Chef’s Table: Food Documentary as Art

Patagonian Pit CookingMoss. Broken tart. Pickled carrots. Buttery beef from a dairy cow.

Chef’s Table, a new documentary series featured on and created by Netflix, is a thoughtful, cinematic tasting course which gives center stage to six innovative chefs from around the world. It does not promote culinary genius as a solo endeavor, however; spouses, lovers, family members, apprentices, and kitchen staff all share their considerable insights.

Chef’s Table is a contemplative, connected piece of work, which is surprisingly profound.

These artful bio-docs could arguably be shown alongside other feature-length, award-winning documentaries and be no worse for wear. In fact, I contend they’d stand up extremely well.

Each hour-long installment shines the spotlight on a chosen chef and her or his accomplishments. But beyond this is presented a veritable synesthesia of experiences: scallops are seared by the flaming staccato notes of violins—a symphonic love story directs the creation of avant-garde yet heartfelt cuisine—the silent texture as mushrooms are scraped from tree bark—a guitar piercing the flesh of river trout.

Milk Pudding with WoodruffThese are moments of sheer purity, in its most stark and beautiful sense, and they happen often over the course of the six episodes of Chef’s Table. Not only for gourmands, travel and cultural history aficionados will find much to enjoy here, as will observers of human nature and lovers of pristine natural vistas.

  1. Massimo Bottura (Modena)
  2. Dan Barber (New York, Berkshires)
  3. Francis Mallmann (Patagonia, Buenos Aires)
  4. Niki Nakayama (Los Angeles)
  5. Ben Shewry (New Zealand)
  6. Magnus Nilsson (Sweden)

Originally slated to offer only on-demand viewings of the already created, streaming services like Netflix are quickly becoming the place to find new masterful dramas and engaging comedy series. And with stunning achievements such as Chef’s Table added to the lineup, it seems documentaries have a new champion as well.

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