It's a warm lazy Saturday afternoon, and there's a rather intimidating red carpet rolled out before the SVA Theatre in New York City. Clearly, it's Tribeca Film Fest season. I'm in jeans and something a little more stylish than a Windbreaker (but not by much), and Mario Batali is donning his signature orange Crocs a few steps ahead of me. Everyone from fancy-suited producers and famous chefs to the general public and lone reporters are all here for the same thing: a glimpse at the second season of Chef's Table before it's available for binge-watching on Netflix on May 27.
This follow-up includes a pretty dazzling cast, from D.O.M.'s Alex Atala to Dominique Crenn of Atelier Crenn in San Francisco. Today, though, is Grant Achatz's day, and the lights dim promptly for the 3:30 p.m. showing.
"Rules. There are no rules," Achatz, the mastermind behind Alinea in Chicago, says in the first few minutes of the episode. "Do whatever you want."
It's the perfect beginning to the series, a 180-degree rebellion against the chaotic reality cooking shows that dominate cable and over-the-top food porntastic images that fill our feeds these days. Director David Gelb made his name in focusing on something entirely different, something that burns a little slower, goes deeper and gets a little messier. ("We don't like to call it food porn," Gelb says in a post-viewing panel. "We like to call it food romance.") First there was Jiro Dreams of Sushi and one man's search for perfection, plump grains of rice that yield and collapse as a 90-year-old chef sets each perfect bundle of sushi down. And now it's Achatz, a chef well documented from his meteoric rise with the mind-bending Alinea to his fight against tongue cancer and the battle to regain his sense of taste.
All these things are covered in this episode, which is a bit disappointing if you're a lurker and already familiar with Achatz's story. You don't really learn too much about the chef, but you get to know him better and more intimately, if that makes sense.
"One of the hardest things for a chef to do is define what they do," Achatz says during the panel.
Chef's Table captures that, from scribbles on the walls of his office as Achatz conjures up new dishes, like food that floats, to Alinea co-owner Nick Kokonas recounting how they coped with the initial news of Achatz's cancer (hint: booze). You get both the whimsy and artistry, as well as the nitty-gritty, of being a chef, the result of nearly 14 hours of interviews conducted by executive producer Brian McGinn.
It's a beautifully made, and though familiar, still haunting taste of what's to come with the full season of Chef's Table and, even better in this age of subpar seconds (ahem, True Detective and Serial), just what you expect from the team.
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