than meatloaf. And that made me feel oddly patriotic. David does not shy away from including others' cultures into his food (see above: gnocchi heresy) but he does it with enough reverence and enough innovation that it isn't mere appropriation or mimicry, it's something else. I mean, maybe we're not a melting pot, but when I saw David make a Korean burrito with edamame, hoisin sauce and kimchi salsa, I was like "That's America, right there." So, I salute you, David Chang, Anthony Bourdain and all involved with The Mind of a Chef, the new criterion of culinary shows.

Erin Floyd Jackson has been BFFs with TV since she was a wee one when she would play TV Network Executive. She went to school to learn about how and why TV is the way it is and hopes to someday tear someone's creative vision down and re-edit it to her liking. In the meantime, she and her husband live in Huntsville, Alabama and they occasionally "blog" here (http://inappropriateapplause.tumblr.com/) when they are not geeking out over all the SCIENCE! in the Rocket City.

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