Full disclosure: I’ve watched Chef’s Table before, and it’s one of my absolute favorite shows. The cinematography is astonishingly gorgeous, and the stories and intentions that the chefs use to create their art is inspiring. The soundtrack of some of the episodes is also noteworthy – the show uses selections from Max Richter’s re-orchestration of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to elevate some of the silent food and cooking montages to artistic perfection.
When I rewatch this show, it’s striking to me how often the theme of sustainable ingredients comes up. For some such as Dan Barber, it’s more ecologically driven. But other chefs emphasize the quality of locally-grown, individually beautiful ingredients as a key part of their cooking, even without the global effects. Both of these schools of thought have two things in common: absolute respect for one’s ingredients and a connection to one’s surroundings. This is similar to how Pollan notes the importance of diets that vary by region and the benefits of whole ingredients as supposed to chemically-synthesized foods.
For me, one of the most intriguing things about the chefs on this show is how they communicate their life stories through their cooking. It seems that Niki Nakayama is a perfect example of the effects that patriarchal societies, both Asian and Western, can have on an ambitious woman. However, Nakayama does not allow these detriments to slow her down. On the contrary, she uses the determination that she has gained from these experiences to create another language with her food. She allows her food and ambitious hospitality practices to speak for her strength and creativity. Francis Mallman uses his cooking to communicate his appreciation for Patagonia while showing how he has managed to escape from the confines of traditional French cuisine – and therefore attain his own personal freedoms. This use of food as a tool for communication and as an alternate form of language is also present in Pollan’s Cooked, when he emphasizes the social significance of home cooking and the history of food traditions.
The most striking aspect of Chef’s Table is the absolute passion and ambition of the individual chefs, and the emotion that transfers into their craft. There is an otherworldly aura that comes with being the best in one’s craft that some interpret as arrogance, but I’m not sure that this the case with these chefs. The amount of dedication that these individuals have is remarkable and enviable.