The Mind Of A Chef
The first season of The Mind Of A Chef stars Chef David Chang, is narrated and executive produced by Anthony Bourdain, has guest appearances from some of the most acclaimed chefs in the world and has science interludes from Harold McGee. This program seems like a winner. And it is… if you can look past (or sit back and enjoy) some of the weirdness and showiness.
It is full of good information and learning experiences. At times though the program seems to be trying too hard to be hip and cool. With quick video cuts, crazy animation, and retro VHS-style effects some parts seem to have taken visual inspiration from Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job (see the “Kimchi Party” video below).
My other complaint is that some episodes can only be described as overly pretentious. While most episodes are informative and inspirational the few that feature ostentatious preparations and arty discussions of the dishes stick out like a sore thumb. Though, on the other hand, it is in all the juxtaposition that you see different culinary points-of-view.
Each of the half-hour episodes are so jam-packed with information I had to type out a little episode guide:
Episode 1 – Ramen
From one-of-a-kind noodle shops in Japan to the 25 cent instant ramen, this episode covers what might just be the most versatile noodle ever.
Episode 2 – Pig
From a lecture at Harvard University to the Gastronomica conference in Spain, we follow Chef Chang as he explores pork and creates pork bushi, a pork version of katsuobushi. Chef Chang even joins a few other chefs, along with Aziz Ansari, in Montreal for what are described as, and look like, the best grilled bologna sandwiches in the world.
Episode 3 – Memory
Featuring some of Chef Chang’s past experiences including his time in Japan (including a brief return to ramen), korean borritos (his own creation), the Old-Fashioned, blue crabs, golf (with Dan The Automator), and Naeng Myun (a Korean buckwheat noodle dish).
Episode 4 – Spain
Chef Chang meets with some of his Spanish culinary idols: Juan Mari Arzak and Andoni Aduriz. This episode also features Albert Adria (who’s strawberry microwave spongecake Chef Chang makes along with Chef Daniel Burns).
Episode 5 – Rotten
The world of fermentation and controlled spoilage: How katsuibushi is made, XO sauce and how to make kimchi. I found this episode one of the most informative.
Episode 6 – Rene
Chef Chang visits Chef Rene Redzepi and his restaurant, Noma, in Copenhagen. In my opinion this was the most pretentious and unbearable episodes.
Episode 7 – Simple
Deceptively simple (but not easily prepared) foods including yakitori, sushi and, yet again, ramen (this time at a silent ramen shop). Chef Daniel Patterson creates an amazing beet dish. This was one of my favorite episodes.
Episode 8 – Gluttony
Three versions of hot brown, Pappy Van Winkle bourbon distillery tour and once again Aziz Ansari shows up, this time to dine with Chef Chang at Joe Beef.
Episode 9 – Chef
Chef Wylie Dufresne, Chef Patterson, and Chef Redzepi join Chef Chang in making new egg creations. While some, like the Eggs Benedict deconstructed are overly pretentious, Chef Chang’s Ko egg (a soft boiled egg with caviar and deep fried potato chips) had my mouth watering.
Episode 10 – Japan
The ins and outs of Japan (Tokyo and Kyoto specifically) both in terms of food and culture, mostly through the food markets and restaurants. The final third of the episode is a trip to Kikunoi, a Michelin three star kaiseki restaurant. Definitely another favorite episode (and not just because of the homage to La Jette in the middle).
Episode 11 – New York
A trip to New York’s Chinatown, the truth about MSG, cooking with Chefs Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi of Torrisi Italian Specialties, oysters, a trip to an up-state farm, as well as a visit to Ivan Raman, a ramen restaurant in Tokyo run by a New Yorker, Chef Ivan Orkin.
Episode 12 – Fresh
An introduction to Japanese fish markets and Ikejime, the Japanese method of killing a fish. Chef Chang experiments and cooks freeze dried foods. Then Harold McGee explains dry aged meats before Chef Chang and Chef Tian Ho cook and compare fresh vs. dry aged meats.
Episode 13 – Soy
An episode dedicated to tofu and miso. Once again we travel with Chef Chang to Japan to see how traditional tofu is made. Then the Chefs at Torrisi Italian Specialties shows how the process behind creating Mozzarella is very similar to creating tofu. Then it is back to Japan to tour a factory where rice and spores of Aspergillus Oryzae becoming koji, which is then mashed with soybeans and stored for up to three years to become miso. Afterwards it’s another visit with Chef Redzepi in Copenhagen for some miso-inspired cooking. The final dish of the episode comes from Chef Christina Tosi who shows how she creates the Burnt Miso Apple Pie for Momofuku Milk Bar helped by Alison Roman.
Episode 14 – Sweet Spot
Chef Tossi makes Corn cookies, corn pie crusts, and Arnold Palmer lemon tea cakes (with the help of Austinite, Chef Courtney McBroom), Tristar Strawberries from Mountain Sweet Berry Farm, Strawberry foam from Chef Chang, Ice Cream from Chef Burns, and two more foams from Chef Stupak.
Episode 15 – Smoke
A trip to Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams, makers of Chef Chang’s favorite bacon, where bacon and hams are dried and cured by only hand and time… and smoke. Afterwards the owner of Benton’s shows how to make his red eye gravy. Chef Chang counter-attacks with how to make his red eye mayo. Then Kansas City (via Doug Worgul, director of marketing at Oklahoma Joe’s), Texas (via Joe Capello, Pitmaster and manager, and Ray Bell of City Market in Luling), and North Carolina (via Ed Mitchell, Pitmaster and co-owner of The Pit) BBQs are compared. Chef Chang and Chef Brock visit Louisville Slugger.
Episode 16 – Buddies
David Chang’s famous culinary friends. Chef Daniel Patterson makes some amazing looking Popcorn Grits, Chef Claude Bosi makes an Off-The-Cuff Breakfast, Chef Sat Bains makes Brassicas with Poached Egg, Chef Rene Redzepi makes Nomafuku Ramen, and Chef Laurent Gras make Sea Bream. then many of the chefs sits down for some of the iconic Clam Chowder in a sourdough bread bowl in San Francisco to talk about inspiration and culinary style.
I learned a lot from the series and I hope it comes back for a second season with a different chef. And while I don’t always share Chef David Chang’s enthusiasm or interest in some topics, I appreciate his opinion and insight. Yes, there are moments of chefs using exotic ingredient and using tweezers to plate and garnish then calling it a “simple dish” but it’s easy enough to giggle at them and await the next mind expanding segment that is sure to come.