“When are we cooking again?” That was Jon Favreau to Roy Choi after they finished working on 2014 film Chef. The indie foodie gem followed a restaurant chef who, after getting burned by critics, took a gamble on starting up a food truck instead, and the result delighted audiences with its blend of grounded character, earnest comedy and mouth-watering food porn. It comes as no surprise that Favreau and Choi enjoyed the whole thing just as much as everyone else – to the point where, five years after teaming up to melt cheese on grills, they’re back together again to cook some more food on camera.
If that sounds like an unlikely starting point for a culinary documentary series, you’d be right, but that’s the magic ingredient that makes The Chef Show an utter joy to watch: this isn’t a slick, smooth-edged piece of food TV like Chef’s Table, but the end result of two friends wanting to hang out in the kitchen. They just happen to be two friends with bankable names, an in-built fanbase and the kind of connections for their hanging out to become a Netflix series. If the streaming giant hadn’t released the show, you get the distinct impression they would’ve just put it online themselves.
That slightly ramshackle quality is echoed in the cute stop-motion sequences that show us The Chef Show’s food truck tearing down the road, and throw up the ingredients that go into each dish being chucked together – ingredients that Roy Choi has often forgotten or is just making up as he goes. But the rest is as unpolished as it gets, despite the high quality camerawork, as we see the pair chatting casually and even throwing things they’ve cooked in the bin. In one sequence involving beignets (“I’ve made this with my daughter, so we should be fine”), it’s only after they’ve finished making the pastries that they realise the packet mix is past its sell-by date.
Favreau and Choi being who they are means that the guests on the menu for the series are a star-studded bunch, from Momofuku legend (and Ugly Delicious presenter) David Chang to virtually the whole of Marvel’s Avengers. The opening episode sees Gwyneth Paltrow reunite with her MCU co-star, and they opt for a Goop-friendly vegan soup – a counterbalance to some of the meatier offerings that following over subsequent kitchen sessions. Bill Burr also appears to replicate the fromage sandwich heaven from the original film, while Robert Rodriguez shares with the duo the pizza oven in his home.
It’s a tasty mix of recipes and cultures, each bringing out anecdotes and memories. As such, the chat that goes with each meal is enjoyably varied and entertainingly candid – Paltrow doesn’t recall which Avengers or Spider-Man movies she’s been in, while the rest of the Avengers crew informally natter away around a table in exactly the way you’d expect.
But the stars of the show are undoubtedly Choi and Favreau themselves. Choi is as accessible and informative as he is intricately in-depth in his knowledge, while Favreau has the kind of enthusiasm and sincerity that he brings to all of his work; you genuinely get the sense that he is not only excited to be back in his friend’s company, but is also keen to learn anything more he can from his mentor. His knife skills are already sharpened, after being taught well, and his appetite to pick up new knowledge and experience is palpable – and contagious. All that and a chance to drool over cheese melting slowly onto a hot plate? Prepare to devour the whole of The Chef Show in a couple of sittings – and as soon as you’ve finished, you’ll also want to know when they’re cooking again, and when you get to eat it.
The Chef Show: Season 1 is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.