What makes a chef great? Is it the way his flavors excite and tickle the senses of his diners or is the way he presents dishes in such way that layers and upon layers of flavors unceasingly bring diners to new heights? Another question that I also have in mind is can chefs be considered artists? The way they use and manipulate food to create stunningly good pieces of art with whatever surface they have on hand as their canvas. In recent years, celebrity chefs took the world by storm by merging food with art to create a dining experience unlike any other. This phenomenon is what David Gelb, the man behind the highly-acclaimed “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”, wants to explore in his Netflix produced “Chef’s Table”.
The documentary focuses on six established and also up and coming chefs from around the world: Patagonia, the United States, and Italy among other places. It follows the typical format of any biographical documentary: early years, their startup, and their life after their successes. The show devotes an entire hour getting very intimate with each of the chefs and they aren’t one to shy away from telling their story. Their stories are not exactly profound but it is the exposition of their philosophy and the reason why they want to cook that makes their cooking and their food even more interesting.
While the chefs tell their story, David Gelb and his team of directors begin working their magic. A documentary about chefs won’t be complete without artistic, drool-worthy, instagrammable shots of their signature dishes. Based on what I have seen, the dishes that have excited me the most are from Niki Nakayama of N/Naka and Francis Mallman. Nika’s dishes are pure art and are absolutely stunning, mixing oriental and traditional kaiseki with modern American designs and tastes. On the other hand Francis Mallman goes for the near primal, he uses fire and other earthy elements to cook his dishes, and his dishes come out beautiful and uber-delicious. The other chefs are also interesting, each episode highlighting a cause or movement they believe in: locavore, traditional, modern, and the downright bizarre.
The show itself is beautiful but it can be dragging because of its formulaic method. Apart from that, the show also does not have that really intimate look at the way chefs made their dishes. The show just simply glosses over these dishes with a few artistic shots here and there. Certainly a far cry from the way David Gelb directed Jiro.