A lighthearted period romance set within the walls of the Chinese Imperial Palace, Delicacies Destiny is the first original Chinese-language series on streaming platform Disney+. Featuring He Ruixian and Wang Xingyue as star-crossed lovers separated by class and status, the show follows an ambitious young woman (He) who secures the job of personal chef to the notoriously difficult Crown Prince (Wang). Conceived by Yu Zheng, the writer-producer behind 2018’s hit series Story of Yanxi Palace , Delicacies Destiny serves up an endless procession of mouthwatering delights sure to entice droves of foodies. Viewers hoping for palace intrigue and forbidden romance will be disappointed by this meagre offering anchored by an implausible romance that is impossible to swallow. During the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), accomplished young chef Ling Xiaoxiao has ambitions that stretch far beyond the modest restaurant where she works. Upon learning that the Imperial Palace is holding a competition to find a culinary master worthy of joining the royal kitchen, Xiaoxiao tricks her employer into releasing her from her 10-year contract and signs up for the contest. Needless to say, the fact that she is a woman puts Xiaoxiao at a disadvantage, but she effortlessly dispenses with her rivals and secures the position of head chef in the Destiny Kitchen, which prepares food exclusively for Crown Prince Zhu Shou-kui. Soundtrack #1: Han So-hee, Park Hyung-sik romance a letdown Zhu has a notoriously picky palate, and is prone to throwing violent temper tantrums when his meals do not meet his unreasonably high standards. Xiaoxiao learns that her appointment comes in the wake of the abrupt departure of Zhu’s beloved former cook, with whom he shared a bond built upon years of mutual respect and admiration. Her reception from the kitchen staff is frosty, particularly that from the gaggle of female assistants who are opposed to being given orders by a woman, especially one as young and confident as Xiaoxiao. Delicacies Destiny invites its audience to rally behind Xiaoxiao as she faces opposition from all sides yet overcomes traditional thinking and narrow-mindedness to prove herself worthy of feeding the future emperor. While there is no denying that the dishes she creates are nutritious and enticing, it doesn’t help that Xiaoxiao is such a downright unlikeable character. From the show’s opening moments she is portrayed as duplicitous and arrogant, confident of her own culinary prowess and willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that everyone else knows it. On arrival at the palace, Xiaoxiao is combative in her dealings with the other members of the kitchen staff. Rather than deferring to their experience and prior knowledge of the prince and his specific requirements, she is confrontational and stubborn with everyone she meets, including the prince himself. The intention of Yu Zheng and director Guo Hao is obviously to present Xiaoxiao as strong and confident in her abilities, defiant in the face of her doubters and resolute in her determination to please the prince. He’s performance does not win us over, however. It is impossible to warm to Xiaoxiao, despite the opposition and obstacles that she must overcome. She is a young woman in a man’s world, and the show mistakenly believes this is ample reason for audiences to get behind its heroine. The portrayal of Crown Prince Zhu isn’t much better. Raised by his father, the Emperor (Pan Binglong), as heir apparent of the kingdom, he is hot-headed, impulsive and uncooperative. Prone to flipping tables before he has even tried the food brought before him, Zhu has run through a procession of replacement chefs before Xiaoxiao is hired. Her tactic of presenting him with simple homey dishes, rather than extravagant and expensive cuisine, only infuriates the prince further – until he agrees to try her food and is immediately won over. There are glimpses of substantial drama along the way, even if they are batted away as quickly as they are introduced. In flashback, we see how Zhu’s former personal chef instilled in him that “the people are everything to a ruler, and food is everything to them” and he can express his gratitude for their hard work and suffering by relishing the provincial delicacies that are brought before him. Zhu’s strained relationship with his two younger brothers, that dates back to their childhood, is also shown. Despite these observations, characters remain thinly drawn. The food itself is the show’s primary focus, and the camera pores hungrily over every drool-inducing dish that Xiaoxiao whips up. If only the anaemic romance between the show’s unlikeable leads sparked anything close to the same response, Delicacies Destiny might have been a television sensation. However, it is merely a bland and unpalatable distraction. Delicacies Destiny is streaming on Disney+.