Chef's Table goes inside the lives and kitchens of six of the world’s most renowned international chefs. Each episode focuses on a single chef, featuring Ben Shewry (Attica Restaurant in Melbourne, Australia), Magnus Nilsson (Fäviken in Järpen Sweden), Francis Mallmann (El Restaurante Patagonia Sur in Buenos Aires, Argentina), Niki Nakayama (N/Naka Restaurant in Los Angeles, CA, USA), Dan Barber (Blue Hill Restaurant at Stone Barns and in New York City, USA) and Massimo Bottura (Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy) and thier unique look at their lives, talents and passion from their piece of culinary heaven.
My thoughts: Chef’s Table is a fascinating look into the mind, ego and creativity of master chefs and the art of cooking. Each episode follows the kitchen of a different chef, all driven to create, in a way that us mere home cooks are not.
There are 6 episodes total but here are a few of my favorites:
Episode 1 – Massimo Bottura (italy): Bottura's episode follows his journey to Modena Italy as he attempts to reinvent Italian cooking at his three-Michelin-star restaurant in a place that doesn't want him reinvent Italian cooking. But it was his relationship with his wife Lara that stood out. Their partnership, love and sense of family, despite his drive and ego, was a rare and beautiful thing to watch. Especially when, in future episodes, you see those same traits straining the other chefs relationships.
Episode 2 - Dan Barber (NYC): Barber’s focus is on the use of local ingredients and the best ingredients and growing practices. This episode was more about the food, than the chef, and I loved learning about what goes into developing the perfect wheat, or creating an egg with a red yolk.
It was also intriguing to see how, despite his enormous success, he can't seem to let go of the kitchen to spend time with his family and young daughter. Something he struggles with and freely discusses. It was kind of sad at times.
Episode 3 - Francis Mallmann (Argentina): This guy is a larger than life character that seems to inspire an almost cult like following of chefs to train in his open fire technique at his home in remote Patagonia. He has an old school Hemingway/Steve McQueen, hippie vibe that draws you to him but then he’s kind of an asshole that seems to confuse the idea of freedom with treating people like shit but that’s also part of his allure. I don’t think I would ever want to be friends with him but he’s fascinating to watch.
Episode 4 - Niki Nakayama (CA): This episode brought me to tears and felt the most personal and vulnerable. Nakayama struggles with finding her own path and not disappointing her family, culture or customers. She’s just as driven as the other chefs but her desire to please her customers and create something personal for them makes her stand out as not just another ego driven chef.
She also, not surprisingly, as a female chef, has to battle the ignorance of customers and other chefs. It’s really compelling and I wanted to go hug her after watching her episode.
All of the chef’s show that desire to obtain perfection, be the best in their field, awhile still trying to have a family and balanced life outside of the kitchen. Except for Mallmann, of course, who doesn’t seem to give a f*ck. lol
I found that dynamic more interesting than the food they were creating. In fact, I found that part pretentious, along with the food critics. The food featured in this series is only accessible to the very rich. and I don’t think that necessarily makes it any better.
But that’s not what this series is about. It’s about the art of cooking – the inner workings of an artist and what makes them tick.
And a hilarious spoof trailer:
Related book recommendations:
*This was the first *behind the scenes* of cooking book that I read. Fun, and a little bit shocking. Made me think twice about ordering the “special”
***Heat: An Amateur Cook in a Professional Kitchen by Bill Buford - A highly acclaimed writer and editor, Bill Buford left his job at The New Yorker for a most unlikely destination: the kitchen at Babbo, the revolutionary Italian restaurant created and ruled by superstar chef Mario Batali. Finally realizing a long-held desire to learn first-hand the experience of restaurant cooking, Buford soon finds himself drowning in improperly cubed carrots and scalding pasta water on his quest to learn the tricks of the trade. His love of Italian food then propels him on journeys further afield: to Italy, to discover the secrets of pasta-making and, finally, how to properly slaughter a pig.
* This is another fun, behind the scenes of cooking, book but from the perspective of an amateur – who thinks he’s a decent cook but finds himself in way over his head.
I’m going to single out Turning Up the Heat because it fits closest to the series themes of ego, family and balance.
~ After eleven years of marriage, Léa Laurier knew her husband. Knew how he could take on responsibility for a world-famous restaurant, a wife, and her two teenage siblings at nineteen years old and never falter, never tire. Knew his drive and his ambition, that took him to the stars. Knew how briliant his gray eyes looked when they met hers for just one moment across a host of cameras. She didn’t know why she was so tired. She didn’t know why she needed to just get away. For a while. Maybe a week or two. A month. She’d be back.
After eleven years of marriage, international superstar chef Daniel Laurier knew his wife. Knew how she could lavish caring on everyone, her siblings, his staff, and most especially him. Knew the way her face lit up when he won yet another television contest, and the way she hugged him for it. Knew how her hair smelled when he sank into bed exhausted at one in the morning. He didn’t know what to do when he came home from a consulting trip to find she’d disappeared to remote South Pacific island: I just needed to get away for a little while. A week or two. I’ll call you.
As the whole solid world under his feet turned into a sandcastle in the tide, Daniel knew only one thing: whatever was wrong with his marriage or his wife, he wasn’t losing her. So as a top chef, he did the one thing he always knew how to do: turn up the heat.