For those who are lucky enough to witness Li Wenlong’s kitchen performance, it’s a mesmerizing sight to behold. As the owner of a small restaurant in Macao, Li’s expertise in preparing Zhusheng Noodles, a southern Chinese staple, is unparalleled. The third-generation inheritor of his family business, Li transforms flour, chicken and duck eggs into a perfectly elastic dough with a unique acrobatics-inspired technique.
This incredible scene is just one of many featured in the fourth season of “Once Upon a Bite,” a highly popular documentary series by renowned director and producer Chen Xiaoqing. The show explores the relationship between food and culture, and has already accumulated over 3 billion clicks online from its previous three seasons.
The latest season, which premiered on Tencent Video on November 24th, takes viewers on a global odyssey to explore the stories behind different types of grains – wheat, rice, millet, beans, and potatoes. With six episodes, the program traces the journey of these essential ingredients and how they have become integral to the human diet through various cooking methods.
This season has received the highest rating of all four seasons, with a 9.4 out of 10 on Douban, the leading review aggregator. “Once Upon a Bite” offers a fascinating look at the science and art of food, and this season’s focus on grains promises to be no different. Get ready to be transported to a world of culinary wonder, and discover the truth behind the food that sustains us.
Grains hold a significant place in human culinary history, as noted by Chen Lei, the chief director of the fourth season of the popular documentary series, “Once Upon a Bite.” Despite their widespread familiarity, there is still much to uncover about the evolution of these essential components of the human diet.
The idea to make an entire season about grains took shape in 2018, when the team was filming for the first season of “Once Upon a Bite.” Despite the challenges posed by the recent pandemic, Chen Lei and producer Deng Jie led a comprehensive preparation for filming. This included renting a field on Shanghai’s Chongming Island as a grain laboratory, working with a photographic team specializing in filming plants, and even recruiting botany professionals. They also came up with a unique method of combining computer-generated footage with actual footage to showcase the growth of a seed.
In the first episode, which focuses on wheat, the documentary travels to various cities in China and several other countries, including the UK, Turkey, and the Middle East, to showcase the close relationship between the daily lives of locals and wheat. Coordinating with international teams was one of the biggest challenges, with Deng Jie revealing that shooting had to be suspended four times due to escalating tensions between Palestinians and Israelis while filming the story of freekeh in Palestine.
However, much of the international cooperation went more smoothly than expected. When the team was planning to shoot a tale about manoomin (wild rice), a staple food for Minnesota’s Native American population, a female director residing in the US was recommended to them. The director, who had a deep understanding of the Ojibwe, one of the largest Native American groups in North America, was able to infuse the footage with delicate emotions, providing a unique perspective on the importance of wild rice to the tribe.
the fourth season of “Once Upon a Bite” provides a fascinating global perspective on the evolution of grains and their impact on the human diet, showcasing the close relationship between people and their staple foods.
Chen Lei, the chief director of the fourth season of the grain documentary, was eager to share his experiences about the film’s creation. Working alongside producer Deng Jie, the team put in extensive effort to bring the stories behind the evolution of grains to life. From collaborating with expert photographers to filming in grain “laboratories,” their aim was to give viewers a comprehensive understanding of the role grains have played in shaping the culinary history of humankind.
“Grains play a crucial part in our lives,” Chen Lei explains, “but there’s still much we don’t know about their evolution.” The idea to dedicate a season to grains came about in 2018 while filming the first season. Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the team persevered and traveled across China and to several international destinations to capture the impact of wheat, freekeh, manoomin, and other grains on local communities.
Coordinating with international teams presented a significant challenge, with the team having to suspend shooting several times due to increasing tensions in Palestine during the harvest of green durum wheat. However, their cooperation with a female director based in Minnesota was smoother, giving the team an in-depth look at the Ojibwe tribe’s relationship with manoomin, or wild rice.
Chen Lei and Deng Jie were grateful for the opportunity to work with a postgraduate student from the history department at Yale University, calling it a rewarding and enlightening experience. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, they were unable to film the growth of millet in Namibia and yams in Papua New Guinea, which they hope to include in future projects.
The documentary also delves into rural China, showcasing the agricultural traditions that have been passed down for centuries. The team visited a remote village on the border of Shanxi and Inner Mongolia, where they spoke with an elderly couple who have been farming hulless oats for decades.
Chen Lei believes that the diversity of grains has shaped human activities and civilizations, with each grain serving as the energy source and foundation for a particular community. “The fate of grains is closely tied to the fate of humankind,” Deng adds, “and we hope this documentary will increase awareness and appreciation for the different types of grains and the cultures they have helped preserve.”