“This may be the moment when cuisine reinvents itself as an art movement.” (Karen Leibowitz)
You may have heard of David Gelb’s documentary series ‘Chef’s Table’. David Gelb, you know, the guy, who blew our minds and made us crave sushi forever with his beautiful 2011 documentary ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’. Each episode of ‘Chef’s Table’, of which there are currently twelve, focuses on a different chef in a different part of the world. Approximately 50 minutes deal with their unique approach to cooking and their personal journey – the obstacles they had to overcome, the moments, which defined them as chefs, funny anecdotes they remember. Approaches to cooking may range from Dominique Crenn’s “I’m not serving a menu, I’m serving a story” to Dan Barber “whose goal is to do more than just feed people a delicious dinner in his restaurant, but who wants to change his community and ultimately the world” (Ruth Reichl).
I suppose ‘Chef’s Table’ is essentially meant to be a medium for profiling extraordinary chefs. The show is “less concerned with the mechanics of cooking or the heat of the kitchen than it is with the chefs themselves” (Emily Buder, Indiewire).
Although the philosophies and personal stories shared by these culinary wonders are fascinating, I have to admit that I am almost more mesmerised by what is shown than by what is said. With its stunning visuals and editing, accompanied by powerful score, ‘Chef’s Table’ perfectly captures the magic of cooking. It’s cool elegance. It’s warm embrace. It’s calming qualities.
With some cooks, like Grant Achatz, the food has been intricately prepared and modified to the stage of an abstract art form. With other cooks, like Argentine chef Francis Mallmann, the dishes look simple and native. And even though these two chefs are portrayed to be on two ends of a spectrum, the preparation of their food is equally captivating.
You can almost smell Grant Achatz’ “Tropical Fruit Plate”. You can almost feel the heat from Francis Mallmann’s fire, as he roasts homegrown potatoes and fresh meat.
When I watched the first season of ‘Chef’s Table’ I loved it. (My favourite episode from that season is almost certainly the one about Argentine chef Francis Mallmann, who barbecues food using an open-fire cooking style on his remote island in the Patagonian region.) But it wasn’t until the second season that I came to truly appreciate the music. The shows’ score not only accompanies the beautiful imagery but it accentuates certain frames and movements – I sometimes feel like the score tells the story more than any of the spoken words do. I noticed that especially in the first episode of the second season – the episode about Illinois chef Grant Achatz. When him and his executive chef lay out a dessert on a tablecloth, the score becomes more dramatic as the liquid chocolate and tropical food is carefully laid out, and eventually this scene culminates in a baiser being smashed with a spoon. I thought this sequence perfectly illustrated how music and imagery work together in this series to create a unique experience.
Everytime I watch ‘Chef’s Table’, something connects. Do I aspire to cook like these chefs do? I would never. Do they inspire me? Most certainly. The images, the music and, yes, to an extent, the personal stories, merge into something that goes deeper than the ordinary cooking show.
Unlike many other TV series, you cannot watch ‘Chef’s Table’ while being preoccupied with any other activity. The only way to really enjoy it is to sit there, immerse yourself fully and to enjoy every last frame. Because every last frame should be given its due credit.
Here are the trailers for Season 1 & 2. You’re welcome. Now get hooked.