Something I learned from Chef's Table

The journey is paramount.

No one would care about these chefs half as much if their exquisite food wasn’t partnered with struggle, heartache, triumph, destruction and ultimately, the exhalation of passionate enjoyment.

The beauty of this series is undeniable. If you even halfway love food, which I think most human beings should, then you can’t help but appreciate the mastery of this creation. The filming does the culinary art justice in every way, and despite the lack of Smellevision, I can almost taste the delicate and explosive flavors. Brine, salty fishes, fatty meats, creamy globs of magical milk, all arranged in perfect juxtaposition. You really can’t help but end every episode, and look at your couch-mate and say, “Ok, we have to go there.”


Photo Credit: Christian Seel

But to leave it there, just saying, “It’s beautifully filmed, the chefs are amazing and the food looks wonderful,” would be a cheapening statement. I have seen great footage, I have eaten some of the world’s best food, and yet what makes these episodes so connecting are the stories that drive them. Complete with the uncomfortable stuff.

I have heard critiques about these shows, that the kitchen scenes aren’t very accurate, and that the view has been highly polished, taking the realism of the kitchen back to the side room and locking the door. That may be the case to a degree. But what can’t be denied is that these people all have a story, and it wasn’t the perfectly easy one.

I will qualify all of this by saying that I don’t think anyone is ever Self-Made. Every single story has some other key player or guide in it. They may have a brief role, but they are critical to the narrative. Picture a few of these chefs. At a bare minimum, Francis MallmannAlex Atala and Enrique Olvera were all given a hard message in a straightforward way by someone outside their sphere. The common theme of that message was:

“You are doing a poor job as a copy-cat, even though you have worked insanely hard to be a great chef. It will never cut it, you need to figure yourself out and do what YOU do.”

If someone was that blunt with me, I might punch them, or cry, I don’t know. Most of us would retaliate. And maybe they did. Maybe this part got polished out of their stories.

It doesn’t matter.

All great stories usually have a hardship to them. A problem or moment that is just plain insurmountable. The details may not be exact to these people, but they are exact to all people in that our journeys, if they are interesting or good or beautiful, MUST have some grave moment. That place where we just have to release our brain-child and let it leave us. That’s the human part of us all.

And yet we proceed in life as if our great story is supposed to be easy.

I have never been able to hide my boredom in a conversation, and nothing draws a yawn from my breath faster than someone telling me about how great their life is, and how everything keeps falling into place. When people gloss over the struggle and focus only on their successes and wins, its like inviting someone into an all-white room. It’s cool for a minute, but there’s no texture or realness to it, so why stay there?


Conversely, there are whiners. People who go on and on about their life’s struggles and how they have been victimized at every turn. There is a moment for honesty, but some people gain way too much pleasure from spilling their dirt on others. Same problem, it’s a one-sided story.


Great images, great stories, great dishes, they all have texture. Contrast created by light and dark, color, hue and tone. The flavors from these restaurants are wrought in complexity, the perfect balance of different elements, all uniquely stacked and blended to create beauty visually and on the palate.

These creations are reflections, I think, of the quality of stories these people have lived. That’s why it’s interesting. That’s why we watch and yearn.

But are we willing to have our own stories be good ones? Drama’s, tragedies and comedies that stay glued to the mind of the next generation? Can we risk ourselves just enough now, to begin an adventure, the very nature of which is unexpected and unpredictable?

There will be hard moments.

People will say hard things.

You will become less.

But all this is what makes our personal soil rich for growth. The twists in a tree are what make for more beautiful wood. Look at the world around you, and look at the most beautiful things. Aren’t they the most wild and uncontrolled? Mountains, Oceans, Fields, Forests?

Do you HAVE to eat at one of these restaurants?

Yes it would be incredible and “worth it” in so many ways, but the real gift of all this are the narratives. Those you can chew on for years, maybe even a lifetime. Stories have unending flavor and never tend to reveal themselves fully. They are mysterious and powerful, essential to us like food. That’s the real gift from these people. A willingness to share their stories in depth with all of us. The recipe is just to Get Doing.

For a life well lived is beautiful, it aches and yearns and passes through those around us, unfettered by the physical world. We cannot ever measure the truths we experience or share. But to those for whom it brings joy, it is seen in all it’s shades and colors. It’s not something we plan. It’s something we accept with open arms and just walk and live and say, “Thank you!”