Volume 6 of Netflix food documentary series “Chef’s Table” turns food porn into a meditative exercise through brilliant cinematography and a faultless score. Each episode explores myriad aspects of the featured chef’s life and identity, creating a strong, emotional attachment between the viewer and the chef. Unlike past seasons, Volume 6 veers away from the somewhat distant lives of glitzy Michelin-starred chefs like Massimo Bottura and Ana Ros. Instead, it focuses on the complex lives of four up-and-coming chefs and how food has shaped their identities.
Contrasting the increasingly commercialized cooking entertainment industry, Volume 6 swerves in the opposite direction from the toxic competition of “MasterChef” and the ubiquity of easy Tasty recipes on social media. Whereas shows like “MasterChef” put participants in intentionally difficult situations in order to cultivate drama, “Chef’s Table” presents raw, slow-burn narratives from each chef, accompanied by stunning panoramas of cities and countrysides. All the tension comes from the chefs’ personal lives, rather than from the staged drama of a competitive cooking show. Motifs or ingredients central to certain dishes are introduced early on and referenced throughout the course of each episode. This culminates in a cathartic visual portfolio of a chef’s repertoire, transcending the standard of Tasty videos by helping viewers appreciate food and cooking as more than just a means to a full stomach. The episodic structure and added emphasis on personal over culinary identity have become central to the intimate biographies of “Chef’s Table.” The show’s emotional crescendos may leave you unable to explain to your roommate why you are crying about foie gras on grits, but they probably don’t know the role that the dish plays in Chef Mashama Bailey’s reconciliation of her Southern roots with her identity as a chef.
Volume 6’s cohort of chefs is significantly less ornamented than those of previous seasons, making each narrative more relatable. These humble chefs verbalize their life stories in profoundly poetic and philosophical ways. In Dario Cecchini’s story, you see the story of an Italian butcher and environmental activist. One is not so much taken aback by his fame or accomplishments as much as one is left attempting to reconcile farm animal welfare with the global dependence on meat. With Sean Brock, viewers can see the merits and fatal flaws of perfectionism — an analysis especially pertinent for an Emory student flooded with schoolwork. Through Asma Khan, we thoughtfully explore balancing our passions with the interests of our loved ones.
Each episode in Volume 6 tells a story about a chef while sparking the question of finding happiness in an often chaotic world. Slow, panning shots of food and people in conjunction with soothing orchestral sounds capture the spirit of each chef and create a therapeutic and emotional atmosphere. At its core, “Chef’s Table”: Volume 6 celebrates the aestheticism and soothing zen that make food porn popular and addictive.
If you are in the mood for culinary entertainment with a calming aura similar to that of “The Joy of Painting” and “Planet Earth,” consider “Chef’s Table” for your next Netflix binge. Just don’t watch it on an empty stomach.