When Donald Trump became president of the United States and his steak order – well-done with a side of ketchup – was revealed, his preference was held up by his critics as evidence of his unsuitability for the office. But as chef David Chang and his friends discuss in Steak, an upcoming episode of the Netflix show Ugly Delicious, perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to judge.
While those who prefer steak on the rare-to-medium end of the spectrum might think a cooked-through cut indicates risk aversion – or bad taste – we might be jumping to unfair conclusions. It’s something Chang and his mates ponder over enormous, gout-inducing cuts of meat in New York. One of his guests, New Yorker food writer Helen Rosner, explains her grandfather ate his steak well-done due to religious beliefs.
In another sequence, Chang is joined by American actor and comedian Danny McBride, who unexpectedly names the no-frills Australian chain Macelleria – specifically the Bondi outpost – as the purveyor of his favourite steak in the entire world. “It’s fast-food steak,” McBride explains.
So, with the might of Netflix and a ready-built network of employees from his Sydney restaurant Momofuku Seiobo at his disposal, Chang heads Down Under to try McBride’s choice.
Dining with Chang as he taste-tests Macelleria’s cuts are Momofuku executive chef Paul Carmichael and restaurant manager Kylie Javier-Ashton.
Macelleria, which has four outposts in Victoria (three in Melbourne and one in Geelong) and two in NSW (both in Sydney), is run by butcher-turned-restaurateur Peter Zaidan. You go the counter, pick your cut of meat, tell the staff how you want it cooked, then add sides. Simple.
Carmichael says he didn’t eat “proper proper” steak until he moved to the US from his native Barbados. And Javier-Ashton, who grew up in Sydney with her Filipino family, and Chang, who was raised in Virginia by Korean parents, both say steak was a rarity, usually eaten on special occasions.
The trio discuss steak as a status symbol, and whether premium cuts such as Wagyu are really that much better. They also question the sustainability of eating beef regularly – one of worst meats in terms of carbon emissions.
Back in the US, Chang visits an Outback Steakhouse, the over-the-top Australian-themed American diner chain with outposts worldwide. He eats the notorious fried bloomin’ onion dish and some truly heinous-looking bread.
One of his dining buddies, artist David Choe (an Ugly Delicious regular), unsheathes an enormous knife from his pocket à la Crocodile Dundee, before making up an ignorant myth about an Indigenous Australian on “walkabout”.
If Outback Steakhouse is a low point for the show, Chang and Carmichael’s visit to Lennox Hastie’s Sydney restaurant Firedoor is the pinnacle. The restaurant cooks absolutely everything over fire, caveman-style. But Hastie’s thoughts on meat-eating are far from primitive.
As he serves the duo cuts of dry-aged meat straight from the grill, causing a look of glee to spread across Chang’s face (“I think [it] blew David’s mind,” Hastie later tells Broadsheet) he explains why eating only beef in the future won’t be sustainable.
In Australia – where we’re feeling the effects of climate change – more sustainable options such as kangaroo and camel are going to be the meats of the future, he says.
“I think it’s inevitable, as we soon won’t have any choice,” Hastie tells Broadsheet. “[Those animals are] our largest wild and sustainable resource. It’s up to us as chefs to ultimately find ways of sourcing and preparing it to make it delicious.”
For a show about steak, this episode touches a lot of bases, from the perceived masculinity and class politics of chowing down on a hunk of beef, to the best sides to go with it, and the alternative “meats” of the future. It’s a surprisingly thoughtful look at a food many in Australia and abroad take for granted.
Season two of Ugly Delicious will be released on Netflix on Friday March 6.