The power of Chef’s Table over the years has been enormous for fine dining and our understanding of how great food is made. Back in 2015, Netflix took a risk on a keen-eyed and hungry (sorry, not sorry) documentary filmmaker David Gelb and his idea to blend the worlds of culinary elites with the look of Our Planet-level photography and editing. Nearly ten years later, the show has inspired parodies from the likes of Documentary Now! and skewering from films like The Menu. There’s no denying — Chef’s Table has become a cultural touchstone.
Today, we’re ranking the 12 essential episodes of the show. While Chef’s Table started off as an insider look at elite chefs, their lives, and their passions, the Chef Table’s team gradually shifted from the elite chefs to talking about people making amazing food, whether they were “traditional” chefs or not. That pivot opened up the worlds of BBQ, pizza, and pastry baking while highlighting social issues facing immigrants in the U.S., colonization in Indigenous Mexico, and women’s rights in kitchens in London.
In short, the show has become so much more than simply giving a spotlight to the most notable chefs in the world. It’s about the struggles real people in the food world have while holding onto the creative ethos of amazing photography that, yes, will make your mouth water in every new frame. Let’s dive into the 12 best episodes of Chef’s Table!
- The Single Best Cheeseburger From All The Big Fast Food Chains (Hacks Included!)
- We Blind Tested Ketchup Brands On Fries And Hot Dogs And Picked The #1 Best
- We Blind Tested Every Mayo On The Market To Find The #1 Best
- The #1 Most Boneheaded Error Made By 16 Major Fast Food Chains
- The 20 Most Popular Hot Sauces In America, Blind Tasted And Ranked
12. Massimo Bottura, Chef’s Table Volume 1
Chef Massimo Bottura’s legendary Osteria Francescana had already been around for 20 years by the time this episode dropped. The episode caught Chef Bottura in the moment just before his lauded osteria was crowned number one by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants (he had come in second the previous year). Bottura’s artistry, charisma, and, of course, dishes are all on full display and it hooks on the chef and the series.
This is where it all started. So where better to start your journey with Chef’s Table? Moreover, the episode has distinct echoes from creator David Gelb’s Jiro Dreams of Sushi, which makes this a good pairing/double feature with that film.
11. Sean Brock, Chef’s Table Volume 6
Volume six of Chef’s Table upped the ante when it comes to what great food TV can be. A shining example of that was this episode, which found Chef Sean Brock transitioning from his “safe” albeit damaging life at the much-lauded Husk to his next chapter both physically and mentally.
Chef Sean Brock is a celebrity chef who has made the rounds of food TV for years now. You’ve probably seen him somewhere on TV at some point if you’re reading this list. He’s been a proponent of local Carolina foods and helped herald a resurgence of and a wider appreciation for Southern cuisine. He’s also battled many demons stemming from alcohol and loss which is where this episode shines.
Brock’s story will move you while showing you how deep some chefs have to go to reach the highest levels of culinary achievement.
10. Alex Atala, Chef’s Table Volume 2
This episode feels important. You’re lured into Chef Atala’s life in his busy kitchen and then transported into the furthest reaches of Amazonia. The show balances the colonial world with the Indigenous world in a fascinating and respectful way, without playing into any white savior tropes.
It’s enlightening food TV.
Chef Alex Atala is helping redefine what we think of Brazilian cuisine. The genius of chef Atala — the son of Irish and Lebanese settlers — lies in his ability to parse the various influences on Brazilian food from colonialism to slavery to the depths of the embattled Indigenous Amazon.
9. Tootsie Tomanetz, Chef’s Table BBQ
Snow’s BBQ in the Texas Hill Country is iconic. That’s in no small part thanks to the tireless work of Tootsie Tomanetz. The octogenarian wakes up in the middle of the night to make beans, stoke fire pits, and ready herself for the weekend onslaught of BBQ fanatics who flock to Snow’s.
Oh, and all of that is done after a full workweek as a custodian at the local high school.
This episode is more than just a look at Tomanetz’s amazing work ethic. The show tells the story of one of the most important people in Hill Country BBQ in the modern age, along with the highs and lows that life brings. All of that makes this one of the best “non-chef” episodes of the series.
8. Chris Bianco, Chef’s Table Pizza
Chef Chris Bianco seemingly has done the impossible by making Phoenix, Arizona, a truly great pizza city. And while the feat is covered in detail in the episode, the true thrust of the story is the sacrifices, ups and downs, and passion that Bianco carries with him every day of work as he makes some truly beautiful pies.
Sure, Bianco was crucial in getting Phoenix on the pizza culinary map, but it’s this episode that gets people outside of Arizona to take Phoenix seriously as a pizza hotspot (sorry, New York and Chicago). The episode feels a little like a down-and-dirty look at someone just doing their thing and the toll that truly takes over a lifetime.
It’s insightful, sad, and Chef’s Table at its best, emotionally speaking.
7. Jeong Kwan, Chef’s Table Volume 3
Volume three was a big shift for Chef’s Table. It was a glimpse at what the show would become. Big-name chefs were still at play in five of the six episodes but then there was an episode about a nun who cooks for her monastery in the mountains of Korea. It was completely outside of the chef-as-rock-star / genius the show had been known for up to that point.
The story of Jeong Kwan, her garden, and her kitchen was revelatory. Suddenly, we were out of the hustle and bustle of professional kitchens and thrown into the calm of mountain streams, prayer sessions, and the breeze rolling through trees. A new feel for Chef’s Table was found in a quiet Korean monastery. The show would never really be the same after this episode as it opened up the conversation as to why more episodes weren’t like this.
6. Rodney Scott, Chef’s Table BBQ
Rodney Scott’s episode feels like a blend of what the show was and what it’s become. There’s a sense of real-life, accessible food at play here. Anyone can rock up to Rodney Scott’s BBQ joint in Charleston and eat there. There’s no elitist reservation system or elitist pricing out of average consumers. But this episode is still about a true master of the culinary world.
Rodney Scott’s Carolina whole hog BBQ pit mastery is the stuff of legend. Scott’s so good at whole hog pit cooking that he’s able to travel the country bringing his expertise to the masses. That essence of Scott’s world is captured so vividly that you can almost smell the whole hog in your living room.
5. Mashama Bailey, Chef’s Table Volume 6
Chef Bailey’s story starts when she returns home to Georgia after years spent in New York’s kitchens. Bailey pulls no punches in searching for her roots, voice, and meaning through food that speaks to her soul. This all comes to life on screen via Bailey’s work turning a formerly segregated Greyhound bus station in Savannah, Georgia into one of the nation’s best restaurants, The Grey.
The episode shines a light on what America was and offers a ray of sunshine on what it can be when folks like Chef Bailey take a stand, look inward, find their own truth, and then give that to us via their food.
4. Franco Pepe, Chef’s Table Pizza
This is a classic Chef’s Table episode with a true mad-genius chef going so deep on their food that there’s no escape. The episode follows perhaps the most important chef in pizza, Franco Pepe. Pepe waxes poetic about yeast and dough while theatrically kneading and topping pies.
But through all that poetry and posing there’s a deep truth about why the simple flatbread has become such a cornerstone of the human culinary experience.
This episode almost seems to be leaning into the parody and absurdity of it all with a true heart and thoroughness that makes this show so beloved. Seriously though, this could have been a Documentary Now! parody episode since it’s so “classic” Chef’s Table in its intangibility and monk-like devotion to a single dish. Hell, even his name sounds like it’s a Documentary Now! parody of an Italian chef.
Still, the medium of pizza makes it relatable and very watchable while stoking your wanderlust for all things Italy.
3. Asma Kahn, Chef’s Table Volume 6
Everything about Chef Asma Khan’s story and restaurant, Darjeeling Express, is engaging. Khan’s story from lonely housewife to the supper club toast of London to running one of London’s best restaurants draws you in and doesn’t let go. You feel Khan’s pains, triumphs, and power. Her all-female/all-migrant kitchen is a testament to Khan’s mettle and unwillingness to compromise her family, her friends, or her food.
It’s hard not to fall in love with Chef Asma Khan in this episode of Chef’s Table. There’s a directness to her. You do not bullshit this woman. Then a welcoming smile inches across her face as fragrant and gorgeous food is set on the table and you know you’re home (I speak from experience. I’ve been lucky enough to attend Chef Khan’s Briyani Supper Club).
2. Cristina Martinez, Chef’s Table Volume 5
Chef Cristina Martinez is making some of the most American food there is in Philadelphia — a city that’s totally forgotten its Indigenous foods. She’s doing this by bringing corn back to a place where it was expunged through genocide while also reigniting a way of cooking protein that has been gone for far too long all through her own Indigenous foodways from Mexico.
The risk taken by Indigenous Mexican Chef Cristina Martinez in this episode is massive. We don’t mean “risks” in the kitchen or with some esoteric artistic ideas. We’re talking about real-life consequences where losing one’s home and freedom are painfully real. Martinez is an illegal immigrant from central Mexico. She put her livelihood and home on the line to make this episode of television. It’s harrowing while also being so well-made that it should stir something deep in your soul about the injustices faced by so many people people serving and creating food in this country.
1. Rosalia Chay Chuc, Chef’s Table BBQ
There are two reasons why this is number one. The first is the uniqueness of this episode. Chef Rosalia Chay Chuc is a home cook who feeds her community but has recently turned to feeding foodies from all over the world who make it to the Yucatan in search of Indigenous foods. The conversations and point-of-view offered throughout the episode are a rare and engaging look at the foods of Mexico, which are almost always filtered through a colonial-settler lens.
There’s a real sense of place, time, and trauma at play here. Chef Rosalia Chay Chuc talks about having to learn Spanish to survive in modern Mexico and the challenges of fighting to preserve her ancestral agriculture, language, and traditions. In this episode, we get a glimpse into something true and pure that emerging outside of the colonial systems that dominate Mexico’s foodways.