an image of food on a table from the Netflix series Chef's Table
Yeah, that table…

Around this time of the afternoon, I should have finished an episode of Chef’s Table, and I should be writing up your guide. Let’s just say we all need a break once in a while, especially when it comes to a lengthy TV show. I did think I’d take a moment to reflect on the joys and frustrations of Chef’s Table while I was on that break, though. So here we are.

Great things about Chef’s Table

Chef’s Table, when you first start watching, is a delight. It’s every foodie’s dream TV series (okay, Netflix series). You get to meet wonderful chefs, watching them cook wonderful foods, marvel in other languages and other worlds. From a cultural standpoint, it’s a beautiful show. It ties together two of the most intrinsic aspects of culture, in my eyes: food and language.

I have a slightly different experience than most when it comes to watching Chef’s Table because I started watching it backwards. That is, I watched Volume 6 first, and went down from there. I’d read a couple articles online that said things along the line of “the concept is overdone at this point,” but I loved Volume 6.

Now, midway through Volume 2, I’m running out of steam. The concept indeed feels overdone.

The Saving Grace

Luckily, I have only ten episodes to go before I reach the end. And I’m sure I’ll make it. Some episodes, here and there, still thrill me. I loved yesterday’s episode, featuring chef Dominique Crenn. I have a suspicion in the back of my mind that I enjoyed it in part because she’s really attractive. I mean, really attractive. Ditto to the episode about Alex Atala. So we’ve had a couple good episodes now.

But a few are real drags. Man, I did not like the one about the cancer survivor chef, even though he was a cancer survivor. That was the most noteworthy part of his story, yet they didn’t lead the episode with it. Nor did I particularly like the episode about the American who fell in love with Japanese cuisine (and two Japanese women in the process).

An episode is at its best when it features a really intelligent, really talented chef. Bonus points if that chef happens to be attractive. I may sound petty, but I’m being honest — you have to watch the person for 45 minutes, so they better not hurt your eyes. Not very many hurt my eyes, so it’s pretty much a bonus if they’re easy on the eyes.

How the show starts to get old

You notice it around three or four volumes in.

There are these chef archetypes. There’s the guy or girl who wants to revive the food of his or her country. Great. The first time I heard it, I was all, “Rah, rah, Turkey!” or “Rah, rah, Mexico!” My enthusiasm faded from there. Which isn’t fair, but it feels as if I’m hearing the same story over and over again. Only the location has changed.

Another archetype: the tough guy who became a chef. Or the asshole who became a chef. Or the really super charismatic, super intelligent, well-rounded, multi-dimensional chef. At this point, there have only been a few episodes which I would call really unique. The one about Christina Tosi actually stands out in my mind, since she does something no one else has — recreated junk food. I liked the episode on Vladimir Mukhin because he was cool and also because his story was a slightly different, more deeply historical take on the whole “resurrect the traditional food” story.

Successful professional chefs are similar. Really similar.

I don’t want to discourage anyone from trying to become a professional chef, but you might have to be cut out for the job. These people are too similar for me not to take notice. Most of them are the type of person who gets an idea in their head and pursues it, tirelessly, stubbornly. They persist. They’re really hard workers. They’re creative.

I have a lot of the same personality traits as many of these chefs, which at first had me reveling at how similar I was to some of them. But it’s gotten old, like everything else. I don’t really care anymore whether I relate to these chefs or not. I care a little bit about seeing their food, but I’ve become pretty numb to beautiful food at this point. I’m not eating it. I’m only looking.

But I’ll defend Chef’s Table, because I think the concept is a good one. It might be a little strung out at this point, though, and part of me hopes there will be no Volume 7. And I’m very much looking forward to moving on to some true crime — next up in my Netflix series extravaganza is The Staircase, which I’ve already watched two times. It’s the kind of thing that, for me, doesn’t get old.

By the way — one last thing — did you know that the creator of Chef’s Table, David Gelb, also directed the great movie Jiro Dreams of Sushi?

(If you haven’t watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi, go watch it. Now.) And you can find all installments in my Chef’s Table guide on the Chef’s Table Guide homepage.

Start a conversation in the comments.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Chef’s Table or on my writing about Chef’s Table. Agree with me. Or disagree with me. Air your grievances about Chef’s Table, or tell me about your favorite episode.

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