Netflix is betting hard on food TV. The streaming service has a stadium cooking show in The Final Table, they’ve continued to grow the Chef’s Table brand, they’ve got a travel entry in David Chang’s Ugly Delicious, and they recently branched off with a “Netflix Food” handle on social media. Now they’re entering the food/talk/celebrity game with a humble show from chef Roy Choi (of Kogi Truck fame) and Hollywood multi-hyphenate Jon Favreau (you know, the dude who directed Iron Man).
I use the word “humble” very purposefully here. Favreau’s and Choi’s The Chef Show could have been a bloated, look-at-my-famous-friends vehicle for ego stroking. Instead, they’ve gone the complete opposite direction. It’s simple, loose, and cruisy. The choice pays huge dividends.
The Chef Show‘s premise is exactly the sort of thing you could never sell without huge names attached: two longtime friends who love cooking together do exactly that with their mutual friends around the country. Favreau and Choi formed a friendship while the latter was advising the former on the food for Favreau’s hit film Chef. The filming ended and each went their separate ways in life. They came back together to cook with friends when time and schedules allowed, as friends do. Eventually, Favreau started filming it and the show was born.
Though it sounds simple, the format of this show is a kind of a breakthrough. The show isn’t just Choi schooling Favreau on a bunch of non-specific recipes. For The Chef Show, they dialed in the recipes to be a sort of Blu-Ray commentary track come to life — with the focus being recipes Favreau’s character cooks or eats in the film Chef.
As I watched each episode unfold, with Choi teaching folks like comedian Bill Burr or YouTube star Andrew Rea (Binging with Babish) how to make dishes from the movie, I couldn’t help but think how awesome a show like this works as a companion piece to the cinema. Then I started to wish for exactly what The Chef Show was doing but for my other favorite food films. Oh, how much I’d give to have Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub walking us through the recipes from The Big Night, episode by episode.
That’s where The Chef Show both transcends and rises above your average food porn cooking programming. The first two episodes, lean in towards Favreau’s Marvel Universe family. The first episode has a guest appearance from Gwyneth Paltrow, who we learn introduced Choi to Favreau when she brought Choi’s Kogi Truck on set for a party. Then, in episode two, Favreau and Choi lead Tom Holland (Spider-Man), Robert Downey, Jr. (Iron Man), Marvel producer Kevin Feige, and Avengers Endgame directing duo the Russo Brothers through a seafood feast in Atlanta. The meal serves as a sort of oral history — over Tom Holland’s first oyster — of the Marvel cinematic universe.
Episode three takes a turn away from Marvel and dives into Chef‘s film-food history. The heart and soul of the show really come into focus when YouTuber Andrew Rea arrives for a long segment in which the trio recreates the infamous lava cake with an oozing ganache center. Rea, who built his brand around recreating iconic food from film and TV, is clearly humbled and honored to be working with two heroes. The segment ends with Choi and Favreau gift Rea with a prop from Chef that’ll bring a damn tear to your eye.
Later in the season, episodes celebrating the Los Angeles food scene and recently-deceased food critic Jonathan Gold tempt your tear ducts again. We also find out that innovative director Robert Rodriguez is a freakin’ pizza Yoda. He has a pizza kitchen with a wood-fired oven in his home. This is food porn and celebrity porn combined — sure, it’s envy-inducing but it’s also tremendous fun.
The show then takes another turn when chef David Chang — of Momofuku and Netflix’s Ugly Delicious fame — challenges Favreau and Choi to a fried rice cook-off. This hit close to home for me. Fried rice is my last meal on death row order. I watched this episode twice and have already started tinkering with the recipes. In all honesty, I’ve never been so quick to recreate a recipe from a food show before. That’s saying something for the accessibility of this series.
Finally, the show wraps up with a two-parter in Austin with Franklin Barbecue’s Aaron Franklin schooling Favreau and Choi on the finer points of brisket, smoke, fire, salt, and fat. The show ends with a food fest cook-off with chef Choi creating some amazing looking Korean-by-way-of-Austin short ribs with Favreau working the line and putting out plates like a champ.
As the final frames of the show flicker past, I couldn’t help but think of how much I wanted just one or two more episodes, at least. I understand that sort of defeats the concept of the show recreating Chef‘s on-screen recipes. But the show became so much more than that throughout the season. It became a story of two friends bonding by figuring out how to cook good food side-by-side, and an exploration of how important food can be to a friendship.
Choi and Favreau aren’t afraid to show themselves fail, learn, and try again. It’s not just their obvious love of food that allows the show to shine. It’s their deep love of the process and the very elemental humanity of it all. This is where The Chef Show breaks new ground. Its palpable, beating heart is a welcome addition to the genre.
You can stream The Chef Show on Netflix starting June 7th, 2019.