“When someone doesn’t like tofu or they feel like that it’s gross, I immediately assume that they’re some hardcore neo-conservative,” says David Chang, the chef and owner of the Momofuku restaurant group. Chang makes that provocative statement partway through the soy episode of The Mind of a Chef, a new PBS food and travel series produced and narrated by Anthony Bourdain.
Unlike many of the modern cooking shows, this one is punctuated by jokes (Chang says fart twice in this episode), profanity, and traditional as well as innovative cooking techniques. There is no loud screaming or overly staged dramatic situations. It’s as if you’re hanging out with Chang. The shows are smart.
I was planning to post a Burmese tofu recipe when I read a tweet from Xena N (@bowlfulofcomfor) about the segment. I stopped what I was doing and watched. In 23 minutes, the soy episode of The Mind of a Chef touches on a whole host of issues related to food, culture, and society.
At the core, Bourdain and Chang say to viewers: Don’t think of tofu and miso simply as what vegetarians order instead of a steak. They are more than that. Here’s the full episode, available until December 22, 2012 on PBS.org:
See more from The Mind of a Chef.
Chang and Bourdain concisely described what tofu is, a community-oriented food craft that is beautiful and delicious in its simplicity. What Chang experienced is just like what I experienced in Tokyo and elsewhere.
If you’ve made your own tofu, you’ll recognized some of the moves. By the way, the tall, computer-CPUlike metal tofu mold is Tokyo style, according to Mr. Ishijima of Takeya Tofu, one of the tofumakers that I interviewed for Asian Tofu. In Kyoto, the mold is low and wide, like a giant perforated cake pan. He wasn't sure why.
I love when Chang does a throwdown between fresh mozzarella and tofu. There's no winner declared but the similarities are clear. Freshness is key. My major quibble is with Chang’s tofu-making technique, which is pretty casual and meant to educate on the surface level. There's lots to making mozzarella that isn't shown on screen in the episode.
If and when the episode becomes unavailable, watch this short version, which covers Chang’s visit to a mom-and-pop tofu shop in Tokyo:
See more from The Mind of a Chef.
On to miso. “American miso is crap,” is Chang’s lead. He tries to apologize for his statement but not. There’s some truth to that and he shows you how to work around the miso that you have. (Use butter.) Chang's pastry chef and author of Momofuku Milk Bar, Christina Tosi, then demonstrates how to take low-brow shiro miso and turn into a sauce for an homage to fried apple pie. How she manipulates the miso is something you can do at home with a Silpat nonstick baking mat and blender.
Given all of Chang’s bravado and confidence about knowing miso, when he visits with famed Noma chef Rene Redzepi, Chang is unsure of himself. Redzepi makes a miso-like miso out of nuts and Chang has to put a dish together.
Curiosity, doubt, and discovery are the overaching themes of The Mind of Chef. In the closing, Bourdain suggests that people open their minds up to tofu and miso and give them a try. I’d add this: You may already know tofu and miso, but they are endlessly fascinating and versatile foods.
What are your thoughts on the soy episode or The Mind of a Chef?