Binge-Watching Master of None With a Chef
Tracking the show's food moments with someone who lives and breathes it like a regular Dev Shah.
June 8, 2017 ● 10 min read
By Richie Nakano | Original image via Netflix
Pour yourself a bourbon and make spaghetti the finish-cooking-the-pasta-in-the-sauce way: You’re the last person on Earth who has yet to binge on Aziz Ansari’s sophomore season of Master of None—and you’re going to do it in the head of consummate rabble-rouser, Chef Person, and reluctant pop culture professional Richie Nakano.
While food was the occasional subject of devotion in season one, we last saw Master of None’s hero Dev Shah facing a trip to Italy, off to plug his brain into the pasta-powered hippocampus of the country. Season Two was poised to be a damn tasting menu of feels.
And if you really are the last person on Earth who hasn’t seen this season yet, spoilers—mostly of the food variety, but still—ahead. —CF
Episode 1: The Thief
OK, here goes nothing. I have ten episodes ahead of me, and they run anywhere from 27 - 57 minutes long. Starting this at 10pm is probably a horrible idea.
-The first thing I notice in the opening shot is a copy of the eponymous Italian cookbook, The Silver Spoon. Well-played. This is a big, clumsy book to read in bed, but we’re in Modena, Italy, where Dev is working as a pasta maker. It looks and feels like a Fellini film, minus, you know, the weird shit.
-Pasta time. When he rolls out his dough it looks good, and he actually rests it and stuff…wtf is going on, I thought this guy was an actor?
-He eats tagliatelle at Hosteria Giusti for his birthday. Right off the bat, the show is setting up food and cooking as a place of solace and comfort—and they’re not messing around. Master of None = polar opposite of those crappy food scenes from Girl Boss. (You don't talk about La Taqueria that way in this town.)
Episode 2: Le Nozze
-The episode opens with Dev walking through the market tasting strawberries and cheese with his friend, Arnold. This is a scene that’s been done a billion times, but somehow it works because their enthusiasm is so damn authentic. Dev and Arnold eat and drink and sing a really dumb catchy song about how much they love eating and drinking in Italy, which takes them all the way to Osteria Francescana. The song starts up again.
-Massimo Bottura is personally serving all of their food in some private wine room. This dinner would definitely cost about fifty thousand euros.
-It’s kind of wild to think that the average viewer would know who Massimo Bottura is, and what Osteria Francescana is.
-There’s grissini on the table and wtf do they really serve grissini at Osteria Francescana?
-Later on, melon is used in this episode as a peace-keeping device. This is not realistic—normally melon sends people into fits of rage.
-Dev and Arnold leave a shitty wedding to go pecorino tasting. They drink a few Aperol spritzes and down some pasta as a stress reliever, THEN GO BACK TO THE WEDDING. WHY WOULD YOU GO BACK? One time, I left a wedding to walk a friend to the subway and wound up smoking weed with a Long Island cab driver instead. My point is: Weddings generally suck and pasta is awesome. Then again, maybe Dev and his friend are better people than me.
-Dev heads back to New York and becomes the host of a cooking competition show called Clash of The Cupcakes. People would watch this show and you fucking know it.
Episode 3: Religion
-As a kid, Dev eats bacon even though he's not supposed to, because he’s Muslim. “Only God Can Judge Me” (Tupac, 1996) plays in the background.
-Remember eating bacon as a kid? At my house, we only had bacon on Sundays. It was the best. Everyone got two pieces, which was just enough to make it feel special every week...until one time my sister took three pieces and blamed it on me because I was a fat kid. My parents yelled at me until my sister, watching me profess my innocence while bawling my eyes out, admitted taking it. My connection to bacon runs deep amidst some serious emotional scars.
-Because Dev isn't a practicing Muslim like his family is, he can talk at length about his love of pork; how pork fucking rules, how pork is like chicken but juicier, how much good pork will be at a BBQ festival that goes down during Ramadan. You might say food is Dev’s religion. (Pardon me while I roll my eyes at that sentence I just wrote.)
-As an excuse for being full after a day at the BBQ fest, they say they got halal cart food poisoning, which is some really rude shit, what the hell Dev, what did the Halal Guys ever do to you? I ate Halal Guys on the L at 3am once and that shit saved my life.
-The BBQ montage is set to “Nothing But A Good Time” (Poison, 1988) and tbh, I'm not mad at it.
-There’s a solid “what is arugula” joke. I spent 18 years on this planet not knowing what arugula was.
Episode 4: First Date
Ah, the dating-in-the-age-of-Tinder episode.
-I’m not 100% sure, but I think one of Dev’s dating profile pics is of the ceci e pepe from Momofuku Nishi. For some reason, this detail stresses me out so I have another bourbon. A friend of mine used to show me chef’s Tinder profiles she would come across, and they were the worst things on Earth. Why would you have a picture of micro greens as a dating profile picture? WHY.
-The places Dev goes on dates are very brightly lit. I get it that it’s T.V., and you need to see the actors, but I've been on dates in NYC where I never saw my date’s face once. Just shadows and faint flickers of their face if like, an ambulance went by with their lights and sirens wailing.
-One of Dev’s Tinder dates is a WWE/Mortal Kombat/The Ramaniac Blogger/PS4 player, and TBH I'm like SHE’S THE ONE DEV MARRY HER.
-This episode is a sobering reminder that dating is terrible, especially in New York. Have you ever dated someone in that city? You spend half of your time on the train heading to dinner, then when you go for ice cream at OddFellows and the line is murder, you wind up just heading back to Bushwick and eating Whole Foods olives that may or may not be going bad while watching Independence Day for the third time in two days. Maybe this is just my experience, but I’m just saying: Dating in NYC is hard.
Episode 5: The Dinner Party
It might be the bourbon talking but Dev’s Cupcakes show looks fucking awesome.
-This might have a lot to with DJ Sweet Treats, the on-set d.j. who basically dresses like an East Asian Cam’ron. Pink fuzzy hat and everything.
-Scanning the set, it all looks legit: Kitchen Aid, sheet pans, bread pans, dough hooks—NOT BAD GUYS, but there’s a single 18L cambro. Who buys those? Get the 20L.
-We meet Dev’s boss, a greasy, loud, super celebrity TV chef named Chef Jeff. Chef Jeff is like if you took #saltbae and a Todd English lawsuit, rolled them in breadcrumbs and pan-fried it. The character rings so true I'm surprised that there isn't already some idiot that calls himself Chef Jeff.
-Dev and Jeff go to eat at Carbone, and Jeff brags about it being his third meal that night, which is absolutely the kind of stupid shit that chefs brag about to people. No one goes to Carbone for their third meal of the night. You go to Carbone to eat six pastas, followed by a veal marsala. You go to Carbone and lose count of how many bottles of wine you ordered and nervously check your account balance before paying the bill.
-Chef Jeff mentions being sexually aroused by a picture of al pastor, and if you've ever seen al pastor you understand that this is a sign of gross deviant sexual dysfunction—since al pastor is basically a giant stack of meat pancakes.
-He talks about doing a pop-up at Stonehenge and I feel dirty and ashamed: Whoever wrote this is nailing it.
-Dev takes a date to Il Buco. She doesn't want to split any of the food. This is grounds for getting up and walking out.
-Dev takes his friend, Francesca, who's visiting from Italy, to Chef Jeff’s dinner party—the kind of corny-ass shit where a dude carves jamon Iberico while people drink wine in an uncomfortable setting. Chef Jeff says “a tornado of Iberian flavor is headed this way,” and I bat a cup of water across my living room in disgust. (Related, I'm pretty sure I worked at a restaurant in 2005 that had “a tornado of Iberian flavor is headed this way” as a tagline on its menu.)
-Chef Jeff gives Francesca a bite of said Iberico ham and says, “Tell me the first thing that comes to mind.” Francesca says, “Ham,” and SHE’S RIGHT IT'S JUST HAM DON'T @ ME.
-Chef Jeff and Dev talk about catching feelings in the kitchen with a cook in the background. Every cook has been in a situation where they hear something meant to be private, and the only unrealistic part here is the lack of stifled laughter.
-There’s a Phở joke where they say its “Phở-nomenal” idk idk
-Dev’s always hungry. I identify!
Episode 6: New York, I Love You
After that marathon of food content, the show switches gears and goes all Altman-esque with a Short Cuts type episode. It might just be because I'm tired as hell but this feels like a completely different show and at this moment I like it better? It feels like a Woody Allen movie, only not so white!
-There’s a part involving a pizza scarf, but the woman in the scene doesn't like the pizza scarf. First of all, every single millennial living in NYC already owns a novelty pizza slice floaty or a pizza mini skirt or something, so the pizza scarf find would be an immediate yes.
-There aren't many food jokes in this episode but there is a solid “why are white girls always talking about grain bowls” joke.
-A Burundian cab driver talks about wanting to own a dairy queen in Florida and getting free ice cream and if that’s not the American Dream than I don't know what is.
-A roommate of the cab drivers opens up the fast food spot he works at for late night fries with his friends and some random girls they met and it’s really nice?
-This episode made me ridiculously happy. As much as Master of None is about Dev’s love life, family, and love of food, it’s about New York City, too. The city is shot so beautifully, so lovingly, that it’s almost hypnotic. It has a strange, in-between effect; you’re in your living room and feeling the warm buzz of a night out with friends in Manhattan.
Episode 7: Door #3
Oh man. Dev is pitching a food travel show. Literally every person on earth wants a show where they travel and eat because those two things are great, especially when someone else is paying for all of it. Seems like a dream on the surface, but a casual glance at Anthony Bourdain’s Instagram tells a starker tale.
-I’m tired. I know people binge-watch TV shows but I am not about that life apparently.
-The contestant aprons on Clash of The Cupcakes are REALLY dirty. I can’t decide if this is realistic or complete bullshit. Do contestants on cooking competition work really dirty?
-Pause to watch an episode of Top Chef and an episode of Hell’s Kitchen and yes, the chefs are dirty slobs. Ignore my previous comment.
-Dev’s name for his travel show is “Best Food Friends.” If my seven-year-old had a best friend that he liked eating at restaurants with, he still wouldn’t suggest that they call each other “best food friends.” Dev and Chef Jeff kind of rhyme. “Eating with Chef Jeff & Dev.” See? I barely even tried and I improved it.
-Oh for fuck’s sake, Chef Jeff green lights Best Food Friends. In a lot of ways, this rings true for me because the food T.V. landscape is littered with shows no one actually wants to watch—especially poorly done, less interesting versions of previous shows.
Episode 8: Thanksgiving
I feel like I've been watching this show since last Thanksgiving.
-There’s a “no parsnips” comment and she's right, parsnips kind of suck. They’re basically a starchier, less sweet carrot.
-This episode spans six Thanksgivings. Seven Thanksgivings? I lost count. My main question is: Did they re-use the same turkey over and over or did they cook a new turkey each time?
-The food in this episode does look incredible—and real—though. It's a great episode about my favorite holiday. The themes that this episode winds up tackling are so much bigger and more important than all of that, and it's done in such an elegant, respectful way.
Episode 9: Amarsi Un Po’
The episode opens and they’re shooting promo photos for the travel show which I am immediately mad about, but then there’s a giant novelty sub sandwich and my heart rate settles a bit. All I really want is to see my culinary heroes swimming around in a literal pool of minestrone.
-Dev and Francesca go to Tertulia but the wait is an hour and they get the ol’ “kitchen closes at 10” warning which is the worst shit ever when you’re eating out.
-The scene winds up playing out kinda cute, but then they're those guests that sit down right at final seating and stay in the dining room until the music is turned off and the lights come up. Everyone that works in a restaurant hates these people. They’ll tell you they don’t, they’ll tell you that every guest gets the same experience, from start to finish, but go look the dessert plater in the eye—the one who’s been waiting for that last table to get their order in for an hour while everyone else broke down their stations and went home.
-When the dinner takes a weird turn, and everyone is suddenly having a bad time, my immediate thought is that this is possibly related to Francesca not eating a croquette that’s left on her plate. Don’t you hate it when someone takes the last croquette and doesn’t eat it? The worst.
-This episode is relatively light on food content but REALLY heavy on emotional content. And while on the surface, the whole traipsing around New York and going here and drinking there seems superficial, that is the true grind of that city. It tries so hard to wear you down and tire you out, and only the strong prevail.
Episode 10: Buena Notte
I did it. I made it to the last episode.
-This one opens with Best Food Friends’ opening titles (a terrible, perfect send-up of the Parts Unknown titles) then oh fuck, it rolls right into them going for ramen. They go to Yuji Ramen/Okonomi in Williamsburg but Yuji isn't in the show and I get irrationally angry.
-Suddenly I yell, “CAN WE STOP WITH MAZEMEN IT’S JUST PASTA” in my living room and immediately feel bad. I’m sorry.
-There’s a part about Chef Jeff being a creep on his old show Jeff’s Backyard BBQ. I don't know if you’ve heard, but chefs are gross man-babies.
-Next, they're making paella on TV, there might be saffron in there, who knows, it kinda feels like the walls are closing in. Is paella still a thing? I thought we did that back in 2004.
-Chef Jeff is accused on-air about those sexual harassment claims and he storms off the set. This is a big moment, but mostly all I can think about is that there are shrimp just sitting there, not on ice, while drama pops off. Someone’s gonna get sick.
-As much as I've spoiled this show for you by now if you haven't seen it, I'm not going to spoil the ending. (Someone had told me that Francesca died in the last episode, so my stomach was in knots going into the end. That person is an asshole. So you can rule that out.)
The show is such an honest, funny, heartfelt reflection on love and friendship, and how messy yet beautiful life can be. It’s funny and serious and happy and sad and also beautiful to look at. The intense focus on food in this context makes sense—food is emotional and intimate. Food can bring you to a place of comfort or excitement. It can evoke happy memories and heartache all at once. Food being at the center of this show is so effective because with food, your emotions come pre-loaded like they do in any meaningful relationship.
So, go feast on this show. If your feels can handle it. Mine almost couldn't.