The Chef Show

Dept. of Unexpected Movie Spin-Offs


Last Wednesday, Netflix gave us even more episodes of The Chef Show. The series, 22 episodes in all, is a sort of spin-off from Jon Favreau’s 2014 breakout indie hit, Chef. This series sees Favreau and Kogi mastermind Roi Choi – with whom he began an apprenticeship of sorts while making the movie – traverse America, cooking, tasting, exploring, and experimenting with food. Both Bahir and Uma are huge fans of this unexpected extension of Favreau’s work on Chef; of this rather unconventional addition to the canon of food programming that Netflix has on offer. 

Umapagan Ampikaipakan: I cannot begin to describe the wave of joy I feel every time Netflix sends me a notification saying that there are more episodes of The Chef Show coming my way. I love this show! I didn’t think we’d get any more after those first eight episodes. Especially since this felt like something of a side project from Favreau who already had his hands full with The Lion King and The Mandalorian.

Bahir Yeusuff: I KNOW! This was such a crazy great surprise when it popped up on our feeds! I treat The Chef Show as I would fiction: I don’t read the episode titles or descriptions, I don’t want to know who is in , I don’t want spoilers. I want to be surprised when I see a special guest star on an episode and find them cooking pizza, or fried chicken, or bread. There is such honesty and a sense of comfort here. Favreau and chef Choi worked together on the movie Chef and you can tell that their relationship has blossomed into a very respectful friendship.

UA: I love that mentor-mentee relationship between the two of them. It really adds a unique twist to the show. Here’s Jon Favreau, a Hollywood filmmaker at the top of his game, looking for guidance and, dare I say, approval from a masterchef. Yes, they are friends, but I really enjoy that dynamic in the kitchen where Favreau looks like he’s constantly trying to impress his teacher. It also makes the show something completely different from anything else on food television.

BY: I think that dynamic is an interesting one. And in this “volume”, there were a couple of spots where chef Choi even seemed impressed with Favreau and how his skills have levelled up. Last night, as I was finishing up the season, I was thinking about how each “volume” almost feels like it should be consumed (heh) in one sitting. There is the big opener in episode one, a guest cook in episode two, chef Choi cooks in episode three, then Favreau cooks in episode four, another guest cook in five, and a pastry chef in episode six. There is a structure here.

Favreau and Choi talking meats with Wolfgang Puck on The Chef Show.

UA: What’s more, the special guest, whether it’s Gwyneth Paltrow, or Robert Downey Jr., or Wolfgang Puck, never dominates the show or subverts its message. It also helps that Favreau directs every episode himself. This means he can maintain that laser focus that the show has on cooking, conversations, and community. But for me, the one thing that makes The Chef Show stand out is how it’s driven by the curiosity of both Favreau and Choi. The both of them are constantly learning new things. They are actively engaged in this act of discovery.

BY: And even when they are doing something that isn’t all that special, like a pastrami sandwich at a Jewish deli, the curiosity is there. And unlike a show that has three producers, an executive producer, and managed, and handled, and controlled to within an inch of its final edit, each episode of this really feels like a bunch of well intentioned, passionate people just hanging out. When chef Choi asks if he can put salmon into his pastrami sandwich, Favreau and the owner of the deli are like: “That’s crazy talk! You’re crazy! But go ahead!” It’s off the cuff, it’s spontaneous, it’s fun. Favreau is unhappy about his biscuits? Screw it just make some more!

UA: They accidentally make beignets from mix that’s long expired? Screw it. Just throw them out, buy some new mix, and make another batch. There is nothing that feels fake. They’re not forcing relevance in any way. They’re not trying to be perfect. And as a viewer, as a home cook, that’s something truly refreshing. Because they’re experimenting with whatever they can find in the kitchen. Because they’re making the same mistakes you are.

Favreau and Choi cooking with Bill Burr in The Chef Show.

BY: Speaking of experimenting, in episode three, (SPOILER ALERT!) director Sam Raimi joins them in Favreau’s kitchen. Also, can we just stop for a second and talk about Jon Favreau’s kitchen?

UA: Good God, that kitchen is gorgeous. That is the kitchen I aspire to have. Spacious. Equipped. Lots of natural light. With enough room for a full film crew.

BY: Also all that equipment! That’s some Michelin star kitchen equipment! That chiller, the freezer, that restaurant grade oven and stove! With a grill! But I digress. So, Sam Raimi is the guest on this episode and he brings some stuff from his garden. Raimi is disappointed with his bounty. He feels embarrassed. But chef Choi just rolls all of that up into a glorious sauce for their fresh pasta. Okay, we don’t actually know what it tastes like, but the way Raimi and Favreau are reacting to it really shows what a true chef can do with what’s at hand.

UA: As someone who watches a LOT of food and cooking television, I’ve long lamented its current state. We’re inundated with far too many contest shows and travelogues. The world seems to have moved beyond that traditional format, where Julia Child stands behind a kitchen counter and takes you through a recipe step-by-step. But for me at least, The Chef Show, feels like the spiritual successor to the kind of thing we used to enjoy watching growing up. It’s freer. It’s more dynamic. It’s old-school with just enough of an upgrade for the modern palate. And most of all, it still has something new to say. And we still have lots to learn from it.

BY: The second coming of the cooking show genre moved past the “sit there, I’m going to teach you about cooking” style. That’s the period that gave us Gordon Ramsay, and Jamie Oliver, and Nigella Lawson. As much as I used to LOVE sitting down to watch those guys, there was still a format and formality to their shows. It was very controlled. This feels more informal. Which I feel is a lot more accessible. But I also want to say that the reason The Chef Show works so well is because of Favreau and Choi. Their curiosity is so compelling. That was my biggest gripe with the other Netflix food show, Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner, with chef David Chang. There was no curiosity in his adventures. It didn’t feel like an exploration of food, or the culture, or the guest. It didn’t do enough at all. This however was warm and comfortable. It’s heartfelt. Even when there was no cooking involved as when the two guys hosted the Russo Brothers, Robert Downey Jr., and Tom Holland. They still gave you great conversation about food and life – all while eating good food. And you, the audience, are brought into it. That was missing in the entire David Chang series.

Jon Favreau and Aaron Franklin make barbecue in The Chef Show.

UA: There is joy here too. Genuine delight. And geekery. Whether it’s in watching Aaron Franklin make barbecue, or the way Favreau lovingly cradles his sourdough starter. It is infectious. It’s clear that they didn’t set out with a mission. They just decided to make something they love and put it out into the world. And I think that if the aim of cooking television is to get the public excited about food, then this is definitely the way to do it.

BY: There’s a sense of innocence too. Favreau isn’t a professional chef but he loves cooking, and respects it, and geeks out over it. This is not Ramsay teaching you how to make the perfect steak. It’s two guys, and a German, taste testing the most expensive cuts of meat and expertly grilling it. It’s two guys, cooking hot dogs and bacon. Nothing new, but there’s heart, and there’s joy.

UA: I have no idea how many episodes more they have left in the bank. Or if they’re planning to shoot more. But I for one hope that they keep finding the time to make this.

BY: I think they can take their time. No need to rush it. But just keep doing it. Oh and maybe make a Chef 2 when you can. Pretty please.

The poster from Jon Favreau's Chef.

The Chef Show Volume 3 is available now on Netflix.

The Chef Show
Netflix, Season 1: Volume 3, 6 Episodes
Director: Jon Favreau
Executive Producers: Jon Favreau, Roy Choi, and Annie Johnson
Cast: Jon Favreau, Roy Choi, Wolfgang Puck, Sam Raimi, Mary Sue Milliken, Susan Feniger, Micah Wexler, Michael Kassar, Candace Nelson, and Daniele Uditi

Bahir likes to review movies because he can watch them at special screenings and not have to interact with large groups of people who may not agree with his idea of what a movie going experience is. Bahir likes jazz, documentaries, Ken Burns, and summer blockbuster movies. He really hopes that the HBO MAX Green Lantern series will help the character be cool again. Also don’t get him started on Jason Momoa’s Aquaman (#NotMyArthurCurry).

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