David Chang is pretty excited about the weird, robotic, fake-salmon future of food. Or at least that’s how it seems in the trailer for his upcoming show, The Next Thing You Eat. The six-episode docu-series, a collaboration with documentary filmmaker Morgan Neville (and produced by Vox Media Studios, part of Eater’s parent company) is set to premiere on Hulu on October 21. Judging by the trailer, the show will see the chef-restaurateur, cookbook author, and television host eating and talking and pondering lab-grown food and super-smart robots with an assortment of experts as well as celebrity guests.
Chang came on the scene in 2004 with the opening of Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York City, where he served ramen and decadent pork buns, and grew a culinary empire over the course of the following decade. His menus in those early years were very heavy on the meat, with Chang an evangelist for the many wonders of bacon and pork belly in all its forms. There was a ‘no substitution’ policy, so if a dish wasn’t listed as vegetarian and you didn’t eat meat, well, that was simply too bad. There was a time, after Chang got in a yelling match over the phone with a vegetarian would-be diner, that he removed all but one vegetarian item from the menu.
But in those meaty days, Chang was aware of the impact the food he cooked and served would have on the environment, even if he didn’t see it as his responsibility as a restaurant owner to swear off meat. “If you’re gonna do it,” he said of his meat-sourcing practices in a 2009 interview, “make sure it’s the closest thing to it being the best possible way.” In that same 2009 interview, Chang says that he’d be very sad in a world where everyone was vegetarian, but believes everyone should have a clear idea of where their food comes from.
Since then, Chang has integrated more non-meat onto his menus, and he’s partnered with Impossible Foods’ on several occasions to introduce their meat substitutes to diners. Now, with our planet burning and flooding and being consumed by drought, it looks like the chef’s latest foray into television will take a more urgent look at exactly where food is coming from, and where — as we step into the future — it’s headed.
So, what does our food future look like, if this trailer is any indication? “Food is the last experience that you can’t download,” says Chang, between clip after clip of robots doing food stuff like picking tomatoes and cooking chicken nuggets. In the trailer, Chang talks with experts about lab-grown meat, which has become a particular interest of the chef’s, and one he’s brought to his menus. There is also talk of, uh, lab grown dinosaur (meat?), and lab-grown salmon, if that feels a little more digestible. Chang’s past television work has explored the creative process of chefs, and the beauty of decadent, so-called “ugly” food. This show will strike a more serious and urgent note, asking how sushi can continue to exist as our oceans become desolate and toxic, and what will become of the beef burger.
It’s hard to feel super hopeful these days, but Chang is pretty jazzed to be eating cheesesteaks (cheese textured vegetable protein??) with Danny Trejo and laughing about something very funny with Anderson .Paak and Nyesha Arrington. “How do you not be inspired by the future,” Chang says at one point, immediately after joking that the sliver of optimism is probably because of “a concussion or something.” In each episode, this series takes a quick survey of an issue plaguing our food system, and the show is unlikely to offer as deep a look at any one issue as some documentaries that face factory farming or labor conditions head-on. It also won’t be right for those looking to avoid reality for 45 minutes — instead, the trailer promises viewers the chance to think about a few of the problems our world faces, while also maybe laughing and staring at some delicious food.
Disclosure: David Chang is producing shows for Hulu in partnership with Vox Media Studios, part of Eater’s parent company, Vox Media. No Eater staff member is involved in the production of those shows, and this does not impact coverage on Eater.