American cuisine

Padma Lakshmi’s Taste the Nation deconstructs the myth of “American” cuisine

Padma LakshmiThe last project of was born from a particular tension of frustration. “I was tired of some people deciding who an American is and what American food is,” she said in a recent interview. “All my life in food, I’ve heard [the term] “New American Kitchen”. What is that? I just wanted to go find out.

The result of this journey is Taste the nation, a 10-episode Hulu series in which Lakshmi flips the crucible theory, looking at the food on the American table and finding out how she really got there. Each episode centers on a “hero dish” – searing dosas, fresh poke, crispy fried bread – often produced by a bustling immigrant community, such as the Indian community in Queens, New York, or the Mexican community. from El Paso, Texas. The show also focuses on the country’s indigenous peoples, highlighting the Navajo in Phoenix, Arizona, though this is by no means an exhaustive view. “I didn’t have time in the first season to explore the different tribes and their differences, because they are important,” Lakshmi noted. “A Shinnecock Indian in the northeast is going to have a different diet and lifestyle than a Navajo in Arizona.”

Lakshmi, who immigrated to the United States from India at the age of four, designed the show while serving as an immigration ambassador for the American Civil Liberties Union. At events, she would tell her own story over and over again – a repetition that grew tiresome. “I got tired of talking about myself,” she said bluntly.

taste the nation was envisioned as a docuseries on immigration. But since Lakshmi’s profession is food, she decided to use it to explore not only immigration, but also American history and the sticky line between assimilation and survival. One episode revolves around Thai women in Las Vegas who married white American soldiers, while another traces how Germans living in Milwaukee during World War II quickly buried their heritage, despite their cuisine now being a foundation of the food culture of the city. Much of the series traces how war and colonization have shaped dishes that have become iconic.

taste the nation isn’t just educational – it’s visually striking, clean and simple with panoramic nature photos. (Lakshmi likened it to a “big, beautiful tourist advertisement.”) Each episode is guided by Lakshmi’s candid and authoritative narration. These elements may cause some viewers to instinctively compare the show to that of Anthony Bourdain. No reservations Where Unknown parts– but Bourdain’s work and that of Lakshmi are very different in their approach and aesthetics. (Lakshmi shares something in common with Ugly Deliciousit’s David Chang, however, in that they both asked the comedian Ali Wang to make an appearance as a food expert.)

Ultimately, her quest is heavily optimistic, with Lakshmi shining a light on thriving American communities that have managed to keep their traditions intact. (An episode about the Gullah Geechee people in South Carolina does better.)

“I really wanted to be specific because I was and still am of the belief that if we can connect on a human level, on the ground level of our daily lives, we will realize that we have a lot of the same values ​​and goals,” she said. noted. “The humanity of a Persian who made kebabs in his restaurants was no less than the humanity of [Donald] Assetis grandfather, you know? Friedrich Trump, the president’s grandfather, emigrated from Germany to the United States in 1885 and was officially banished from returning to his home country in 1905 after dodging military service.

Although the show gives her mic to various restaurateurs and cooks, Lakshmi also turns her gaze inward. In an episode about Queens, the New Yorker brings the camera into her home (filled with a gorgeous, massive kitchen), interviewing her mother, Vijaya, and her 10-year-old daughter, Krishna, who adorably debates his preference for American pancakes over traditional Indian dosas.

“I never had it on purpose great leader,said Lakshmi of her daughter. The plan was to take her away taste the nation as well, but this decision ultimately felt hypocritical, as much of the show features families letting Lakshmi into their homes and telling their personal stories. “With what face could I ask these people to let me into their homes, to sit down and break bread with them, to ask them these really intimate questions about their family, their struggles and their fears, without being able to tell me open myself? I would have found that really shitty.