Ugly Delicious and in-depth food podcasts & TV
As the fantastic Ugly Delicious hits our computers, we look at the ways food TV and podcasts have turned over a new and highly detailed leaf
From Masterchef’s lightning quick judgements and constant alarm clock-level frenzy to those weird Buzzfeed food videos presented by disembodied hands, food telly in particular is great at presenting snack-sized stories. That’s all good – where would we be without Gregg Wallace to complain about? – but sometimes we need a more filling meal, and that’s where a new generation of in-depth food coverage comes in.
Personally, we blame Netflix; for all the talk of ‘paradigm shifting’ and ‘cable-cutting’, the main thing they’ve done is encourage people to throw their stopwatches away and let their ideas grow. Sometimes that results in interminable crime dramas that take hours to show you any baddies or car chases, and sometimes you end up with a live action version of your defunct favourite magazine. Ugly Delicious is essentially the television version of the much-loved and sadly resting-in-peace Lucky Peach magazine, with LP co-founders Peter Meehan and David Chang on hosting duties as they devote hour-long episodes to deep dives into some of your favourite foods.
Ugly Delicious’ taco episode unfurls across multiple continents and branches off into personal stories, animated asides and cross-town taste tests all in one sweep; the fried chicken hour delves into the endless variations on the dish, while also giving a psychedelic glimpse at Chang’s spice-fuelled meltdown on a trip to Nashville. As meals go, this is a glorious banquet thrown on a Lazy Susan spinning at twenty miles per hour.
Then there are the deep dives that leave you struggling for air, like Hot Ones. Produced by hip-hop news channel Complex, it’s a curious hybrid of hot sauce review, in-depth interview, and physically dangerous PR stunt. Host Sean Evans uses food as the vehicle through which to conduct pretty extensive chats, and proves that if you need to get someone talking, a chicken wing covered in Pain 100% Hot Sauce is a good place to start.
It’s the same deal over in the podcast world. While we’re now all used to extensive rounds of back-and-forth between delightful West Coast types brought to us by Squarespace, the stuff that’s going on in the food podcast space is often pleasingly odd.
Take the Spilled Milk podcast, which sees Molly Wizenberg and Matthew Amster-Burton present the minutiae of a particular food and drink topic in anarchic but educational fashion. Their episode on kombucha walks right up to the line of saying the stuff will kill you; the one on scallops dashes off into a morbid discussion about sentience before turning into a tasting session and Daniel Day-Lewis tribute after the ad break. To hear Amster-Burton list the ludicrous names of Mountain Dew sub-brands for five minutes while Wizenberg tries not to die laughing is to understand that longform does not necessarily equal serious.
Closer to home, the Fermentations podcast by TYCI alumni Amanda Stanley and Kate Bailey takes the freedom of a longer format and uses it to present engaging, interesting and in-depth discussions on the roles that gender, social and ethnic background, and corporate power play in shaping our food culture. You know, all the kind of things that people really should be talking about. Fermentations’ debut episode with Dalad Kambhu of Kin Dee restaurant in Berlin is so engaging because it sticks to its guns. Kambhu flags up the recurring kitchen situation in which men constantly ‘try to help’ then throw a wobbler when they’re told off for doing things badly, but instead of doing the standard thing of immediately moving on, the story gets the space to breathe. Like all the shows we’ve mentioned, and like any good meal, it works not because of the number of things on the plate, but the craft of its creators.