This past year, two unique television programs under the same network rocked food television with their immense popularity as Viceland’s Huang’s World and Fuck, That’s Delicious built upon the successful template established by the contemporary icon of food TV, Anthony Bourdain. The punk rock, culturally adventurous, and politically daring culinary bad-boy earned the Travel Channel degrees of edge and grit previously perceived as unattainable for the network, an especially notable feat for Bourdain’s No Reservations considering its adjacent air time to the program of lame-dad, defiler of the King’s English Andrew Zimmern. Eventually moving to CNN, who realized Bourdain’s ambitions to film more dangerous locations, Bourdain saw continued success as the host of Parts Unknown, winning four Emmys while redefining the palate for televised food and travel culture.
Both Eddie Huang of Huang's World and rapper Action Bronson of Fuck, That's Delicious have adopted Bourdain's persona as the anti-establishment host with tactful yet unembellished diction. What Huang and Bronson have revamped, to their advantage, is the aesthetic, exchanging Bourdain’s literary punk appeal for a hip-hop oriented experience with an accessible level of sophistication. This immigrant American, hip-hop devotional, and most of all, understated appeal is the primary difference between Bourdain and the two aforementioned personalities. Whereas Bourdain’s shows could easily rely on the chef’s French-style culinary training, Huang’s World and Fuck, That’s Delicious treat their hosts’ formal culinary backgrounds with subtle acknowledgement, presenting Huang and Bronson mostly as home-trained cooks/hip-hop fanatics instead.
Where Bourdain, Huang, and Bronson’s shows win with audiences lies in the authenticity of the hosts. Regardless of punk or hip-hop sensibilities, the congruency between hosts’ televised and real-life personalities has risen in value as a commodity in food television. It is this element of the true-to-form host that has won Huang’s World and Fuck, That’s Delicious Anthony Bourdain’s approval. Though Bourdain’s praise does not reference either host’s character as a hip-hop aficionado, the transitioning popularity from Bourdain’s punk-framed socio-political interrogation of cuisine to the new frontier of hip-hop contextualized cuisine/culture is a trend that is difficult to overlook. And yet, the hip-hop approach to cuisine and culture makes so much sense, as much, if not more sense, than Bourdain’s brand of punk.
As Americans of Albanian-Jewish (Bronson) and Taiwanese (Huang) heritage who embrace hip-hop, the two not only attest to the cultural intermingling which occurs within hip-hop, but manifest it in their shows, and do so shamelessly. Never is there an episode in which Huang isn’t walking the streets of a Eurocentric town dressed in an oversized jersey and Jordans. Similarly, cameras follow both Bronson and his Mr. Wonderful tour supporting posse: the Alchemist, Big Body Bes, and Meyhem Lauren – a multicultural collective who accompany Bronson at all times, even if they sometimes contribute absolutely nothing to the culinary conversation. Through their shows, these hosts advocate the embrace of cultural diversity as experienced through the enjoyment of food. Their outlook exploits the parallels between hip-hop’s transcendence of racial barriers and the expansion of cultural insight afforded by travel-dining. Understanding where these two shows have placed hip-hop in relation to cuisine is best accessed through Huang’s assimilation of the two – food, like hip-hop, is a culture for outsiders who inevitably find a commonality with the broader community.
My own realization of the appropriateness of hip-hop as a platform for cultural exploration through food struck me, ironically enough, as I followed a destination-dining rabbit hole I discovered in the Montreal episode of Parts Unknown. Near the culmination of my tour de Montréal, I took a cab from the Gay Village to Little Burgundy for my second service reservation at Joe Beef, the highly esteemed feeding ground of choice for Montréalais omnivores, regarded as one of the one hundred best restaurants in the world. I read the dimly lit menu written in cursive French on the chalkboard spanning the entire left wall, extracting what the three years of French I had taken in college thus far allowed me to. I curated my choices with wild game and gluttonous excess in mind, invoking scenes of seared foie gras and copious helpings of black truffles on a table set before Anthony Bourdain and Joe Beef owners David McMillan and Fédéric Morin.
Awaiting my meal at the bar, the ambience of the bistro did its part in stimulating my anticipation. Deep cuts by Mos Def and the Roots played over table conversation, consistent with jazz-based instrumentals accented with boom bap percussion and intricate rhymes by Yasiin Bey and Black Thought. Theirs was the socially conscious and introspective lyrical matter which primed my appetite for true discovery, in this case, the best of French-Canadian cuisine as served by the most famous restaurant in Canada. The intended effect achieved, it was the best meal I’d ever had in my entire life thus far.
I began with oysters from Nova Scotia, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. My waitress Sarah, a fun, helpful, mildly flirtatious Montréalaise girl, then served an expectation-exceeding homemade spinach pappardelle with a red wine ragù and escargot. The broad pappardelle noodle attained a perfect balance between the heartiness of the pasta and the richness of the escargot ragù. “Stop trying to hide it,” Sarah told me as I twirled speckled green noodles around the prongs of my fork, “your smile is from cheek to cheek.” Next I had a venison torte whose layers of venison, foie gras, onions, and a braised anna potato fanned atop the dish were succulent in each bite, melting in my mouth with savory excess.
Joe Beef had won me over with the pappardelle, but it was the venison torte which compelled me to commit to what was unraveling as the best meal I’d ever had. Fittingly, “Juicy” began to play on the speakers, imparting a celebratory sense of triumph that could only be experienced through Biggie’s boastful assertions and confident command of cadence on the song. With my bill already nearing 100 Canadian dollars, I ordered a panko-crusted head cheese croquette with a mustard seed dijon, because (in a matter-of-fact way of phrasing it and in homage to a rap legend of my native Bay Area) I was “feelin’ myself.”
I’ve expended all words that could possibly be used to describe the head cheese croquette, mainly because it is hard to describe the denouement of a meal when the last entry isn’t quite a dessert. “I always love a bit of head cheese for dessert” Sarah joked. Fuck it, I knew what I wanted and while I’m speaking bluntly, the head cheese was damn good and didn’t disappoint.
After the meal I had an over-the-bar conversation with the host that received me at the door on who was the best rapper currently active: Drake or Kendrick Lamar. I argued for my West Coast compatriot while my counterpart presented a case for Drizzy. I was surprised that anyone would try to match Drake’s lyricism to Kendrick Lamar’s rhetoric; however, in a testimony to hip-hop’s seamless cultural fusion, I had completely forgotten that I was speaking to a Canadian. Perhaps the ambiguity of national identification would not have been the same had I been speaking to a national of a country across waters, but French-Canada was a particularly striking cultural anomaly not only for Canada but for all of North America.
I learned many things from the meal. Where politics is in some cultures considered to be a topic unsuitable for dinner table conversation, hip-hop, more than other genres of music due to its inherent accommodation of debate, can serve well as a mealtime topic of conversation. To a larger degree, hip-hop has the potential to invite people into culinary exchange the same way it has ushered outsiders into a historically African-American culture. From a music perspective, my meal at Joe Beef demonstrated the ability of hip-hop to prepare an appetite and celebrate the universal satisfaction of a good meal. Whether or not hip-hop can establish a reputation as a genre fit for curating a fine meal is left to restaurateurs across the world to determine, but I know that its potential to establish a dining ambiance is not accidental, nor is it some unnaturally-forced experimentation. I know, from passing the kitchen hallway on my way out of Joe Beef and seeing the words “CD playing” on the soundsystem monitors.
See trailers for both Huang's World and Fuck, That's Delicious below.