For years now, Netflix’s Chef’s Table has been putting a spotlight on some of the most talented and passionate chefs in the industry. From chefs like Massimo Bottura, who runs Osteria Francescana – a restaurant that has received a three-star rating from the Michelin Guide –, to chefs like Jeong Kwan, a Buddhist nun serving up exquisite, spiritual dishes aimed at bringing both chef and diner alike closer to nirvana.
While each episode is superbly done, and the chefs spotlighted in them are all equally fascinating and inspiring, let’s look at the ten episodes that stuck out the most.
10 Massimo Bottura (S1E1)
With the first episode of their first season, Chef’s Table and director David Gelb chose to highlight Massimo Bottura, the chef behind Osteria Francescana. Chef Massimo is definitely the perfect culinary figure to give viewers a peek at the philosophies that would continue to drive the series forward.
Massimo is all about exploring and changing and bringing those lessons home to explore and create more. Osteria Francescana is the odd duckling in Italy, doing the one thing most Italians would never dream of doing: messing with tradition. What chef Massimo does is inspiring and out of the ordinary.
9 Ivan Orkin (S4E3)
Gelb does a marvelous job of shedding a spotlight on this Jewish ramen chef who grew up in New York. Ivan Orkin has spent his life fascinated by the food, people, and culture of the land of the rising sun.
Orkin may have been incredibly outside his area of expertise when he decided to open up his own ramen shop, Ivan Ramen, in Japan of all places, but he certainly made the right bet. While Ivan Ramen Tokyo is no longer open, Orkin continues running with his dream close to home back in New York.
8 Jordi Roca (S4E3)
When chef Jordi Roca talks about creating his first dish, he speaks of an ice cream class and the importance of clean air. When chef Roca went home, however, he thought about the exact opposite of the clean air aspect. He wanted to know about infusing his ice cream with specific aromas (like cigar’s smoke).
The way that chef Roca plays with his dishes, the inventiveness that drives them forward, is simply spectacular and sometimes even hilarious. Chef Roca reminds his diners, through his work, not to take life so seriously. And don’t assume to know what’s coming next.
7 Niki Nakayama (S1E4)
As Andrew Fried repeatedly illustrates throughout his footage covering chef Niki Nakayama, for a long time she was a chef mostly driven by thinking that she needed to prove those around her wrong. Being a woman in a Japanese kitchen is hard enough without all of the condescending remarks from coworkers.
However, Chef Nakayama thrived off of that energy, thrived on knowing that she would prove them wrong. After selling her first restaurant, a sushi restaurant called Azami Sushi Cafe, that’s exactly what she did. With her skills honed and her newly opened restaurant 'n/naka', Chef Nakayama would finally begin cooking for herself. Following her own modern twist on the Kaiseki tradition, Chef Nakayama has created something very special at her Los Angeles restaurant.
6 Magnus Nilsson(S1E6)
From very early in his career, it was easy for his teachers to see that chef Magnus Nilsson was not going to be just another student. Like many of the chefs featured in Netflix’s Chef’s Table, chef Nilsson was obsessed with experimenting. If something was meant to be salty, he wanted to try it sweet. Chef Nilsson would not simply abide by the rules because they were there.
So, when he opened up his restaurant Faviken, he isolated it from the rest of the world and built a space where he and his collaborators could do whatever they pleased. Nilsson’s philosophy involves respecting what the earth has given us and using it to create beautiful dishes no one else could ever imagine.
5 Grant Achatz (S2E1)
Chef Grant Achatz does, through his cooking, his very best to try to get his diners, collaborators in the kitchen, and the world around him to think outside the box. Achatz’ creativity and willingness to explore and take risks has launched him into the highest circles of the culinary world.
Like many other chefs featured on Chef’s Table, creative freedom is an important aspect of Achatz’s work in the kitchen. Unlike other chefs, however, Achatz seemed obsessed with it. His entire menu, restaurant, and even the philosophy he takes into the kitchen are molded by this idea.
4 Jeong Kwan (S3E1)
There’s a serene sense of wonder that washes over the entire episode in which Jeong Kwan is put under the spotlight. Much like her cooking, the entire episode is mindful or where it finds its roots and the story it’s trying to tell. Unlike many of the other chefs highlighted in this series, Jeong Kwan is not trying to win any award.
She is not trying to be the best chef. What she’s doing is communing with the Earth and the people that have found their way around her. Kwan understands every millisecond of the journey her food has gone on to get to the plates that she serves. That fact is very clear in the dishes she’s put together.
3 Francis Mallmann (S1E3)
Clay Jeter paints a stunning portrait of a chef who takes painstaking care to not only build the perfect meal but the perfect experience. Much like he learned to love his home in Patagonia, chef Francis Mallmann, wants his diners to learn to love his work slowly.
Mallmann’s message is to get out of the chair, get off the sofa, and share this experience. Respect the world around you. With an island that requires guests to drive over one hundred kilometers before an hour-long trip across a lake, he certainly painted a clear picture.
2 Gaggan Anand (S2E6)
When chef Gaggan Anand opened his restaurant 'Gaggan' in Bangkok, Thailand he was out to show the world the true seeds of Indian cuisine. Looking around himself, he realized that true Indian cuisine was not being represented in the culinary world.
Most people hear Indian cuisine and picture Naan and different curries, which is not what Anand was being served at home. He knew that most Indian restaurants are giving customers the dishes they want. Dishes that were, more often than not, introduced by British colonizers. While Gaggan may have recently closed, Chef Anand will continue his work in his new restaurant opening in Fukuoka, Japan.
1 Dominque Crenn (S2E3)
Chef Dominique Crenn’s work at her restaurant, Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, is all about connecting the food to an emotion. A feeling meant to engage the mind with a sense of nostalgia. A sense of coming home. To chef Crenn’s home.
While being the first female chef in the United States to be given two stars by the Michelin Guide may help her cuisine along its way, it’s certainly not what drives it. As she says in her own words, “I’m not serving a menu. I’m serving a story. I’m serving my soul.” A sentiment that all that chefs featured in this series can agree with.