Friday, September 13, 2019

Food TV Friday: "The Chef Show" Season 1: Volume 1

“Part of the reason we do this is because I used to cook with Roy all the time when he was training me, and then the movie came out and it all ended.”
-Jon Favreau

I started watching “The Chef Show” on a flight home to the East Coast from Seattle earlier this summer (yes, it’s still summer for a few more days, damnit!), and I binged the whole thing pretty quickly. I think it’s safe to say that Jon Favreau’s “Chef” is my favorite movie. It incorporates several of my favorite things, like talk about how food evokes memories of a place and New Orleans. Although my favorite thing to eat in New Orleans isn’t beignets. Beignets are great, but I’d rather stuff myself with oysters, po boys of all types, jambalaya, etouffee, and I’ll stop there before I basically recreate that Simpson’s bit where Homer describes his eating in New Orleans. That bit basically describes me every time I go to the Crescent City, by the way. Anyway, “The Chef Show” features Favreau and chef Roy Choi, who was a consultant on the movie, talking and gabbing, sometimes with celebrities. It’s just an enjoyable way to spend time when you want to take a break from the world and have fun nerding out about food. Since season two premieres on Netflix today, I thought I would share my thoughts on season one.

Several episodes feature Favreau, Choi, and friends recreating iconic dishes from the movie. The grilled cheese sandwich and the pasta aglio e olio are both memorable, of course. They also make mojo pork and use it to make Cubanos. Oh and there’s a running beignet fail gag, too. Note to all: if you ever pick up a cannister of Café du Monde beignet mix while in NOLA, make the beignets before the mix goes stale. It’s fascinating to get some insight into Roy Choi’s process through the cooking sequences. He’s very intense in the kitchen (which you can tell if you watch the sequence in the “Chef” credits where he walks Favreau through making the grilled cheese sandwich), and he cares about his craft deeply. One of the things he seems to really concentrate on while cooking is controlling the temperature. Even when just making a simple grilled cheese sandwich (which is loaded with multiple types of yummy cheeses, of course) or toasting bread for cubanos, he’s paying attention to the temperature of the grill at every second. He also has a habit of constantly changing up his recipes. There’s a funny bit where Choi loves a dish Favreau makes, and Favreau tells him that Choi texted him the recipe years ago. Choi had already added multiple additional ingredients into his own version.

There are many celebrity guests, primarily either chefs (like Aaron Franklin and Dave Chang) or Marvel actors (like Tom Holland, Robert Downey, Jr., and Gwyneth Paltrow). Director Robert Rodriguez also makes an appearance. I think I enjoyed the chef appearances more. I really enjoyed the moments in the series that involved serious nerding out about food. I’m a bit of a barbecue snob (one of my favorite food memories is of trying the Sunday special prime rib at Lockhart Smokehouse in Dallas), so I especially liked seeing how Aaron Franklin prepares one of his famous briskets. I’ve been a fan of Dave Chang for a while (I promise I really will write about “Ugly Delicious” here soon!), and it was fun watching him and Roy Choi compare food memories from growing up Korean American. There’s also an episode (the first filmed, I believe), where Favreau, Choi, and a bunch of Favreau’s Marvel actor friends get “crushed” by the staff at The Optimist in Atlanta. The towers of seafood they were invited to work their way through made my mouth water, and I vowed to check out the restaurant if I ever find myself in Atlanta again. I’m also not really a Robert Rodriguez fan, so I had no idea that he was really into cooking and included a recipe with each of his movies.

One thing I found interesting about the season was that there wasn’t really a standard format for an episode. Several episodes focused around Favreau and Choi cooking with others in a kitchen, but there was variation, too. Episodes filmed in Atlanta and Austin in addition to Los Angeles. The episode that was set in Atlanta, as I already mentioned, had an extended sequence of Favreau and a bunch of Marvel notables talking Iron Man and Spider Man while eating insane amounts of seafood (sounds like my kind of party!). There was also an episode in memory of Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold which, while it did include some cooking, also included a lot of discussion of Gold’s legacy and how he worked hard to promote small restaurants and many different kinds of cuisine. The final episode of the season centered around Aaron Franklin’s Hot Luck festival, where he basically invited a bunch of chefs to Austin to cook whatever they felt like. Roy Choi made some smoked Korean barbecue, which I’m sure was awesome, because I had something similar at Pine Street Market in Portland, Oregon earlier this summer.

Overall, I think one of the things I enjoyed about the show the most was getting to know Favreau and Choi better as people. Favreau makes Gwyneth Paltrow laugh by using Yiddish words, talks about making beignets with his daughter because she first saw them as a little kid when “Chef” was filming, and is actually a pretty accomplished amateur cook thanks to Choi. He also is a talented visual artist and quickly pulls together an impressive drawing for Robert Rodriguez’s guestbook. Roy Choi, as I said earlier, is very intense and serious about his craft. He also takes a lot of pride in how he was able to build his business. He seems to always be tweaking his recipes and never just settles on one, definitive version. I think my favorite moment with Choi was when he mentioned how his mother basically has a shrine to him at her house and makes sure all her friends who visit stop to see all the articles and other memorabilia she has collected to document her son’s success.

I’m not sure how much someone who isn’t a super fan of “Chef” like I am would like “The Chef Show,” but I found it just as uplifting as the movie. I think anyone who is interested in food or Marvel, or just creativity in general could find something to interest them in the show. I’m looking forward to diving into the second set of episodes as soon as I can because Favreau and Choi have succeeded in creating an environment where I just want to hang out and watch them cook and chat for a while.

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