Another season of “Chef’s Table” has been served, and while uniformly excellent, sometimes it’s difficult to decide which episode to watch first with such a wide variety of flavors. Should you start with familiar comforting fare, aka a chef who has a restaurant near you? Or with the most exotic in order to wake up your mental taste buds?
Fear not. IndieWire has donned the toque and tied the apron strings to better serve you with a menu of how you should consume this season’s offerings. Each episode in this season will be treated as one course that works in concert with the next, creating a progressive harmony in your palate, stomach and well-being.
The spirit and content of each episode has be weighed to see if it qualifies as an appetizer, a main entree or other part of the five-course (and one digestif!) meal. While we feel that this is the best way to enjoy the season, who are we to argue if you decide to consume dessert first? Bon appetit!
Ivan Orkin of Ivan Ramen in New York City
Signature ingredient(s): Unique noodles from scratch
Defining Quote: “I’m a sort of ‘go fuck yourself’ kind of guy.”
Food Philosophy: He makes food that he likes to eat, the way he wants it.
Pictured Dish: Ramen (of course)
To whet your appetite for the full season, start with Ivan Orkin’s episode. Cleary a white Jewish guy making a name for himself in Japan creating ramen dishes is unusual, but the fact that he does it so successfully and with such a devil-may-care attitude is refreshing. Now he’s brought his rebellious ramen ways back to New York with Ivan Ramen. He’s an easy entry point into the series because his high energy and potty mouth fire up your metabolism for more.
Vladimir Muhkin of White Rabbit in Moscow, Russia
Cuisine: New Russian
Signature ingredient(s): Whatever existed in pre-Soviet Union recipe books that have been lost
Defining Quote: “I will do whatever it takes to bring the genuine Russian taste back to the people.”
Food Philosophy: The old Russian flavors had been lost during Communism are worth bringing back, even if he has to fool people by giving them a modern twist.
Featured Dish: Moose lip dumplings. That is not a euphemism.
There’s nothing so comforting or nostalgic as soup, and Muhkin is trying to rediscover that fondness for flavors of the past at his restaurant White Rabbit. During the seven decades of Communist rule, the Russian people ate “grey urban grub” and lost pride and knowledge of their traditional cuisine. There is a scene in which he updates the traditional honey cake with his modern version, but then pairs it with honey cake made from his grandmother’s recipe. It’s this sort of honoring of the past that really warms the soul… and our bellies.
Virgilio Martinez of Central in Lima, Peru
Cuisine: Modern Peruvian
Signature ingredient(s): Anything indigenous to Peru
Defining Quote: “Discovering things that people have never seen before, that’s my obsession.”
Food Philosophy: You can “eat” Peru through all of its elevations.
Pictured Dish: Spiders on a Rock. It’s crab, limpet and algae from zero elevation.
Like a refreshing salad, there is something bright and energizing about Chef Virgilio Martinez and his approach to cooking. His flavors seem alive, and that might be because he takes them straight from the land around him. Visiting his restaurant Central is like taking a tour of Peru. His multi-course meal serves a course that corresponds to one ecosystem or elevation in the country.
Tim Raue of Restaurant Tim Raue in Berlin, Germany
Cuisine: Asian with his own bold Berliner flair
Signature Ingredient(s): French and Asian flavors
Defining Quote: “I am egocentric and I’m proud of it”
Food Philosophy: Provocation to the point that it may overwhelm flavor
Pictured Dish: Wasabi langoustine. It’s so spicy, “It’s like Tim punching you in the face.”
This episode acts as the main course because there are moments of heaviness and there’s lots to fill you with. If you judge him solely by his words, Chef Raue could come off as self-centered and harsh, but throughout the course of the episode, you discover his strong, meaty points: he’s dedicated and loyal to his staff, very steady in his vision and not about the frills of fine dining. His restaurant, named for himself of course, is fine dining in food only, not in its trappings.
DESSERT and COFFEE
Nancy Silverton of Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles
Cuisine: Italian by way of California
Signature ingredient(s): Many types of flour
Defining Quote: “I think you have to be obsessed with bread to be a baker”
Food Philosophy: Cook very simply but with very fresh ingredients.
Pictured Dish: Pizza with egg, bacon, yukon gold potatoes and Bermuda onions
As an end to a meal, dessert should be sweet and satisfying, and Nancy Silverton’s story fits, especially hearing how she fell in love with various aspects of cooking as she matured. After a trip to Italy, Silverton and her husband at the time opened up their first restaurant, and the rest is history when it comes to bringing Italian food to Los Angeles. With bread, pizza, pasta and desserts as her fortes, this straightforward approach to cooking is probably the most familiar to us average Americans.
Jong Kwan of Baekyasa Temple in South Korea
Cuisine: Vegan temple food
Signature ingredient(s): Fresh vegetables and grains
Defining Quote: “I am not a chef. I am a monk.”
Food Philosophy: Secular food creates dynamic energy, but temple food should be calming and make the mind static.
Pictured Dish: Lotus blossom tea – It’s like sipping enlightenment!
A digestif is an alcoholic beverage that lets you digest your meal while still allowing you to linger and savor good company. Similarly, this episode is an unhurried but lighter affair after watching all those other episodes.
Jong Kwan is a Buddhist monk who prepares vegan temple food from scratch, and it’s so sublime that it’s created converts of acclaimed chefs like Eric Rippert. The ingredients in her food and how she prepares them promote calmness in order to help one meditate. After hearing Kwan speak and watching her take part in her temple rituals and duties, her sense of peace and stillness is contagious. We’re not sure if we’ve attained a higher state by watching this, but it does feel euphoric.
Season 3 of “Chef’s Table” is now streaming on Netflix.