In the newest installment of Netflix’s food documentary, “Chef’s Table,” Director David Gelb showcases four dynamic chefs who celebrate the traditional food they grew up with while pushing the boundaries of what those dishes mean in the modern culinary world. With its vibrant and raw cinematography, mouthwatering close-ups and inspirational stories, “Chef’s Table” continues to draw in its viewers and stimulate ways to think intentionally about our food.
This newest season has four episodes and comes a long way from the fascinating but unoriginal features on white, male chefs in its first installment. For the last two seasons, “Chef’s Table” focused on amplifying diverse voices of chefs, including women and people of color. It also aimed to establish a more personal connection with the audience.
Season six furthers the show’s renewed mission by sharing what these chefs have to say about their recipes. It is both entertaining and thought-provoking to hear the personal details behind a dish. Even in the show’s intro, viewers can see how this season differs from the rest. It ends with a shot of people sitting at the table sharing food and enjoying one another’s company, rather than focusing on the aesthetics of the food.
The season is bookended by the stories of chefs Mashama Bailey and Sean Brock, two chefs who have both redefined Southern food culture while emphasizing the important emotional connection between a chef and their craft. Their two episodes reaffirm that even within the same cuisine, any individual chef offers a completely distinct narrative in terms of relating to their food on a personal level.
Chef Bailey, a black female chef from Savannah, Ga., stands out as the highlight of the season with her warm yet pensive connection to food. Through her Savannah restaurant The Grey, a once-segregated Greyhound bus station, Bailey combines her French classical training with the dishes of her childhood to create Southern food that is inventive while also nostalgically familiar.
Her self-proclaimed transformation from a “young girl to a grown culinary force” proves the most powerful part of the episode and arguably the entire season. Throughout Bailey’s own interviews, as well as those with her closest loved ones, viewers witness Bailey reclaim what it means to be a black Southern chef in a way that highlights the manifestations of racism and sexism present in cooking and the restaurant industry.
Although Charleston, S.C.-based chef Brock uses his restaurants and tremendous culinary talent to return to the rich history of Southern ingredients like Bailey, Brock’s episode feels like an action movie with shots of fire and harrowing stories of addiction and depression.
At first, Brock’s story seems all too familiar. He seems to be the classic workaholic chef that we associate with the culinary industry. However, he reveals a thoughtfulness that is incredibly compelling to watch by returning to the roots of Southern ingredients like 4,000-year-old Carolina Gold rice and Jimmy Red corn.
Brock attempts to stay true to the land and ingredients that Southern cooking has developed from. He believes that cooking should be more about sharing a story worth telling rather than performing the theatrics often seen in fine dining.
Similarly, the fun-loving Italian butcher Dario Cecchini is surprisingly heartfelt in his sincere commitment to meat. In a very strange and often comical way, Dario tells the story of his rise in the culinary world, going from an aspiring veterinarian to one of Italy’s most famous butchers.
He brings together the two roles by demonstrating that it is possible to respect the gift of an animal’s life, valuing and celebrating each part even after its death.
Although Dario’s episode is a bit graphic in its unapologetic close-ups of meat and blood, it is surprisingly uplifting in its echo of the season’s theme of thinking intentionally about our food.
In the season’s fourth episode, Gelb showcases Indian chef Asma Khan, whose passionate and charismatic demeanor brings vibrancy to the show. Even though Khan somewhat fits the mold of the sometimes grandiose chef, her intensity feels refreshing rather than tired. Like the other chefs of the season, Khan continues to challenge what cooking and fine dining look like. With her all-female team of South Asian immigrants, she combines her delicious Indian home cooking with a passion to share her food and her story with others.
Throughout each story, season six of “Chef’s Table” is humanizing and humbling in its approach to the roots of food, both in the ground and in the cultural impact of the way we share it with others. Once again, the series has succeeded in capturing the attention of its audience by featuring engrossing, inspiring chefs who transform food into a personal, complex part of every person’s identity.