I have always loved looking into other people’s refrigerators. I’m not necessarily a snoop by nature, but there’s something undeniably intimate about peering into the cold chasm of character that is the collection of foods one keeps in their home.
Is there something you can glean about one who keeps a fully stocked and labeled cornucopia of meals ready to be consumed at any time? Or a near empty chilled vessel filled only with energy drinks and old take out containers? What does it say about someone who has more than eight varieties of hot sauce, or several half finished bottles of the same brand of mustard? Like a palm reader or special detective, there is a whole lot you can learn not just where a person lives, but also how they live just from the meals they ingest.
From cultural practice to political statement, anyway you slice it — food is personal. Season two of Chef’s Table premieres May 27th only on Netflix with the personal stories of six chefs and their journeys around food. With stunning visuals and candid moments, Chef’s Table serves up a series dripping with beauty, rich with history, and with a pinch of the philosophical.
Putting the “Art” in Culinary Arts
Modernism finds it definitions in the early 19th to late 20th centuries with a pervasive and indelible effect on the Western world and beyond. For these six chefs, there’s an undeniable link in the way they think about food is the way they think about art. With the central tenants of reprise, incorporation, rewriting, recapitulation, revision, and parody, they’ve all dipped their brushes in the well of modernist tradition.
Grant Achatz is the mind behind the culinary juggernaut Alinea, the restaurant named for a symbol indicating a new line of thinking. The modernist Ezra Pound’s infamous “Make it New!” resonates with Achatz’s rethinking of the dining experience. From scented pillows to sugar balloons, Achatz takes his place as the veritable Willy Wonka of fine dining. His ironic cancer diagnosis would have some in the same situation delve into a depression, but Grant Achatz has dedicated his life to the pursuit of thinking differently.
Dominique Crenn, originally from France made a name for herself in San Francisco with Atelier Crenn, named not after herself but her beloved father. The first — and only — female chef to earn two of those oh so coveted Michelin stars (and yes, it is the same folks who brought you the rotund tire hawking Michelin Man). The experience of her food begins with a poem indicating the fanciful food to come. The language of this script, like the food, is entrenched in memory and beholden to nature — something Walt Whitman might have relished in.
Ana Ros, like Crenn, never attended culinary school. Originally headed towards a diplomatic career in her home country Slovenia, Ros risked it all — even withstanding the cold shoulder from her parents — to follow her passion. Love, above all, is the driving force behind the creation of composed dishes Hans Hoffman may have loved to dissect. Ros may have never found her place as a diplomat for a country many of us would not be able to find on a map (it’s sandwiched between Croatia and Austria), but her food is a representation of her culture that is becoming increasingly recognized by the international community.
Gaggan Anand has his own tide to swim against when it comes to the perception of Indian cuisine. Finding himself in Thailand with his restaurant Gaggan, Anand’s Pink Floyd inspiration has him taking the multitude of influences from his country to articulate a plethora of flavour and traditions into the modern day. Glistening pods of “exploding yogurt” set on simple metal spoons, which Samuel Beckett would nod with approval at, “Like my urns”, he might say.
Anand isn’t the only chef with musical inspiration feeding his culinary exploration. Alex Atala is an existential Brazilian Renaissance man with deep roots in punk rock. Foraging the Amazon for the newest ingredient, Atala is just as incensed with his home country as he is with the quest for the meaning of life. The circle, a geometric shape, serves as his spiritual guide, and like Cézanne, uses the simplicity of form to create a foundation for not only his plates — but also his worldview.
Enrique Olvera balances family and work with his tributes to Mexican food in his native Mexico City. Entrenching himself in the local foods in a quest to find what exactly it is that makes the taco great, Olvera, like David Alfaro Siqueiros (although not nearly as political) endears himself to what it means to be Mexican. His aged moles — like a fine wine is to the French — creates an aura of tradition and universality.
A Seat At The Table
What is the allure of watching world-renowned chefs make dishes at restaurants many of us can only dream of affording? There is something to the old adage that one eats with their eyes first, and series creator David Gelb and his team ensures the cinematography and direction of each segment brings us a buffet for the eyes.
It’s not just the food we are invited to enjoy. Each one of these chefs shares another similarity in their way of cooking: local. To enjoy A Chef’s Table is to travel around the world. From the streets of Chicago, the street vendors of Kolkata, to the rainforests of the Amazon, we are privy to one of the most basic and central aspects of human life: food.
There are no screaming egomaniacal white coats. Instead, if you are so inclined to pull up a seat and enjoy, there is a delectable treat of the artistic, human, and poetic nature of these individuals, their environments, philosophy, and creations.
Netflix’s Chef’s Table season two premieres this Friday May 27th, but don’t worry if you binge through the six part season. There is a “French Installment” scheduled for later this year, and another international series in 2017.