Monday 8 October 2018

Chef's Table Season 5: Gender-balance, Immigration & Traditional Cuisines

David Gelb's Netflix food documentary 'Chef's Table' has introduced the masses to some of the best restaurants and chefs in the world, allowing us all to get a glimpse into the high spheres of fine dining. The combination of melodramatic music, stunning cinematography and charismatic chefs has made it one of the most exciting food shows of the last few years and definitely one of my favourites to watch.

The first four seasons mainly highlighted Michelin-starred restaurants and establishments that are included in the World's 50 Best Restaurants list. So while it has been highly entertaining, it's sometimes lacked diversity and focused mainly on high end restaurants. 

David Gelb has taken a different angle for the fifth season of the series, one that makes it the most interesting season yet. First of all it's the first season to be gender-balanced with half the episodes concentrating on female chefs, who also happen to be from different ethnicities.

"It's a story of family, of separation and this is what I would like to change" says Cristina Martinez, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico and owner of South Philly Barbacoa. The first episode of the season is definitely the strongest, with the poignant story of Martinez having to run away from an abusive relationship and leave her home country for the U.S in the hopes of earning money to finance her daughter's education. Despite owning a successful business and being married to an American citizen, Martinez has remained undocumented and hasn't been able to return home for the last eight years. By cooking Barbacoa, a dish from where she's from, she finds a sense of home. She also became a voice for her community and many undocumented immigrants who work in the food industry in America. 

Episode 2 and 3 share the common theme of endangered traditional cuisine. Musa Dağdeviren is the chef and owner of Ciya in Istanbul, a restaurant showcasing regional Turkish dishes. Dağdeviren is on a mission to preserve his country's food culture by collecting as much oral food history as he can and passing on old recipes and food traditions to the next generation. Similarly, Bo Songvisava opened Bo.lan, her highly acclaimed restaurant in Bangkok dedicated to traditional Thai cuisine. Worried about the growing industrialisation of food she only uses organic local ingredients to achieve the most authentic Thai flavours. 

The final episode of the season is the untold story of Albert Adrià, the pastry chef and culinary director who worked in the shadow of his brother Ferran, at the legendary El Bulli in Catalonia in Spain.  'Shut up and work' is Adria's motto and while he stayed out of the spotlight his culinary genius has contributed to the stellar success of the restaurant that revolutionised modern gastronomy. Nowadays, Adria's runs his very own culinary empire in Barcelona.

I believe season five of Chef's Table is its most interesting yet. The fact that it's a little more diverse allows a different narrative and one that in a way is more representative of the culinary world. It's not just about the food but about its meaning and issues that revolve around it. 

*Pictures: Netflix