Tuesday, August 14, 2018
Cooking

From the food editor: I love that food is a huge part of Master of None's transcendent second season

Deep into a late-night binge of Master of None, Aziz Ansari's Netflix series that returned for its second season May 12, I realized I was laying as far back on my couch as possible, blanket clutched up to my chin, eyebrows permanently raised.

I wasn't scared in an oh-no-the-killer-is-right-there way. I was giddy.

Ansari's show, in which he stars as the lead character as well as writes and directs along with co-creator Alan Yang, feels like essential viewing for the modern human, a meditation on the things in life that make us feel, and feel a lot: friendship, travel, success, love.

And, perhaps most notably, food.

The transcendent second season in particular is a love letter to being a deep appreciator of all things culinary.

The first two of 10 episodes take place in Modena, Italy, a small town that Ansari's character Dev moves to at the end of Season 1 chiefly to learn how to make pasta — and get over a breakup. Ansari also did this in real life, moving to Italy by himself, taking crash courses in Italian and learning how to make pasta at places like Boutique del Tortellino. The first few minutes of this season are exquisite food porn — Dev rolling out fresh dough, folding piccolo pasta morsels with precision.

In the first episode, Dev has coveted reservations at Hosteria Giusti, a Mario Batali favorite that has only four tables, to celebrate his birthday. When he meets a British woman who mistakenly made her reservation for another day, he invites her to his table, and they laugh over red wine and pasta. (In real life, Ansari just had the birthday meal by himself.) Later, he meets his friends at a bar, and they present him with a pie with his name spelled out in crust. One of his birthday gifts is a homemade lasagna Dev had been lusting after.

Over and over in the series, there are scenes like this, vignettes that show how food connects us, inspires us, excites us — and so much more. Aside from Dev's intoxicating relationship with Italian beauty Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi), most of the show's most iconic moments revolve around eating.

In the second episode, Dev's best friend Arnold (Eric Wareheim) visits Modena and surprises Dev with reservations at Osteria Francescana, a three Michelin star restaurant helmed by chef Massimo Bottura (featured on Netflix's ultimate foodie documentary Chef's Table) and considered one of the best restaurants in the world. It's food as friendship.

A main thread of the second season is Dev's new job as host of a Food Network-y show called Clash of the Cupcakes, and his new friendship with a celebrity chef named Jeff, played by Bobby Cannavale with the menacing swagger of an Anthony Bourdain. The relationship leads to another show, Best Food Friends, which ends disastrously but not before it implants in the viewer a tremendous craving for brothless ramen, which Dev and Jeff slurp in Brooklyn. Food as a commodity.

It's no accident that one of the show's most affecting episodes, "Thanksgiving," written by Lena Waithe about her character Danese's journey to coming out to her family (based on Waithe's life), takes place during our most food-centric holiday, during which families gather to comfort themselves with turkey and tradition. Food as common ground.

Or that Ansari uses food to convey the internal struggle of being a nonreligious adult in a Muslim family. The crux of the episode that explores this, "Religion," isn't about how much Dev prays or the kind of women he dates, it's about eating pork, and how he does, even though his family, mostly his mom, disapproves. When Dev finds out his cousin devoutly follows the nonpork rule, Dev takes him to a barbecue festival and they nosh joyously together. Food as a point of connection, and contention.

That episode opens on Dev as a young child, eating breakfast at the house of a white, non-Muslim friend, whose mom serves Dev some bacon. He has never had it before. As Tupac's Only God Can Judge Me plays, he inhales the crispy goodness.

Food as freedom.

 
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