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‘Ugly Delicious’ Questions the Importance of Authenticity in ‘Pizza’

David Chang and his friends eat a lot of pizzas in the name of research

In the first episode of Netflix’s Ugly Delicious, chef/host David Chang and his pals visit restaurants all over the world with one goal in mind: to determine just how important “traditional” ingredients and cooking methods are to creating the dish we know as pizza.

Chang and food writer Peter Meehan first head to Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn to dine at Mark Iacono’s celebrated pizzeria, Lucali, where Iacono explains that he’s really only interested in the traditional toppings and ingredients. Dave then travels to Tokyo where he dines at a pizzeria called Savoy with comedian Aziz Ansari (this is Ansari’s first on-screen appearance since sexual misconduct allegations were lodged against the actor in January; this is not referenced in the show, and Netflix has not released any official statement about the reports). After serving up slices of raw fish, chef Ryu Yoshimura makes a tuna and mayonnaise pizza; Chang and Ansari are both surprised by how much they like it.

Meanwhile, Iacono heads to New Haven, Connecticut to meet with Gary Bimonte, the third-generation owner of coal-oven pizzeria institution Frank Pepe. He makes Mark one of the restaurant’s most popular items — a fresh clam pie.

After a commercial for a compilation of regional pizza styles, Dave, Mark, and Peter discuss the origins of pizza, and whether it’s an Italian or an Italian-American dish. Over in Naples, Italy, a fellow named Antonio Pace explains the mission of the Association Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN), which seeks to maintain a uniform style of Neapolitan pizza-making all across the world. And back in America, Chang meets with Wolfgang Puck in the kitchen of his landmark restaurant Spago, where they make a smoked salmon pizza and talk about the fluid definition of authenticity.

Peter and Mark then travel to Naples to visit Antillo Bachetti, the hot shot behind Antillo’s pizzeria, which serves some very nice AVPN-approved rounds of dough. After an interlude about the many different ways to eat pizza, Meehan and Iacono go to a buffalo farm in Campania to see how the best pizza cheese gets made. Dave, meanwhile, is in Copenhagen visiting chef Christian Puglisi, who serves decidedly non-traditional, but acclaimed wood-fired pizzas at his restaurant Bæst. In a very different corner of the world, food writer Walter Green attends a pizza conference in Vegas, possibly while tripping on acid.

Back in Brooklyn, Dave, Mark, and Peter decide to order from Domino’s — Iacono has somehow avoided this chain his whole life. After sampling the pies, they then debate the merits of a thin-crust “Brooklyn” number and the creamy bacon-topped pizza. Chang then takes his Domino’s admiration to the next level by working a shift as a delivery person, which is both weirder and harder than it might sound on paper.

On the other side of the pizza spectrum, Meehan and Iacono visit Pepe In Grani, a restaurant in Caiazzo, Italy that eschews the rules of the AVPN and serves post-modern Neapolitan pies. The pizzeria has a special balcony that overlooks the countryside.

The episode concludes with Dave and Aziz having their minds blown by the pizzas from Seirinkan in Tokyo, which are made entirely from Japanese ingredients.

Sidekicks and special guests

• Peter Meehan, Lucky Peach co-founder, Momofuku cookbook co-author, and former critic who gave Chang’s restaurant its first review in the Times
• Mark Iacono, chef/owner of Lucali
• Aziz Ansari, problematic comedian/actor/writer/director
• Ryu Yoshimura, chef of Savoy in Tokyo
• Gary Bimonte, the third-generation operator of Frank Pepe
• Antonio Pace, president of the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana
• Attilio Bachetti, proprietor of Antillo’s pizzeria in Naples
• Cookie Cimineri, co-owner of Totonno’s on Coney Island
• Antoinette Balzano, co-owner of Totonno’s on Coney Island
• Wolfgang Puck, celebrity chef behind Spago, Cut, Chinoise, and dozens of other restaurants around the globe
• Christian Puglisi, chef/owner of Bæst in Copenhagen
• Walter Green, food writer
• Franco Pepe, chef/owner of Pepe in Grani in Caiazzo, Italy
• Susumu Kakinuma, pizzaiolo at Seirinkan in Tokyo

Restaurants in this episode

Lucali in Brooklyn
• Savoy in Tokyo
• Frank Pepe in New Haven, CT
Spago in Los Angeles
Totonno’s in Brooklyn
• Pizzeria “Da Attilio” in Naples, Italy
• Bæst in Copenhagen
• Pepe In Grani in Caiazzo, Italy
• Domino’s in the Tri-State Area
Seirinkan in Tokyo

The best lines

“I’m one of the biggest snobs you’ve ever met, but I hate snobs and elitism in general. I guess what I hate is being told that I can’t like something. You can’t do this? Oh, well, fuck you, I’m definitely going to do this.” — David Chang

“Authenticity in terms of storytelling is important to me, but authenticity in food is not a thing. It’s like whoever gave you that authentic food experience has probably never thought about themselves as authentic. There’s a reductive quality to saying something’s authentic.” — Peter Meehan

“You can throw ramen on top of pizza dough. Is it pizza? Nah.” — Mark Iacono

“Johnny Carson used to come in on Friday nights and get 10 or 12 pizzas to go. After the third or fourth time I said, ‘Johnny are you throwing a party?’ And he said, ‘No, I’m putting them in my freezer. I said, ‘What the hell!? You put my pizzas in the freezer? I’m not going to make them for you anymore.’ I was so upset but then finally, I tried it for myself, and said, ‘You know what? Maybe it’s not quite as good as what we have at Spago, but it’s pretty good.’” — Wolfgang Puck on the birth of his frozen pizza empire

“A lot of YouTube, a lot of research, a lot of experimenting, and a lot of shit mozzarella.” — Christian Puglisi on how he learned to make mozzarella

“I view authenticity like a totalitarian state, it’s something that I think has been overvalued, but the reality is that it hasn’t been scrutinized enough. If you really boil it down to why food in Italy is going to be so good, It’s because you’re there. The terroir makes a big difference, there’s microorganisms, there’s the people there, there’s the smells — it’s what makes it. It’s not that I hate authenticity. I hate that people want this singular thing that is authentic.” — Chang

“If you ever send Domino’s to my pizzeria again we’re going to be rolling around on the sidewalk.” — Iacono, after Chang made him eat Domino’s

Click here for Eater’s complete guide to Ugly Delicious

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