Q: Am I a good person because I watch ‘Chef’s Table’ or does watching ‘Chef’s Table’ make me a good person?
Have you watched Netflix’s new “Chef’s Table: France” miniseries? It’s four episodes — the usual show, created by “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” documentarian David Gelb, runs six a season — and it takes place (as the title may suggest) in France, and it’s gorgeous. Jaw-droppingly stunning, beautifully shot, wonderfully scored and otherwise everything we’ve come to expect from “Chef’s Table,” one of the best-produced shows on television (well, Netflix, of course).
But you haven’t watched the “Chef’s Table: France” miniseries, have you? Are you even caught up on all the old episodes of “Chef’s Table”? In the landscape of prestige dramas and prestige comedy and prestige dramedy and prestige true crime, there’s little-to-no urgency to grab your remote and settle in for 45 minutes of pure culinary bliss, set to only the more memorable Mozart symphonies — is there?
I love “Chef’s Table” with all of my heart because it’s the exact opposite of must-see TV. There’s no urgency. No one’s going to die or change or grow or get recast. I know that’s the nature of documentary television –– especially food documentary television –– but it’s still a welcome release from the seemingly never-ending cliffhangers of other shows.
I have a fond memory of Saturday afternoons when I was a kid, and my parents would mindlessly watch cooking shows on PBS. I couldn’t tell you the names of any of these chefs or any of what they made, but it was the type of calm, soft-spoken television that brought us all together in one room. It tempered our anxiety, even occasionally putting me to sleep: “Chef’s Table” is a perpetual Saturday afternoon. It’s 4 p.m., inching towards dinner: Time to lie down and watch something soothing before the evening takes hold.
If you’ve never seen it, I’ll tell you this much: you don’t have to watch it, but you also do have to watch it. Each episode is an in-depth look at a chef and his restaurant, usually touting at least one Michelin star (I’ve watched 16 of these things and still have no gauge whatsoever on what that means or how you get them).
It doesn’t comfort in the same way as “Nigella” or “Great British Bakeoff,” it doesn’t look like any other TV show, it barely looks like the movies: “Chef’s Table” is a slow-motion paradise. It has the moral complexity of an iTunes visualizer. Here are the stories in the new miniseries:
- French chef worries he’ll lose a Michelin star if he starts cooking vegetables (it turns out fine)
- French chef lives in a region with a lot of seafood (it turns out fine)
- French chef collaborates with her husband to make French and Chinese cuisine (it turns out fine)
- Three generations of French chefs work at the eighth best restaurant in the world (congrats!)
I don’t need “Chef’s Table” to be narratively complex. I need it to show me an eel getting cut in half.
It would be nice if you watched “Chef’s Table,” because the world would honestly be nicer in general if everyone watched “Chef’s Table.” It’s a reset. It’s soul-charging. It’s meditative and grounding. In part, it’s almost for the best that I watch in solitude –– there’s nothing to tweet or text about, so you can just let it be. You quietly sit with every chop, simmer, and broil: You watch people being good at their jobs.
There is a place for this: I’m not necessarily watching “Chef’s Table” out of urgency, I am watching because it makes me feel good. It sounds good, it looks good, it makes me believe I am better than myself, and I wish I was saying that with even a bit of iron.
It makes me believe I could bake an incredible apple pie, or sew a duck and a chicken together.
It makes me believe that I could make vegetables –– vegetables! –– taste good.
It momentarily takes us out of the mundane hassle of life — and not into some grand dramatic opera of antiheroes and their foibles, but into a world where food and art is all around us, if you know how to look for it. And if you don’t, quite yet, there’s this show that can do it for you.
“Chef’s Table” Seasons 1 & 2 are available now on Netflix US.