Roy Choi’s Broken Bread is one of TV’s most important shows

Cooking and cooking shows can often seem frivolous. Chef Roy Choi’s Broken Bread doesn’t, and the reasons why it makes it an important medium.

As entertaining as food culture shows can be, it can be hard to accept most of them as anything more than light entertainment. Cooking contests show working-class chefs and cooks battling it out for a cash prize, like Chopped and Excellent chef, can look like exploitative competitions in an island world. Travelogue shows featuring celebrity chefs, even the work of Anthony Bourdain which broke the mold in many ways, can often feel like privileged people sharing photos on Instagram.

Chief Roy Choi broken bread is different. The documentary series’ mission statement is to celebrate “people who are making big changes in what we eat and where we gather”. The series focuses on the type of people and businesses that food, cooking shows, and pop culture in general ignore, making it a breath of fresh air. This focus makes it one of the most important shows in a television and streaming landscape full of quality documentaries.

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In Broken breads intro, Chef Choi introduces himself as a “street man” turned street cook. He is best known in the food industry for being one of the leaders of the gourmet food truck movement. Trained Choi The Mandalorian director Jon Favreau for his role as a chef turned food truck operator in the 2014 foodie movie classic Chief. This led to the pair hosting the Netflix series The chef’s showwhere they cooked alongside celebrities like Favreau’s bandmate from his Iron Man Gwyneth Paltrow days and mandalorian Bill Burr.

broken bread is clearly a personal project for Chef Choi. The show’s intro introduces Choi’s view of food as a unifying force. In the opening moments of the first episode, which is set in Choi’s hometown of Los Angeles, it also introduces the idea that food can be a catalyst for change for people who have been let down by society. He exemplifies this by visiting companies like Homeboy Industries, a bakery that Choi says “goes against any business plan anyone would write.”

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Homeboy Industries employs formerly incarcerated gang members with no experience. Founded by Father Gregory Boyle in 1988, Homeboy Industries has become the self-proclaimed “largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and reintegration program” in the world. Choi sits down with Boyle and learns about Homeboy’s origins. Boyle tells him that the reaction to Homeboy has evolved from initial hostility, including bomb threats, to acceptance that being “tough on crime” could be replaced by genuine attempts at rehabilitation.

Interviews with Homeboy employees show how its program is changing their lives. An unidentified employee shared how Homeboy taught him to be a better man and smiled at how happy his son was when he baked cookies at home. Another said she planned to go back to school and eventually become a firefighter. Father Boyd describes Homeboy as being a place of “inclusion, non-violence, unconditional kindness and compassionate acceptance”, which he considered contrary to the political climate of the time. (The first episode aired on May 15, 2019.)

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Choi shows off the connecting power of food when he sits down with LA Mayor Eric Garcetti at iconic local restaurant Philippe’s French Dip. Choi describes it as a place where “people from all walks of life sit across from each other and break bread.” Choi and Garcetti talk about the need for activists and the city government to work together to address the issues that make Los Angeles an “imperfect paradise,” as Garcetti puts it. This includes homelessness, which is no longer an “invisible” problem now that tents are more affordable, and hunger.

As exhilarating as broken bread Perhaps, Choi isn’t afraid of the harsh realities the people he portrays on the show face. Mar Diego owns Dough Girl, a pizzeria that employs at-risk youth. Diego didn’t come into the food industry after cooking school or even a restaurant gig. While incarcerated, she was assigned to work in a prison kitchen. After establishing herself in the food industry, Diego opened Dough Girl to provide young people in the San Fernando Valley with an alternative to processed foods and a place to belong. It’s an inspiring story, but Choi isn’t shy about showing the complications that come with it, including Diego talking to a potentially suicidal employee after a breakdown during a shift.

By highlighting the people who use food to help the marginalized in a society with few safety nets, broken bread does important work. Although it is produced by PBS and airs on Southern California’s KCET, it can be viewed in other ways. The KCET website hosts the first two seasons. It’s also available to stream on the PBS streaming app and the foodie streaming service Tastemade. The first season is also available on Peacock, offering WWE and JOE VS. CAROLE offers a nice change of pace on NBC’s streaming service. It’s worth watching for everyone, especially those looking for more social awareness in their food TV.

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