The award winning series, Chef’s Table on Netflix is my absolute favorite show to watch on TV. Quite simply put, it blows my mind! Each episode, in a 6-part series, explores the life of a noteworthy chef from around the world. Exploring his/her trials and tribulations, successes as well as failures, it is one of the most honest accounts about the chefs. Every season reinforces my awe and wonder regarding how much a chef goes through to be where he/she is now.
I had already marked my calendar to check Netflix on the assigned date this season. And so last weekend, just like the past two years, I turned on Netflix, looked up the newly released episodes of Chef’s Table…. and binge-watched them from start to finish. Yup! Each and every one of the six glorious, 50-minute long episodes… back-to-back!!!
In today’s digital world, it so easy for a foodie/food-critic to take a few bites and criticize a chef’s cooking. But a show like this one makes you realize that, if you as the diner understood who that chef truly is, where he/she comes from, what kind of upbringing they had, their environment, their life experiences… that knowledge could create a more comprehensive picture of why they cook the way they do. I am willing to bet that our opinions will be different with that knowledge.
Season Three. First episode. Featured chef: A monk from Korea!!!
Seriously! Who would have thought? Wow! What a fascinating revelation about a woman named Jeong Kwan who joined the Chunjinam Hermitage/Baekyangsa Temple in South Korea decades ago – back when she was in her teens. Her life story is fascinating. But even more fascinating is her wisdom. “With food we can share and communicate our emotions. Its that mindset of sharing that is really what you are eating”, she said. According to Jeong Kwan, “there is no difference in cooking and pursuing Buddha’s way”! As you watch the reverence with which she cooks and handles her ingredients, you realize how profound that statement really is!
From watching the show, I learned that Jeong grows her own vegetables and herbs. Her style of cooking, called “temple food”, is simple yet incredibly complex in its subtle flavors. Temple food does not use ingredients like onions, garlic, scallions, chives etc because they prevent a monk’s spirit from achieving a state of calmness. Instead, she get incredible flavors from ingredients like soy sauce, soy paste, chili paste, salt as well as pickling and fermentation techniques. According to leading travel/food writers and chef Eric Ripert, her food is said to rival the best of the best chefs’ creations around the world…. it is on par with what one would be served at Noma, Benu or Blanca! How incredible!
From the fascinating account of life in a monastery, to its gorgeous setting in the midst of nature, to the stunning cinematography, to the calm and zen-like scenes of cooking … I was afraid to blink and miss something special through the entire 50 minute episode. And afterwards, I felt it ended too quickly! I wanted so much more.
The other episodes in season 3 are quite riveting as well. I was utterly fascinated to learn about Vladimir Mukhin of White Rabbit in Moscow. It was so interesting to learn about what happened in Russia after the US sanctions and Russian government’s subsequent orders to destroy any food items with foreign labels. The Russian people suddenly lost all access to any cheeses, meats and other food products from around the world. But they showed incredible resilience and started developing their own locally grown and locally produced food items. In just a few short years their farmers’ markets are on the rise and their quality and calibre is said to rival those in New York and Brooklyn. Amazing!
Tim Raue’s (a chef in Berlin) story gave me goosebumps. This man has a reputation of being hard-headed and short-tempered. But when you learn that he was physically abused by his father when he was a child and that in his teen years he found himself in a local gang…. yet he managed to rise above it all, dedicated himself to art of cooking and made his name in the world as a two Michelin-starred chef – it truly inspires you!
I could go on and on… or I could just say: You must watch Chefs Table on Netflix…. just don’t forget to thank me later. 😉
PS: Images in this blog post were screen captured from my television screen.