You know that feeling when you finish a show, movie or book and you have so much to say but nowhere to say it? Yeah, that was me after I watched New York City restaurateur, David Chang’s Netflix special “Ugly Delicious.”
The series follows Chang as he meets with international chefs, comedians and food writers to unpack the historical, social and cultural nuances entrenched in some of the world’s most beloved cuisines.
He frequently reflects on the appropriation of Korean food throughout the series. “I see a lot of white guys making Korean food and I’ll be honest, it pisses the sh-t out of me.”
I do not have a problem with Chang highlighting this issue. However, I roll my eyes when Chang makes these statements, then aligns himself with elite chefs that appropriate other cultures. Take Danish chef René Redzepi, who tried (and failed) to do the same thing in Mexico.
A few years ago, Redzepi got a taste of Mexican cuisine. He went on a culinary journey in search of the right corn, meat and chiles to make the perfect taco. After his journey, Redzepi proceeded to open up a restaurant in Tulum, Mexico that serves tacos and other Mexican dishes that shaped his understanding of Mexican cuisine. The price tag? $600.
Yeah, you read that correctly. $600 for tacos.
While I’m happy that Redzepi developed an appreciation for Mexican cuisine, I wish he directed that same energy towards the people making the food, particularly the women. Sadly, behind the wonderful flavors of Mexican cuisine lies the dark reality of discrimination against Mexican women.
In some aspects of Mexican culture, the kitchen oppresses women and delegates them to the role of serving the men in the community. For them, the taco is not a culinary journey, but rather a reminder of machismo, or the aggressive male pride that’s engrained in parts of Mexican society.
For example, my grandmother lived in Iraq before immigrating to the U.S. in the mid-1960s. She spent her time with other women in the village by serving and cooking for the men in her community. Cooking in the kitchen was a part of the domestic realm that prevented my grandmother from attending school beyond the eighth grade.
My grandmother’s life experiences are what caused me to roll my eyes as I watched “Ugly Delicious.” The show cannot address the social underpinnings of food it aims to investigate if it does not call attention to the inequity present in the cooking sphere.
It’s important for male chefs to understand that the kitchen is not a safe space for everyone. To me, my grandmother and other women around the world, the kitchen serves as a reminder of the domestic, maternal idea that has defined the existence of women throughout history — a caretaker for society.
I’m going to take a guess and assume that this thought doesn’t pop into the minds of these elite chefs when they enter the kitchen. Let me offer this perspective.
It’s ridiculously arrogant for chefs to embark on these gastronomic adventures and ignore the injustices faced by the women responsible for creating the same cuisine. Even more so, it is arrogant to take something so pure, simple and sacred and price it at $600.
This is what makes me so upset at Chang, Redzepi and other elite male restaurateurs that only view the kitchen as a space of creativity, discovery and liberation.
We live in a society where mothers take care of tasks deemed by our society as feminine, like cooking, cleaning and external responsibilities. In fact, a recent study from the Pew Research Center found that 71% of people believe it’s a man’s role to financially provide for the family.
This is what makes me angry. Elite male chefs, like David Chang, go into the kitchen, claim it as their own, and ignore the meaning of cooking and the kitchen space, especially for women.
I recognize that I do not have a previous background in cooking, but as a young woman and a viewer of “Ugly Delicious,” I can only express my dissatisfaction with the show’s irreverence towards women and single encapsulation of the kitchen as a place of imagination.
Chang, Redzepi and these male chefs engage with cooking and present it in a privileged vacuum, void of these realities. If I asked these men where they acquired their love for cooking, I know the answer would not be void of women.
Male chefs have the privilege to view the kitchen as a creative space. They need to recognize this and use it to cook with reflection and appreciation.
Email Gabby Lozano at [email protected]