When exactly did cooking become so cool? Perhaps it was around 2000, when Mr Anthony Bourdain’s riotous memoir Kitchen Confidential demonstrated (with plenty of sex and drugs) that chefs could be rock stars too. At that time, there were many others who seemed to fit the mould. From Mr Marco Pierre White to Mr Gordon Ramsay, they were loud, charismatic, and – from certain angles – rather attractive. And they were also in fierce competition. The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, established two years later, provided a league table for top restaurants, and another reason, as well as keen-eyed Michelin inspectors, to attain “perfection”.
Arguably, though, there’s been another recent high point, namely the 2015 launch of Netflix’s Chef’s Table series. Created by director and screenwriter Mr David Gelb – also behind the award-winning documentary Jiro Dreams Of Sushi – the first series was released in the spring of 2015. It seemed to suggest that the best, most interesting restaurants and chefs were to be found not in various tired reality TV formats (though, we admit it, we still watch Kitchen Nightmares now and then), but in far flung, under-the-radar locations. From northern Sweden, to rural Argentina, we were transported via six films made with incredibly high production values – all saturated colours and lingering shots – to enjoy the food and, crucially, the story behind it, as art and cinema.
This is a format – extreme craftsmanship, stunning backdrops, delicious food – that is clearly not going to get old any time soon, the testimony to that fact being the third series of Chef’s Table, which launches today on Netflix. How do they nail it every time? “We approach it as if we’re shooting a scripted film,” says Mr Gelb. “Our cameras and lenses are all of the highest possible quality. We shoot at daring lens settings, risking things being out of focus to get a more dramatic effect.” Such techniques are inspired not by the past canon of food television, but by cinematic documentaries, says Mr Gelb, such as the BBC’s wildlife series Planet Earth. “If the food is going to be beautiful and artistically presented, then the filming should mirror that,” he continues. “We do about two weeks of filming for each chef. We’re shooting 10-12 hour days. The restaurant runs while we film. Nothing is staged.”