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Netflix’s ‘A Tale of Two Kitchens’ Is a Loving Ode to Restaurant Workers

Streaming recommendations for the weekend and a roundup of the week’s food-related entertainment news

This post originally appeared on May 24, 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 to Friday afternoon. Whether you’ve got an action-packed Memorial Day Weekend ahead of you or absolutely nothing on the books, I hope you manage to carve out time to watch some TV over the next few days. I’ve got recommendations for three things to watch: an inspiring documentary, a fun cooking show, and a collection of excellent late night comedy bits. Here’s what to put in your queue this weekend:

A new kind of Netflix food documentary

A Tale of Two Kitchens/Netflix

In a refreshing break from the culinary documentary trends of the day, Trisha Ziff’s new Netflix short film A Tale of Two Kitchens looks at how people who are not virtuosic genius-chefs find personal and professional growth in the restaurant industry. There’s no yelling in this documentary or temper tantrums or storylines about sacrificing family life (and/or personal/mental health) for the sake of cooking one perfect bite. What you do find here are stories from a dozen or so chefs, waiters, bartenders, and bussers who love working in restaurants.

Both restaurants in the documentary — Cala in San Francisco and Contramar in Mexico City — are owned and operated by Gabriela Cámara, an acclaimed Mexican chef who’s also currently planning a Los Angeles project with Sqirl’s Jessica Koslow. Although she has a few memorable moments on camera, Cámara’s really only in the film for a few minutes, and the majority of the running time is devoted to stories from her staff.

At Contramar, a restaurant that aims to bring a taste of the beach to Mexico City, many of the employees have been working there for a decade or more. A young man named Leonardo Flores grew up learning about the restaurant from his father, an assistant manager named Ulises, and now works alongside him at Contramar a busser. “It’s something very important to me,” Leonardo says. “I fulfilled a dream.”

Cala, meanwhile, is much younger than its Mexico City sibling, but the staff there is just as tight. In a move that is depressingly rare for San Francisco restaurants, Cámara and her team are adamant about offering opportunities to formerly incarcerated individuals. “They actually care about the people who work there,” says Orlando Castillo, a bartender with a prior felony conviction. Johnny Robles, another bartender who spent 30 years in prison before applying for a job at Cala, says that “it was refreshing and relieving at the same time that they didn’t hold that against me or judge me.”

These personal accounts are intercut with scenes of the staff interacting with customers and preparing dazzling Mexican food.

Contramar’s kitchen crew
A Tale of Two Kitchens/Netflix

Although the film never makes any overt political callouts, it’s hard to hear these stories and watch the scenes of the bustling dining rooms and not think about America’s fraught relationship with Mexico right now. “There’s a fascination with Mexico and its thousand-year-old gastronomic traditions they yearn for,” Cámara says early in the film. “On the other hand, we have a culture that deeply despises Mexicans. And at the same time, Mexican food is almost a staple food for Americans, specifically in California, and the states that used to be part of Mexico.”

Since the film only features people from the restaurants talking about their experiences, A Tale of Two Kitchens does feel, at times, like a very well-crafted PR reel. I personally would have loved to have heard some context from restaurant experts or other members of the culinary community about where Contramar and Cala fit in the greater dining scene. But taken at face value, it’s still an engrossing and inspiring look at how restaurants can become second homes for the people who work in them.

A Tale of Two Kitchens is now streaming on Netflix.


Streaming selections du jour

Michael Voltaggio and Guy Fieri stick their forks in a dish on a table as Michael Mina and Alex Guarnaschelli look on.
Guy’s Ranch Kitchen
Guy’s Ranch Kitchen/Amazon Prime

Guy’s Ranch Kitchen, “Mediterranean Mashup”

Watch it on: Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play
The gist: If you’re gearing up for any ambitious cooking and/or entertaining this Memorial Day Weekend, let the Mayor of Flavortown be your guide. Fieri is in full-on boss mode in this episode of his new Food Network show, delegating most of the hard work to his famous friends while cracking jokes in between bites of their dishes in progress. Guy invites Alex Guarnaschelli, Michael Mina, and Michael Voltaggio over to his Kulinary Kompound for a Mediterranean-ish feast of brick chicken, braised lamb, roasted eggplant, spiced chickpeas, and sausage-stuffed squid. Voltaggio proves to be the MVP of the group thanks to the surprise addition of a “Rebujito” cocktail made with sherry, Cava, and frozen watermelon cubes.

In other Guy news, the Platinum Prince was just honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame this week. At the ceremony, Fieri’s best bud Matthew McConaughey told his pal “In a business where you can be anyone you want to be, you’ve been you the whole time.”

Conan, “The Remotes”

Watch it on: Team Coco
The gist: Conan O’Brien is undergoing a career renaissance, of sorts, right now thanks to the debut of his shockingly great podcast (seriously, check out the Bill Hader or Michelle Obama episodes) and also the introduction of a shorter, punchier version of his late night show. As part of this rebranding, the comedian also put his most popular out-of-studio segments — AKA “The Remotes” — into a searchable online database. Now, for the first time ever, fans can watch classic segments like “Conan Goes Apple Picking With Mr. T,” “Conan Goes to Bartending School,” and “Conan Visits the Set of Martha Stewart Living” online. The Conan 25 website also includes a special section devoted to the hilarious segments featuring the host and his Italian food-obsessed associate producer Jordan Schlansky.


In other entertainment news…

Have a great long weekend everyone, and if you’re interested in receiving more tips and recommendations from Eater editors, please sign up for our new bi-weekly newsletter The Move.

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