The humblest food becomes wondrously photogenic in the films of Chen Xiaoqing, creator of the hit Netflix series Flavorful Origins and its progenitor Once Upon a Bite. Dumplings are crafted on timber boards amid billows of flour. Steam shrouds mottled crabs, cooking with ginger and chili in in tall stacks of wicker baskets. Fishermen wade into crashing surf on wooden stilts to snare sardines with A-frame nets. There are aerial shots of emerald rice terraces, time-lapse sequences of drying bricks of tea, and mortar-eye views of pestle-pounded spices.
There’s not a fast-food restaurant or production line in sight in this romanticized glimpse of a homespun culinary culture sadly threatened by industrial kitchens, agribusiness and progress.
“Our food must be delicious, beautiful, with a legacy and connection to local culture and geography,” Chen tells TIME in his Beijing office. “For the people, they must really love the food, put