Friday, November 30, 2018

Food TV Friday: "The Final Table"

It’s no secret that I haven’t been blogging that much this past year. I started a new demanding job and was commuting 60 miles round trip until I bought a house (!) this past August. It’s been a crazy year, to say the least. Add to that the awful state of the world in general these days and the parade of horrors that is the news, and my head just hasn’t been in the right place to watch much scripted TV. I’ve taken to mostly just watching cooking competition or other food related shows because I find them comforting. I’m still going to (probably still too slowly) chip away at the shows Sarah and I have been co-blogging and maybe keep trying to work on “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” but I’m probably not going to blog any other series this year. As a way to get back into the habit of blogging more, though, I figured I’d turn some of my favorite TV comforts into blog posts! We’ll start with Netflix’s recently released, possibly too serious, cooking competition, “The Final Table.”

“The Final Table” actually has a pretty cool concept. Twelve teams of two chefs from around the world compete in country-themed challenges, with one team being eliminated each week. Each episode features two challenges, all themed around one particular country. The first challenge involves three “cultural ambassadors” from the country in question (one generally a food critic or writer) judging the teams’ take on their country’s signature dish. The lowest three teams from the first round then have to compete in a second round, where a superstar chef from the country of the episode sets an ingredient-related challenge. This whittles down the contestants to two teams. At that point, the four remaining chefs compete in an individual challenge, basically to cook the dish of their life, to earn a seat at the titular table with all the superstar chefs who have judged the second round in the previous episodes. There is no monetary reward – the winner literally just got to sit at a table with the other chefs (and get some publicity too, of course).

The thing I liked most about “The Final Table” was the international twist. I liked that the episodes were country themed, and I got to learn a little something about each country in its episode. I had never heard of feijoada, a Brazilian bean and pork dish, before, for instance. Some judging panels expected more adherence to the classic form of their national dish than others. The Spanish judges stood out to me as especially expecting all the teams to hit certain key aspects of the paella. There was a bit more variety in judging style from the second round judges. Several of the chefs have made their own careers reinventing classics, so they tended to appreciate it when the teams veered from the expected. The challenge that stood out to me as the most unfair was the kaiseki challenge in the Japan episode, since kaiseki is more a food philosophy that a specific dish.

My favorite team was Esdras Ochoa and Rafa Gill, Mexican and Brazilian chefs respectively who now both have restaurants in Hong Kong. Ochoa wasn’t classically trained, but he built up his reputation as a self-made “taco King.” He and Gill met when they both started their restaurants in Hong Kong. I think I was drawn to them because the first two episodes of the season highlighted each of their respective countries. They both took that distinction seriously and didn’t want to disappoint their countrymen. Ochoa especially took the taco challenge seriously, given that he makes his living with tacos. Both were rated favorably for their national dishes.

Other teams that I liked were Shane Osbourn and Mark Best, two Australians who, while I wouldn’t say they are old, were the oldest “experienced” chefs in the competition It was just nice to see two professionals do their thing excellently without drama. I also liked the only all-female team on the show, Monique Fiso (from New Zealand) and Amninder Sandhu (from India). It was necessary to have some girl power on the show (frankly, there could have been more). They had their ups and downs, keeping it real. Amninder especially put a lot of pressure on herself in the India episode, and I respected that. There was one team that I actively disliked it, and what the heck, I’m going to spoil a streaming cooking competition. They make it to the damn finale and one of them wins it all. Darren MacLean and Timothy Hollingsworth are the epitome of hipster chef bros. Hollingsworth worked for years at the French Laundry and is now super serious about telling a particular story with food at his Bay Area restaurant. MacLean, a white dude from prairie province Canada, is obsessed with Japanese food. He white mansplains Japanese food throughout the series, constantly invoking “memories of Tokyo.” He’s especially insufferable in the Japan episode (where he succeeds mightily, of course).

The other thing that I found as a negative with the show overall was that it was a big overdramatic. I did appreciate that, unlike with shows like “Chopped” or “Guy’s Grocery Games,” these contestants just got to cook their hearts out. On the other hand, the production felt like “Iron Chef: America” without the camp and ability to poke fun at itself. I mean, the whole thing ends with the winner descending down to the table with all the judge chefs and a bright light shining on him. Self-serious, much?

Overall, “The Final Table” was an entertaining binge-watch over Thanksgiving week. I enjoyed getting some exposure to cuisines I don’t know much about (especially in the Brazil episode), and I enjoyed learning about a variety of chefs with whom I wasn’t already familiar. I appreciated that the overall focus was on cooking good food with an international flair. Future seasons, however, should be more aware of cultural appropriation, make a better effort at representing women, and be just a touch less serious.

No comments:

Post a Comment