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Danny Bowien’s Journey Through the Past on ‘Mind of a Chef’

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Mind of a Chef/Zero Point Zero

This post originally appeared on December 8, 2017, in “Eat, Drink, Watch” — the weekly newsletter for people who want to order takeout and watch TV . Browse the archives and subscribe now.

Mind of a Chef Season 6 — one of the big food TV premieres of the fall — feels like a more intimate affair than previous installments of the hit docu-series. The show’s star, Mission Chinese Food chef Danny Bowien, is very candid about growing up in Oklahoma as an adoptee from Korea, and the years he spent searching for his identity in San Francisco and New York. In several scenes, you see Bowien cooking with his wife Youngmi and their three-year-old son Mino. During a recent phone conversation, Bowien told me: “I ended up finding out so much about myself, and how this whole thing happened by retelling it.”

Here are a few more of his thoughts about seeing his life reflected on screen, followed by this week’s streaming recommendations further down:

Danny Bowien’s back pages

Danny Bowien winning a pesto competition
Mind of a Chef/Zero Point Zero

Danny on the filming experience: “I knew if I was going to do it, I had to put myself out there. Nothing’s really off limits in the show.”

Danny on how it all came together: “I had approached [producer] Michael Steed at a food and wine festival in Charleston. We never had a PR company at Mission Chinese — it was always me really just trying to get out there and make a lot of noise. I was with Sean Brock, and I said, ‘Hey Sean, I really want to be on Mind of a Chef, I think it’s amazing.’ And he said, ‘Talk to Michael, he’s over here.’ So I literally just cornered him and said, ‘Hey, I’m Danny, I really want to be on your show.” And a year and a half later, it came to fruition.”

Danny on his favorite scene: “Cooking with Mino and doing some of those cooking demos with Youngmi, because I’ve gotten to cook on camera with other chefs, but I’ve never gotten to see myself interacting with my family on TV or anything like that.”

Danny on the show’s streaming platform, Facebook Watch: “I think what’s great about it is that it’s instantly accessible. When I was in Seoul, I was trying to show my in-laws episodes from Mind of a Chef, to show them what it was going to be like, but some things weren’t available. What is cool about Facebook is that it’s instantly available and it was released in a very democratic way — it’s free. I like that. It feels very genuine about what the show is trying to accomplish.”

Danny on the fan response: “I didn’t know this would happen, but a lot of people are reaching out to me saying, like, ‘Hey man, I was adopted at around your age.’ Or ‘I’m an adoptee as well, and it was really empowering seeing you talking about that.’ I mean, it’s kind of a sensitive topic. It’s not the easiest thing for me to talk about. And that’s cool — that just as many people are talking to me to say ‘I really enjoyed that show because of this,’ maybe even more at this point than just the cooking part.”

Episodes 1-6 of Mind of a Chef are now streaming on Facebook Watch.

Streaming recommendations du jour

At Home With Amy Sedaris/TruTV

At Home With Amy Sedaris

Find it on: TruTv; iTunes

The gist: Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello’s riff on the home entertaining show is secretly one of the best sketch comedy programs on TV right now. Every episode is packed with hilarious one-liners, off-the-wall characters, production design that really pops, and fun celebrity cameos. It’s not entirely a spoof of cooking programs — there are a few genuinely useful pieces of information scattered throughout — but you’d never mistake this for something that would appear on the Food Network. It’s like if David Lynch directed an episode of The Martha Stewart Show inside Pee-wee’s Playhouse.

The Big Sick

Find it on: Amazon Video, YouTube, Google Play, iTunes

The gist: One reason why this movie was so successful, I think, is that it adheres to many of the tropes found in the great romantic comedies of the ’80s and ’90s, like When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle. The basic formula goes something like this: Kind-hearted, but seemingly mismatched people (Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan, in this case) fall in love despite dramatic circumstances (she gets a mysterious illness; his family wants him to marry someone who’s Pakistani) in a great American city (Chicago). And as is the case with many classic romantic comedies, food keeps popping up in the most important moments of these characters’ lives. Kumail has several tense dinners with his family in their suburban home, and bonds with his girlfriend’s parents over delivery pizza and whiskey while she’s in the hospital. The last 10 minutes also contain a food moment that will likely resonate with many people who grew up in South Asian households. The Big Sick is a good one to keep in mind for any holiday movie-watching time you have with your family this month.

Parts Unknown: Southern Italy

Find it on: iTunes, Amazon Video, Google Play

The gist: After 10 seasons, Anthony Bourdain and his crew seem hellbent on making sure that their program does not look or feel like any other travel show on TV. For the last episode of the season, the crew decided to pay homage to spaghetti westerns in a survey of the otherworldly beaches and rocky mountain regions of Apulia. Bourdain shares a feast with Francis Ford Coppola at his resort, he visits an ancient cave city that was once the shame of Italy, and he traces the origins of the tarantella dance back to a quasi-pagan ritual involving a spider bite. But the best moments are the meals that he has with his main squeeze in real life, actress Asia Argento. Tony has never seemed more relaxed on screen.

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