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For ‘Chef’s Table’ to Continue to Thrive, the Netflix Docuseries Needs to Evolve

Weekend streaming recommendations and a roundup of the week’s food pop culture news 

A dish from Sean Brock
Courtesy of Netflix

This post originally appeared on March 1, 2019, in “Eat, Drink, Watch” — the weekly newsletter for people who want to order takeout and watch TV. Browse the archives and subscribe now.

Welcome back to Friday afternoon. I hope you made it through the week in one piece. I’ve got notes on two things to watch this weekend — an acclaimed culinary profile series and a Donkey Sauce hootenanny — plus a roundup of the week’s entertainment news. Onto the TV shows:

Netflix’s Chef’s Table is at a turning point

Sean Brock
Courtesy of Netflix

After 34 episodes spread out across six and a half seasons, Chef’s Table still remains one of my favorite shows. And while I loved many moments in the new batch of episodes released last week, I think the series is now at a crucial turning point. If Chef’s Table wants to remain the gold standard of culinary documentary programs, creator David Gelb and his crew have some big decisions to make about the future of Netflix’s award-winning series.

The episodes focusing on Indian-born chef Asma Khan and Savannah superstar Mashama Bailey are the two clear standouts from Season 6. The former tells the story of how a home cook with no professional training opened one of London’s hottest restaurants, while the latter focuses on how a young chef attracted national acclaim by creating a style of cuisine all her own. Both of these stories are full of unexpected twists and turns, and easily rank among the best of the series so far.

In any other season, the episodes starring Italian butcher Dario Cecchini and Nashville chef Sean Brock might be standouts, but it’s hard to watch them now without thinking of all the other Chef’s Table sagas that they mirror. Cecchini’s tale of finding his culinary soul through reluctantly taking over his family’s business echoes the narratives of Corrado Assenza, Alexandre Couillon, and Michel Troisgros. The Sean Brock episode, meanwhile, tells the story of a chef who finds his voice by exploring the traditional flavors and techniques of his homeland — just like previous Chef’s Table stars Magnus Nilsson, Bo Songvisava, Ana Ros, and Massimo Bottura.

To be fair, the Bailey and Khan chapters have echoes of the “discovering yourself through your homeland’s cuisine” narrative, but they also cover new ground, notably by showing how Khan created an “oasis for women” in her kitchen, and how Bailey reckoned with Savannah’s segregated past with the opening of her restaurant, the Grey.

Aside from repeating familiar themes, I also wish that the Brock and Cecchini chapters dug deeper into the parts of their pasts that have yet to be covered in countless other profiles. The section of Sean Brock’s episode about getting sick, finding sobriety, and reorienting his life around self-care takes up approximately 15 minutes of a nearly hour-long episode. Especially considering all the conversations people are having right now about mental health in the kitchen, I wish the Chef’s Table team would have devoted more time — or even an entire episode! — to this part of Brock’s life story. Also, perplexingly, the episode does not address his departure from the restaurant group that made him a star, and his plans to open an Appalachian restaurant in Nashville.

Around this time last year, Chef’s Table faced some criticism from publications (including this one) for covering so many white, male chefs. After listening to the feedback and joining the conversation, the show’s creators began including more women and people of color — and the series is all the better for it. In that spirit of evolution, I hope that Gelb and Co. continue to switch the style up, and focus on even more stories that have have yet to be told in that unique Chef’s Table style.

All four episodes of Chef’s Table Season 6 are now available on Netflix.

Streaming recommendation du jour

Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, “Sandwich Showcase”

Watch it on: Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes

The gist: When Guy Fieri and his cherry red Camaro come to town, news of their arrival spreads quickly. Last December, Eater Austin’s tipline was flooded with reports that the Platinum Prince himself was dining at a number of area hot spots. And now, two of Guy’s meals from that trip are part of a new, particularly entertaining installment of Triple D.

At all-day brunch restaurant Holy Roller, the Mayor of Flavortown samples a meatloaf sandwich made by chef/owner Callie Spier, plus a kooky, biscuit-based riff on the Monte Cristo called the Monte Bisco that prompts our hero to proclaim, “That is like a beacon of funk!” Later in the episode, the Kulinary Gangsta visits barbecue restaurant Slab where he tries a sandwich from chef Mark Avalos called the “McDowell’s” that’s equally inspired by the McRib and the movie Coming to America. After taking one bite, our hero remarks, “The angels in Flavortown are crying.” And to finish out this sandwich showdown, Guy and his teenage son Ryder go to Pasco, Washington for lunch at Vinnie’s. At this bakery/cafe, the restaurant’s owner, a fourth-generation baker named Vinicio Marin, makes Cuban sandwiches from scratch. “We’re about as far from Miami and Cuba as you can find,” Guy says after taking one bite, “but that sandwich tastes like South Beach, baby.”

It’s really kind of amazing that after 31 seasons of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, Guy doesn’t seem even the least bit tired of his job yet.

In other entertainment news…

Have a great weekend everyone, and if you’re looking for some snacks to make while marathon-watching Chef’s Table, perhaps consider Asma Khan’s recipes for chicken drumsticks and potatoes with cashew nuts.