I recently watched The Search for General Tso on Netflix with my main girl Friday. As a fan of documentaries and food, I especially enjoy food documentaries. This one gets a solid B+ [for an A- watch Somm also on Netflix].
The documentary takes the viewer on a journey through culinary time to search for who General Tso was. With out spoiling anything, the documentary does do a few head fakes but gives the viewer concrete answers to the questions it raises.
More importantly the film does a superb job of introducing us to a wide range of characters, each one better than the last. The film, as part of one of its head fakes, brings home an ending that is both satisfying and rewarding for those that stick through the journey of who is General Tso. In order to gain a level of gravitas the documentary takes on two additional interwoven questions; 1) what is the origin of the General Tso dish & 2) what is the story of Chinese restaurants in America. In the end the search for General Tso leads us to a much more fulfilled and deeper answer to those two questions that the title question poised by The Search for General Tso.
This movie tackles, and succeeded, in the gray area that The Lionize Podcast lives in. The examination of immigration of the Chinese hits very close to home in the setting of Hispanic immigration in modern America. The issues the documentary bring up echo the headlines and comments heard during the modern day 24-hour news cycle. Adding layers of depth to the issue the documentary spends a great deal of time weaving the historical happenings in American as they influence the rise, fall, and rise again of Chinese restaurants in America. At one time even allowing one of the talking heads to talk about recognizing the era of Chinese restaurant menus bases on the text, font, & sytle changes. These small moments happen because film maker Ian Cheney allows his subjects to breath which in turn allow this documentary to find the right step and, unlike many weaker documentaries, flounder around gasping for air.
This documentary also inspired to to try my hand at making General Tso’s chicken from scratch. Staying true to the orgins the dish is without broccoli and has a base with chili peppers and spices. It turned out ok. A lot of work needs to be done. And to not dishonor both General Tso and the origin of the recipe I won’t even call it General Tso’s chicken.
At least not yet.