A few years ago, my spouse and I made the choice to stop paying for cable. We only ever mainlined Food Network for hours on end, and there were (and are) plenty of cooking and food shows available on streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. We realized we didn't need cable to yell at contestants on Cutthroat Kitchen or bite our nails over basket ingredients on Chopped.
And ever since Netflix premiered Chef's Table in 2015, few other cooking shows have truly measured up. The series certainly has its issues — like the fact that it seriously underrepresents female chefs, for one — but in general, the viewing experience is incredibly pleasurable from episode to episode.
Chef's Table is a deep-dive documentary series focusing on one chef in each episode. There are six one-hour episodes per season, and three seasons are currently available to stream. There are also two spin-off series: Chef's Table: France, which debuted in 2016, and Chef's Table: Pastry, which premieres Friday.
Not convinced you should add this series to your queue? Here are just a few reasons you need to jump on the Chef's Table bandwagon ASAP.
Admittedly, I could never afford to eat at the majority of the restaurants featured on this series. However, it's amazing to see what these world-renowned chefs can do with even the most basic ingredients.
Take, for example, how Massimo Bottura, from Italy, took his love of "the crunchy part of lasagna" in the first episode of Season 1 and turned it into its own beautifully plated food. I mean, what? He also transforms cheeses into all kinds of textures, as you can see on his Instagram feed.
It isn't just the food that's beautiful. Chef's Table is an incredible visual experience, from the small detail shots of chefs' hands plating food to establishing shots of restaurant exteriors or cityscapes. Unlike the harsh, glaring lights of food competition shows or the sometimes too-gloomy cinematography of other documentaries, this series strikes a perfect balance. It's hard to take your eyes off of any episode.
Each episode of Chef's Table focuses on the life and work of a different world-renowned chef, and the passion they express in their interviews and in their work is unparalleled. Some of their struggles are genuinely heartbreaking, and the stories of others are simply fascinating. In every case, their resilience as they worked toward their current status is always inspiring.
The first episode that left me feeling genuinely enamored was the one profiling Niki Nakayama. A queer woman of color who's described as one of the most innovative chefs working today, Nakayama produces a new menu at her restaurant N/Naka every single night. In her episode, she said she prefers to create a series of cohesive dishes for her guests that will provide an intimate, personal experience, especially for repeat customers. That's some seriously hard work.
To reach this level of success, Nakayama trained under the guidance of esteemed chefs Takao Izumida and Morihiro Onodera, went on a three-year working tour through Japan, and opened and closed two different restaurants when they weren't sustaining her passion. During the episode, Nakayama revealed that she's constantly undermined because of her gender and appearance, but she's never given up the fight. Now her craft is widely admired by others in the food industry.
Although the series doesn't feature nearly enough women, the women it does feature are such hardworking, dedicated chefs who are constantly pushing the envelope when it comes to food.
It's a perfect compromise to watch with a companion
If you're really into Netflix docuseries and your partner (or friend, or family member) just wants to watch Great British Bake Off again, Chef's Table strikes a nice balance between the two. It'll please the foodie, the artist and/or the biography-obsessed historian in your life, and it provides hours of conversation.
When I sat down to re-watch the first season (my favorite) last week, my spouse and I had a long conversation about traditions of Italian cooking, based on Massimo Bottura's episode. We also talked about the lack of women profiled on the show, which led to a conversation about how women are often underrepresented all across the food world, despite there being so many passionate, hardworking, talented women in kitchens everywhere — literally, everywhere — in the world.
You'll discover tons of places to add to your travel bucket list
If you want to "eat around the world" or even just reserve a table at a really fancy, really delicious restaurant to impress someone (that someone could be yourself), Chef's Table provides plenty of destinations. The food on this series is mouthwatering and gorgeous, and from what the interviewees all say, it's worth traveling to taste.
Chef's Table has totally reinvigorated my desire to travel to Italy and France, and it's also made me want to go home to California and do a long, food-focused road trip down the coast. Dominique Crenn, featured in the third episode of Season 2, owns Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, and I feel like I need to go just to see just how innovative her dishes are in real life.
It's reminiscent of other shows you probably love
Did you love Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations? What about the PBS series The Mind of a Chef? A Chef's Life? Chef's Table has the same informational vibe as these series, but the focus is a little different. It's more personal, though it always connects each chef's story to a larger cultural context. The series dives deep into the cultural history of food, how these chefs are turning tradition on its end without scoffing at the lessons they've learned from older chefs and, in some cases, family members and ancestors. It also offers a full look at these chefs' lives, including personal details that are evocative but also relevant to what they do and how they do it.
If I haven't convinced you by now to check out Chef's Table, it may be a lost cause. But for just a little more convincing, check out this beautiful bite by Chef Enrique Olvera, featured in Chef's Table Season 2.
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