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‘Ugly Delicious’ Delves Into the Complicated History of an American Staple in ‘Fried Chicken’

This is one of the heaviest episodes of the hit Netflix food show


The “fried chicken” episode of Ugly Delicious is heavy and uncomfortable and spends nearly an hour addressing subject matter that is often glossed over by chefs and diners who don’t want to experience heavy and uncomfortable moments. Fried chicken is a universal food. Different versions have come out of different cultures around the world. In America, unfortunately, it’s also a food tied to racist stereotypes that can be traced back to enslaved Africans cooking the dish for their captors.

Host and Momofuku chef-restaurateur David Chang takes a look at Nashville hot chicken, a dish that was once available at only a couple of black-owned restaurants in the Music City but is now one of the most popular dishes in modern food culture thanks, in part, to a growing chain owned by a white family. He meets with Edouardo Jordan, a black chef in Seattle who steered clear of fried chicken for years because of its connotations; Jordan now operates a traditional Southern dining room that is one of the best restaurants in the country. All the while, Chang, with the help of food writer and historian Lolis Eric Elie, tries to figure out how fried chicken became an epithet of sorts and what can be done to evolve beyond that thinking.

This episode does have a few lighthearted scenes, as well. Chang heads to Beijing and finds an item at KFC that might be one of the best commercial chicken dishes on the market today. Food writers Peter Meehan and Walter Green run through a chicken nugget taste test, with predictably comical results. There are also moments that are meant to be lighthearted but instead are uncomfortable in a different sort of way. Comedian, actor, and Master of None co-creator Aziz Ansari makes a couple of appearances, which should have brought levity to the episode. But it’s hard to watch Ansari and not think of the sexual misconduct allegations levied against him.

Sidekicks and special guests

• Aziz Ansari, problematic comedian and actor
• Eric Wareheim, comedian and actor
• Lolis Eric Elie, food writer
• Nina Compton, chef/owner of Compère Lapin in New Orleans
• David Simon, creator of The Wire and Treme
• Sean Brock, chef/owner of Husk
• Dollye Graham-Matthews, owner of Bolton’s Spicy Chicken and Fish in Nashville
• Zaiyu Hasegawa, chef of Den in Tokyo
• Dave Choe, street artist
• Psyche Williams-Forson, professor of African-American studies
• Tracy Gates, owner of Busy Bee Cafe in Atlanta
• Ohagi Gates, chef and future owner of Busy Bee Cafe in Atlanta
• Edouardo Jordan, chef/owner of Salare and JuneBaby in Seattle
• David Whitaker, owner of Soul Food House in Tokyo
• LaTonya Whitaker, owner of Soul Food House in Tokyo
• Peter Meehan, Lucky Peach co-founder, Momofuku cookbook co-author, and former critic who gave Chang’s restaurant its first review in the Times
• Walter Green, food writer
• Gillian Jacobs, Love actor
• Justin Lee, son of the owner of OB Bear in Los Angeles
• Nick Bishop Jr., owner of Hattie B’s in Nashville
• Asha Gomez, Atlanta chef and author

Restaurants in this episode

• Lawson convenience store in Tokyo
Dooky Chase Restaurant in New Orleans
Husk in Nashville
Bolton’s Spicy Chicken & Fish in Nashville
• Den in Tokyo
• Dicos fried chicken chain in Beijing
• KFC in Beijing
Florida Avenue Grill in Washington, D.C.
Busy Bee Cafe in Atlanta
Salare in Seattle
• Soul Food House in Tokyo
OB Bear in Los Angeles
Hattie B’s Hot Chicken in Nashville
• Buford Highway Farmers Market in Atlanta
JuneBaby in Seattle

The best lines

“Of all the animals that you could consume, a chicken seems like it was brought into the world to be eaten. I’ve never put chicken into my mouth and said, ‘This was a leap.’” — David Simon

“It was one of the worst, maybe one of the most painful experiences I’ve ever had in my life.” — David Chang on the first time he ate hot chicken, ordering it too hot

“I mean, everybody’s got it. If it’s a burger place, they’re going to have hot chicken.” — Dollye Graham-Matthews on the current hot chicken phenomenon

“The reason why KFC crushes it in China is that they need to have a hamburger explained to them. When they see a bucket of fried chicken, that’s Chinese food. It’s communal.” — Chang

“Popeyes: She’s a happy, African-American woman talking in a very Southern dialect, and the goal is to make everyone happy with the fried chicken. So that’s the modern-day version of this kind of thing.” — Psyche Williams-Forson on modern media stereotypes about black people and fried chicken

“You go to these places and they say, ‘We make the food just like our grandmothers make it.’ Well their grandmother came up in the era of cans and frozen stuff, and sometimes the food tastes like the way their grandmother made it, in a bad sense. So my hope is that we’re moving back into this [fresh] direction and that some of these young black chefs will appreciate these traditions and expand on them in the way that we see people of other traditions expanding on their own indigenous regions.” — Lolis Eric Elie

“I wanted people to respect me as a chef and not see me as a chef of color. It’s obvious I’m a chef of color, but respect me in that I can be one of the best chefs, point blank — not the best chef of color, but one of the best chefs.” — Edouardo Jordan

“McDonald’s claims that they have different shapes, four different shapes: the bell, the boot, and then it’s the ball and the bow. But these all look like boots.” — Walter Green on chicken McNuggets

“It’s hard to invent something new, and somehow the Koreans invented a new kind of fried chicken.” — Chang

“When we take it on as our obsession and passion, there’s a lot of stuff that comes along with that... and that’s a lot more complex than just cooking food.” — Sean Brock on white chefs appropriating from other cultures

“If kimchi can become popular in my lifetime, then anything can happen with Korean food. I think it’s inevitable that you’re going to see Korean fried chicken on menus at Ruby Tuesday or TGI Friday’s. I don’t know how I feel about that. I think on one hand it’s fantastic, and on another hand it makes me sad.” — Chang

“Every time I make this fried chicken, people tend to think it’s my Southern-American influence, and I have to let them know that every culture figured out that if you dredge the bird in flour and deep fry it that it was probably going to be good.” — Asha Gomez on her Kerala fried chicken

“You’re adding value, you’re adding to the community, but what if you start killing the very thing that inspired this‚ you kill Prince’s [Hot Chicken Shack], you kill Bolton’s?” — Chang on Hattie B’s

“Yes, but everybody can’t afford that $4,000, $5,000 rent.” — Graham-Matthews when asked by Chang if she would consider opening a restaurant in a “more affluent community.”

“I see a lot of white guys making Korean food, and I’ll be honest, it pisses the shit out of me, because it’s everywhere now: kimchi this, kimchi that. I’m like, ‘You weren’t ostracized in elementary school because everyone thought, when they visited your house, it smelled like garbage.’ They didn’t have to endure emotional hardship, and now it’s cool.” — Chang

“I noticed that a lot of people of color who were doing all the cooking were forgotten about, and now Southern food became popular because white chefs were cooking Southern food. I’m like, what happened to the Willie Mae’s [Scotch House] and the [Dookie] Chase’s? Why aren’t they getting that same highlight as these new, up-and-coming hipster stars that are cooking the food that we’ve been cooking for years? I think it’s important to know our history. Let’s talk about it. Let’s celebrate it, to understand this food is built on the struggle.” — Jordan on why he decided to open JuneBaby

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