Why you should watch Chef's Table on Netflix

Marcel Shamshoum discusses the underrated Netflix food documentary we should all be watching

Marcel Shamshoum
10th March 2021
Image: IMDB

White table cloths, perfectly placed cutlery, stunning dining rooms, an open kitchen with a line of chefs working on masterpieces of food, and in the background Vivaldi’s dramatic four seasons playing. The title sequence of Chef’s table is as theatrical, ambitious and mood lifting as it can be. This is my third time watching and I can’t seem to get enough. 

Chef’s Table is a food documentary series; initially aired on Netflix in 2015. Since then they have released 6 more seasons called volumes, in addition to Chef’s Table France and Chef’s Table BBQ. But what’s special about this series is that unlike most food shows on TV, the chefs in the series are not celebrity chefs, some of them are not even famous. These chefs aren’t trained to be in front of the camera. They are trained to be in the kitchen to work day and night to achieve the highest rankings and awards in the industry: a Michelin star, an AA Rosette or being in the Top 50 Best Restaurants in the World . 

Image: Alain Passard on IMDB

What this show managed to do is to give the viewer an insight on the chef’s personal life and backstory. This, in my opinion, is key to make us appreciate the time and effort, as well as passion and genius put into making each and every dish. I want to emphasize on the word ‘genius’ here because what these chefs come up with is beyond our imagination. Alain Passard was the first chef featured in Chef’s table in France. He explains that one time he was in a ballet show and while there, he was inspired by the women and men dancing together gracefully; in this moment he thought “what if I took a duck and a chicken and made them dance?” And lo and behold the dish ‘chicken duck cooked in its hay’ was born. The dish is half a chicken sewn with half a duck, cooked in the oven on a bed of hay. Now, who would’ve thought of this? No one! Except for these chefs. Alain Passard owns L’Arpege and currently holds 3 Michelin stars as well as being number 8 in the Worlds 50 Best Restaurants.    

Massimo Bottura is another example, the Italian chef owns Osteria Francescana which has 3 Michelin stars and was named The World’s Best Restaurant in 2016 and 2018. Massimo was the first episode in the first volume of the original series. Personally, I feel Massimo’s story speaks volumes for a number of reasons.
Firstly, in every dish he creates, he is trying to make you re- live a memory of his, associated with that dish. Food writer, Faith Willinger, describes that perfectly when she says, “one of the most important ingredients in [Massimo’s] cooking is memory.”
Secondly, he once was considered a traitor to Italian cuisine. His modern and unorthodox ideas were like an insult to Italy. Yet his visionary ideas with time became accepted by the people of Modena and definitely the world.
Thirdly, Massimo seems to be a very humble person based on his inspiring campaigns and contributions to food waste. In the episode, Massimo talks about the horrific outcome of the earthquake that hit Modena and destroyed nearly 36,000 wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano. He was able to rescue these 36,000 wheels through a campaign he ran: people from around the world would buy these wheels to make Risotto cacio e peppe, and by the end of this initiative all 36,000 wheels were sold. 

Image: Adeline Grattard on IMDB

Finally, this series highlights chefs that are authentic, that cook to please their customers and not Michelin inspectors and critics. They cook from the heart. This was showcased in Chef’s Table France volume 1 episode 3 about chef, Adeline Grattard. Adeline’s restaurant Yam’tcha is a Franco-Asian  fusion restaurant currently holding 1 Micheline star. However, what intrigues me about Adeline is that she never intended to get a star. She even says “We thought we’d just opened this watering hole, this bistro!” after getting her star. Francois Simon, one of France's harshest food critics wrote in his review about Adeline: ‘her food was delicate. Not a material softness, but softness of the soul’.  

In my opinion, people shouldn’t be eating food just for the sake of eating. Because behind every dish there is an inspiration, behind every chef is a story and behind every star there is the humble chef’s table. 

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