David Gelb upended the food documentary genre when Jiro Dreams of Sushi hit screens around the world in 2012. The documentary took the high cinematic values of nature shows like BBC’s Planet Earth and blended that with a deep cultural and familial story built around executing the perfect dish. Gelb, a graduate of USC’s film school, was visionary in this approach, and it’s changed perceptions of what food documentaries can be.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi had a small theatrical run when it came out, but it really caught fire when newly-minted (at the time) streaming service Netflix picked up the film. It was a smash hit for the service. So, Gelb, his production team, and Netflix sat down to figure out a way to keep telling human stories about food. From this, the show Chef’s Table was born. And in the same way that Jiro shifted documentary story-telling, Chef’s table has changed the way we watch and think about food on TV.
We were lucky enough to catch up with Gelb and his crew on a recent trip to Berlin — where the Culinary Cinema section of the Berlinale was premiering the latest volume of Chef’s Table for the world. Bread was broken. Cocktails were shared. And after the dust from the whirlwind film festival settled, we jumped on a call with Gelb to talk about how the show is made, what it’s like being parodied by Documentary Now!, and where we should draw our lines in the sand over food appropriation.