A Beautiful Meal: Chef’s Table

I was at the rehearsal dinner for a friend’s wedding in New York about a year and a half ago, having a conversation with a friend I hadn’t seen in over 10 years. One of first things he asked me was, “What are you watching on TV?” I usually hate this question. At that point in time I didn’t have internet at my apartment, and I was just coming off a year-long binge of documentaries I’d found at the library. I shared that with him and he replied, “Watch Chef’s Table. It’s amazing.”

I watched more than half of the episodes online that weekend, and my friend was right. It’s like nothing you’ve ever watched before. Chef’s Table is a simple title that forms the umbrella for a collection of complex stories about interesting people, the incredible food they make, and the ways their work has influenced the world. They made each episode with incredible care and attention to detail. The cinematography is stunning and thoughtful, and they composed shots with an awareness of the story that is being told. Sound is also an important element in each episode, from the classical strains that fill the introduction to the individual narration for each story.

The show drew me in with its beauty, and the fact that I am a little bit of a foodie/baking nerd. What keeps me coming back, season after season, are the stories. Each show is a masterfully told story, memorable and distinct. I like some episodes more than others, the same way that I like some people more than others. I can’t stand Tim Raue or Ivan Orkin’s episodes because I find them aggressive, abrasive, and self-important. That said, the mind of any chef can be very seductive. The show uses that to its advantage, layering insights with breathtaking scenery, lush images of restaurants and kitchens all over the world, and moving pictures of composed dishes.

I fell in love with Chef’s Table when I watched the episode about Grant Achatz. His personal story moved me, and so did the way he experiments with temperature, presentation, and texture in his food. This episode opened a window into his creative process and evolution that was powerful and poignant. Other favorite episodes include: Magnus Nilsson, a chef inventing in the wilds of Sweden, Dominique Cren, a chef poet in San Francisco, Nancy Silverton’s odyssey of bread, and Jordi Roca’s reinvention through pastry.

Netflix released Season 5 on September 28th. Share in the comments below if you have a favorite episode that you think I should watch first!

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