In "As the Meat Turns," the last episode of Ugly Delicious's second season on Netflix, chef David Chang explores Levantine, Arabian Gulf, and Iranian food.
Chang doesn't explicitly say so, but the episode seems like a paean to cultural appropriation: It shows Oaxacan Angelenos experimenting with Lebanese-Mexican cuisine (chorizo kebabs, black bean hummus, and tahini salsa verde) and Lebanese brothers making "the most disrespectful sandwich ever created"—bacon, egg, and cheese Levantine flatbread, with the added bastardizing influence of Hot Cheetos. The result is tasty but so anti-traditional that it's scorned by old-timers in their Dearborn, Michigan, immigrant community. (The critics eventually became regulars, and their creation is now copied in Beirut.)
Baker Reem Assil praises Mexicans' Lebanese shawarma appropriation (tacos al pastor), and in her own kitchen she repurposes a tortilla comal into a domed saj. Yet she badmouths white chefs for their own appropriations.
In the first episode, as the Changs prepare to have a baby, David grapples with his friend Anthony Bourdain's suicide—which coincided with his wife learning she was pregnant—and "how life and death can pass each other by so closely." Similarly, as cultural traditions wither, they can receive new life in distant lands by people who have not tired of them yet. "I'm here to put all of myself in this," Chang says of both parenthood and cooking, "so you can get some nourishment and love from it."