“It would be like telling Leonardo Da Vinci he couldn’t paint,” Ed Levine said, referencing Chris Bianco’s pizza making skills.
When I came across Netflix’s “Chef’s Table” and “Chef’s Table Pizza,” from which this quote came, I was immediately stunned at how popular media has inflated the egos of the once humble chef.
From “Chef’s Table” to “MasterChef” and “Ugly Delicious,” the popularity of watching chefs make astounding creations has skyrocketed. While cooking shows are not a new — ahem, “The French Chef” — sharing food through unconventional methods has created a business of its own. Whether this is because of the social media trend of sharing pictures of your food or streaming giants taking advantage of your hunger, food is bigger than ever.
Now that food has become such a huge success on our televisions, the only logical step would be to understand the people who make those amazing creations. Well, that’s exactly what those streaming giants have done, especially Netflix.
The introduction of “Chef’s Table” brought an artsy version of biographies about chefs across the world who create world renowned masterpieces. “Chef’s Table” seemed to garner enough popularity that Netflix introduced various spinoffs including “Chef’s Table BBQ,” “Chef’s Table France,” “Chef’s Table Pizza” and the country-based “Street Food.”
At the beginning, the viewer is absorbed by the dreamlike quality of the filming in each of these series, but when the smoke clears and the plates are licked clean, the dark side of the show rears its ugly head: Many of these chefs are, in all their glory, engulfed by their own ego. Somehow, they have arrived at the fact that their creations are somehow altering the very fabric of the Earth, when all they are really doing are being good chefs.
As someone who has cooked for 15 years, looking at these chefs makes me rethink the craft. Thinking you are the artist or inventor of some foods is preposterous. Nevertheless, some of the chefs in shows like “Chef’s Table” claim just that. One of the most damning scenes of the “Chef’s Table Pizza” is when Gabriele Bonci, after describing his fried pasta carbonara creation, says, “Fried pasta, I invented it.” Then he goes silent, lifts his arms over his head and leans back encouraging praise.
This is hideous, and all chefs should be deeply offended by this. Cooking is an interpretive craft either by means of taking old recipes or creating your own based on your vision. You cannot claim reign over a certain food because every chef has something to add or reinterpret, period.
It seems, however, that many people are noticing the plague of ego on the world’s chefs. Recently, I saw a preview for “The Menu” and was liberated. It depicted Ralph Fiennes as this towering chef who has complete control over his staff and speaks to his diners as if he is a priest addressing his parishioners.
Hopefully, more examples of this film are introduced into the mainstream, because allowing the world’s chefs to think they are superior to any other chef out there is terrifying. In reference to one of the greatest films that centers around a chef’s life, “anyone can cook.” Don’t ever let anyone undermine your approach or contribution to the food world, because anyone can cook and anyone can cook well.
Graphic by Lexi Petri.