If you've ever rolled your eyes at someone calling a meal a "dining experience," Chef's Table probably isn't for you.
Netflix's documentary series — which debuted its six-episode second season on May 27 — isn't interested in exposing gritty underbellies or shady characters. It just wants to show you some beautiful food cooked by the world's most lauded chefs, and has saved you a seat at restaurants where only a tiny fraction of the world will ever dine.
Netflix is home to many other fascinating food-based docuseries, like Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown, David Chang's Mind of a Chef, and, most recently, Michael Pollan's Cooked. But none of them embrace sheer opulence quite like Chef's Table does when profiling its elite subjects (who each get their own episode). Where Bourdain and company generally try to make cuisines from around the world feel more accessible, Chef's Table peels back the velvet curtain just long enough to make you salivate before letting it swing back into place.
Chef's Table is the most pretentious show I've ever seen, and I love it so, so much.
The series luxuriates in the world of tasting menus and molecular gastronomy, Michelin stars and James Beard Awards. If you watch too much of it at once, you're likely to end up rolling your eyes as a critic waxes poetic about the best potato she ever had or as a chef frets over plating appetizers that, for all their technical prowess, are so slight they might as well be microscopic.
But if you indulge for an episode or two (each is about an hour long), you might lose yourself in the show's gorgeous cinematography, the featured chefs' wild imaginations, and the personal stories driving them to create new, better, more delicious meals.
The first season of Chef's Table profiled such renowned restaurants as Massimo Bottura's Osteria Francescana, a triple Michelin star Italian experience, and N/Naka, home to Niki Nakayama's meticulous, 13-course tasting menu that requires reservations at least three months in advance. The show travels to the far reaches of Sweden's forests, where Magnus Nilsson forages for the ingredients that appear on his seasonal menus, and to the smoking, wood-fired pits that Argentine grill master Francis Mallmann calls home.
Season two showcased culinary feats in Brazil, Slovenia, Mexico, Thailand, Chicago, and San Francisco. And since Netflix asked for extra servings of Chef's Table by ordering three(!) seasons all at once, we now have a third season — out September 2, focusing entirely on chefs in France — and an upcoming season four, which will get back to globe-trotting with trips to New York, South Korea, Los Angeles, Germany, Peru, and Russia.
So if you want to visit a fancy restaurant in a corner of the world you might never have discovered otherwise, Chef's Table is happy to have your company. But just like the celebrated establishments it's profiling, the show is best enjoyed as a sporadic extravagance.
The first three seasons of Chef's Table are now available to stream on Netflix.