I like to think of myself as a foodie. As someone who appreciates good food, and is willing to try new things. This in spite of the fact that I am also very picky, and given the opportunity would probably eat a lot of junk all the time. Fortunately for me, I have the benefit of having been brought up by parents who made me try things a few times before deciding I didn’t like them (tomatoes!) and even then there were things I decided later in life that I would either tolerate (fish!) or LOVE (brussels sprouts!). The other thing is that they were taking me to restaurants from a young age. This may have been out of necessity when we were living overseas and they didn’t have as many chances for babysitters, but I think they wanted both me and my siblings to experience eating in a public, social setting and to taste food that we wouldn’t have ever experienced on our own.
All of this to say, I think I was the target audience for Netflix’s documentary series Chef’s Table. With four seasons covering 22 chefs – 4 of whom are specialty pastry chefs – I don’t know why I didn’t start watching it earlier. Each episode is a deep dive into the life, restaurant and food philosophy of one chef somewhere in the world. And not just any chef – these are some of the best of the best. Chefs whose restaurants have been consistently rated in the 50 Best Restaurants (a ranking I didn’t know about until watching this show, and which apparently will release it’s 2018 list on 19 June). Chefs with Michelin stars, and those who would have Michelin stars if there were Michelin guides in their country. Chefs who don’t think of themselves as chefs, but who are creating amazing beautiful food that wows professional chefs.
The show has a particular style that is very consistent – begin by talking to the chef without context, and by not showing the food, not really. Get them (or someone else) to say something provocative and interesting that will make us want to watch the rest of the episode. Cut to the opening credits, then quickly move on to beautiful shots of whatever part of the world they are in. Travel to different places which were influential in the life of the chef. Talk to their colleagues and to food critics who think they are amazing. Get their childhood story, and throw in some early pictures – maybe as a kid, definitely either in culinary school or in one of their first real restaurant jobs. Intersperse all of this with them talking about what they love about cooking and with food porn shots of particular dishes. Get them to explain how they came up with particular dishes. Do the plating shot, then a still life with the name of the dish super-imposed on the screen. The formula works, but it’s so recognizable that when I saw an episode of Ugly Delicious that opened with David Chang in “very serious chef” mode, and it quickly devolved into body-horror comedy, I knew they were making fun of the self-seriousness of Chef’s Table, despite the fact that Chang had participated in the most recent season to talk about his part in the rise of Christina Tosi at Milk Bar.
But the whole series had me drooling the entire time. It made me want to go to a really good restaurant and just drink in the experience of eating the food of a really great, creative chef. Specifically, it made me think about when the Boy and I went to The Inn at Little Washington last summer, and to thinking about what I would want to do this year in anticipation of a significant number birthday (anything that ends in 5 or 0 is significant in my books). We’ve got ideas, and there are more than a few starred establishments in the DC area, so the possibilities (while not endless) are plentiful. And not only that, but we do have the ability to travel and go places – maybe not specifically for the food, but maybe? Who knows. Of course, Baby B will make things challenging for a little while until she’s big enough to be left with someone else for longer stretches, but we’ll get there. And maybe someday we will take her to nice restaurants, and she too can learn to appreciate good food. Until then, she can just watch foodie shows with me.
Details: Chef’s Table now streaming on Netflix.