‘Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner’ Review: An exciting travel-food show that skimps on rich culinary content
Netflix just dropped its brand new, original food and travel show with David Chang and it’s making us question its purpose. After four cities with four celebrities, it appears to be more like a fun travel tale than gastronomic adventure.
‘Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner’ follows David Chang's culinary exploits with his celebrity friends across four major cities in three continents, where they explore the indigenous culture, share each other life’s stories while they travel, and of course sample local food.
The last part is where the catch is. While the preview of the show promised us a lot of ‘culinary adventures’, there was a prominent and significant void in the actual content. In all honesty, there are food shows and gastronomic exploits of chefs, actors, and explorers, a dime a dozen. It is indeed difficult to cull out extremely unique elements of food per se and highlight it, while the experience is weaved through a travel destination. No doubt there is a lot of fun and excitement all through, with Chang and his guest being ‘stoked’ at all times to experiment with food and discovering the locale, but haven’t we seen similar narrative in ample other shows? BLD feels more like a ‘celebrity hangout’ to exotic places (barring Vancouver and Los Angeles).
Critics have been comparing Netflix’s BLD with the legendary Anthony Bourdain’s ‘Parts Unknown’. If you have watched Bourdain’s shows, then it is indeed difficult to not draw comparisons between Chang’s BLD and Bourdain’s ‘Parts Unknown’. And even if you haven’t watched the former, let’s just say that the new Netflix original is largely influenced by the same idea. Not that it is wrong to be inspired by such masterful work of art, but there was something new and groundbreaking with the content, script, or simply, Bourdain being Bourdain which makes ‘Parts Unknown’ unique and quirky in its way. So, let us rather not walk the lines of comparison and just see what BLD is trying to stand for, or not, for that matter.
What we find with Chang’s attempt to embark on a gastronomic journey with a celebrity is the serious lack of a solid perspective. A celebrity visiting a popular travel destination essentially drives the ‘star power’ angle but when it comes to covering the culinary aspect, it comes across as bland. Take the opening episode of BLD for instance. The weed-induced journey of Seth Rogen and David Chang across Vancouver seems more like two friends on a trip (literally and laterally), where we hear more about Rogen’s life adventures, his work, his childhood, and his hometown, and much less about what defines Vancouver’s food trail. Yes, there were three square meals shared between the two alright, and Rogen did trace back to his favorite haunts in the city but struggled to make it compelling enough, at least for a food show enthusiast.
The experience was pretty much the same when Chang headed, or rather ‘revisited’ LA with Lena Waithe. We hear about her perspective of the city she calls her new home, but the perspective is rather about its energy, vibes, and culture, and not food.
If we are not being too critical and try hard to find an upward curve in the show’s evolution, Marrakesh with Chrissy Teigen (in small parts) was where BLD had a high point. There was a touch of warmth that comes from the indigenous culture, trailing the bustling souks, and cooking with a local family. Now that is what a travel-food show stands for. It is not about revisiting popular places that are rated on Zagat or TimeOut, or even referred to by a celebrity, but sampling quintessential flavors from local homes, or shops with no names, or alleys that you can only discover on foot.
Just when we thought that after an unsubstantial opening episode, the show finally managed to get a grip with the Marrakesh trip, where even Chrissy Teigen displayed her best, adventurous self, the harmony dropped again in LA and then in Cambodia. Chang had said in an interview before BLD released, that the show is all about “…learning more about ourselves, our friends and the people we encounter out in the world. Plus, of course, the ridiculously delicious meals we share.” But when the show unfolds, it never quite connects the dots between Chang and his guests, the travel destination, and the cuisine. It’s all there, but more like a collage of various interesting things and not quite a convincing whole. The philosophies of food and culture, only perhaps come out when Chang and Kate MacKinnon visit a locally popular restaurant and the chef takes them through the history of Cambodian cuisine, or later when they meet a Cambodian filmmaker and learn about how the war influenced the nation’s food culture.
To summarize, there is a lot of discovering and learning about people, place, and their palates, but at a deeper level, particularly from a culinary standpoint, it is indeed difficult to determine the show’s vision and what it stands for. There are questions about the ideas and philosophies of food and culture that ‘Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner’ had aimed to address but we are still seeking the answers.