The Netflix Show All Foodies Should Stream Now
Mr Virgilio Martínez in his Peruvian kitchen. Photograph by Mr Rene Funk/Netflix
Why Chef’s Table season three is a feast for the eyes.
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.”
Dish by Mr Tim Raue. Photograph by Mr Tobias Koch/Netflix
Given there is certainly no dearth of great chefs and restaurants, how does he whittle it down to six per season? “Massimo Bottura once said something like ‘you can simply sautée some nice vegetables in butter and put a piece of meat on the plate and it will taste delicious – but what’s the idea behind it?’,” says Mr Gelb. What he means by that is that he’s looking for chefs “who have a story to tell in their food”.
It’s true that since its inception, Chef’s Table has been about philosophical, thoughtful chefs – a departure from the enfant terribles of Mr White and co, and an evolution in terms of what is considered interesting in the food industry. But this time, its creator admits, things are a bit more democratic. “We’re looking to include chefs that aren’t so elitist. We have a ramen chef, we have Nancy Silverton who has a pizzeria, and Jeong Kwan [a South Korean nun] doesn’t even have a restaurant.” Some of it, too, has more of a conscience this time round. “Another trend we wanted to show off is a move towards vegetables and vegetarian cuisine. They haven’t been heavily featured on fine dining menus until Alain Passard broke through that barrier, and we talk about that on Chef’s Table France. Not everyone is able to eat in Alain Passard’s restaurant but it inspires other young chefs to look at vegetables. It’s a necessary trend for health and sustainability.”
(L–R) Ms Jeong Kwan and Mr David Gelb in her Baekyangsa Temple kitchen. Photograph by Se young. Oh. /Netflix
To fully get to grips with the new series, we asked Mr Gelb to talk to us about the six chefs who star in it. Scroll down for the full run-down.
Ms Jeong Kwan
Baekyangsa Temple (South Korea)
“She is a Korean Buddhist nun in her 60s who doesn’t own a restaurant – she doesn’t even call herself a chef, and yet chefs like Eric Ripert say she is one of the greatest culinary minds in the world. She ferments things and only uses vegan ingredients – excluding garlic and onions because they inspire greed.”
Mr Tim Raue
Restaurant Tim Raue (Berlin, Germany)
“Tim is someone who acknowledges that he has a bombastic personality and he tries to be in total control, because when he was young he was a victim. It seems he is tough on his chefs but he’s kind to them when they’ve shown loyalty. He is responsible for invigorating the food scene in Berlin.”
Mr Vladimir Mukhin
White Rabbit (Moscow, Russia)
“He is the fifth generation in a long line of Russian chefs. Vladimir is mining Russian culinary history for interesting recipes and flavours which he can celebrate and make part of his fine dining. He uses various recipes originally meant for survival – moose lips for example – when every part of the animal was eaten.”
Mr Virgilio Martínez
Central (Lima, Peru)
“He’s very in tune with the environment of Peru. He travels around the country trying to source interesting ingredients and then he constructs dishes which respect the altitude where the ingredients are found. He’ll make dishes which represent specific environments in Peru.”
Mr Ivan Orkin
Ivan Ramen (New York, NY)
“He’s a talented chef from Long Island who was coasting through life. His wife died in a tragic incident so he moved to Japan and attempted to do the impossible – as a foreigner, climb to the top of the Japanese ramen game. He became one of the most celebrated ramen chefs in Japan and now has a wonderful ramen restaurant in NYC.”