FoodSided: Netflix beckons chefs with a seat at the table of culinary greatness
By Cristine Struble on November 1, 2018
The Final Table is set to be one of Netflix’s most ambitious don’t eat hungry programs. The concept for this culinary competition is clear. Chefs are competing to earn a seat at the table of culinary greatness. No drama, no favoritism or superfluous agenda is needed. This culinary competition is about delicious, thoughtful food.
One simple element can unite people across cultures. Food is universal nourishment. While flavors, seasonings and ingredients may vary from region to region, food gathers people together around a table. In a divisive world, food can unify everyone’s similarities.
As people explore culture and flavor, the similarities can outweigh the differences. While Mexico might celebrate the simple taco, that dish doesn’t have to be limited to native Mexican ingredients. That fresh tortilla can be the vehicle for an exploration of flavor from other countries. Chefs who can see both the similarities and opportunities to elevate one regional dish into an exquisite plate of deliciousness are considered culinary greats.
In the new Netflix series, The Final Table, 12 teams of two internationally acclaimed chefs have gathered to compete for a spot of the table of the culinary greatness. Over ten episodes, these chefs will have to create dishes based on a particular region’s cuisine. In the end, only one chef will earn a spot at the table with the culinary icons.
Unlike other culinary competitions, this Netflix series focuses on the food. From how the show was shot to the group of chefs participating, this culinary competition is food-centric. Don’t expect to see yelling, crying or other kitchen meltdowns. Drama is not a key ingredient. These shows are about showcasing culinary talent and the deliciousness on a plate.
Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with the show’s executive producer, Yasmin Shackleton. After our conversation, I am even more excited about this Netflix series. While I might not be pulling out a pair of tweezers to plate my Thanksgiving dinner, I believe that this exploration of food and flavor will be both inspirational and educational for food fans and non-foodies, too.
Looking at the concept for this culinary competition, I asked Shackleton about the inspiration. She mentioned that her co-executive producer had the ambitious idea of bringing together the group of culinary gods, like a photo in a British publication. Although the concept sounded unobtainable, this program is actually that idea coming to fruition. From the competitors to the judges, this series is a gathering of culinary greatness.
With the concept in hand, I asked Shackleton about how the teams of two chefs were paired together. She said that some chefs knew each other and others were brought together. Overall, the teams needed to understand how their culinary styles would play off each other.
It wasn’t necessarily about being the strongest in one particular culinary point of view or being friends. These chefs needed to be adaptable, knowledgeable and innovative. Each episode’s challenges would push the chefs beyond their comfort zone.
For example, Shackleton referenced the theme of The Final Table’s first episode, tacos. One team hadn’t cooked a taco in decades. Even though this food genre wasn’t the team’s typical style, they were able to bring an authenticity to the dish that made it more Mexican than they realized.
This example shows the heart of this culinary competition. It isn’t about recreating a particular dish. Each episode looks to make a connection with the heart of the region’s cuisine. When the chefs can bring that soulful connection to a plate of food, that dish will impress the judges.
In the taco example, these dishes aren’t about filling a tortilla with proteins, vegetables, cumin and cilantro. The chefs needed to find a connection between the taco and their own culinary point of view. Of course, the connection to Mexico needed to be apparent, but they couldn’t forget themselves in the process.
Truthfully, every culture, region and cuisine has a form of a taco. That dish has a different name, but the concept is similar. Chefs who can find that similarity through their culinary interpretation will always be part of culinary greatness.
Shackleton raised a great point for the food fan watching this show. She, like many of us, sometimes gets into a food routine. For example, who doesn’t order that same, preferred dish at your favorite restaurant over, and over? One hope for this Netflix show is that fans will be more willing to explore foods and flavors. Maybe if you want a taco, you would order the pumpkin taco instead of just chicken, again.
The heart of this show extends beyond the culinary competition. Like many food based Netflix programs, The Final Table is a celebration of food and people. Food is inclusive, exciting and influential. Yes, there is the competition aspect. Still, the connection from chef to food to table drives the success of this idea.
Think about some of the greatest meals that you’ve ever eaten. Some of the best chefs in the world are able to transform simple ingredients into an experience. Whether it recalls a memory, creates a desire or fosters an inspiration, some chefs are able to make that connection with their food. That plate becomes more than just nourishment for hunger, it becomes an expression of region, culture and even a chef, himself. Hopefully, this culinary show conveys this aspect to all the viewers.
Without revealing any spoilers about the show, Shackleton mentioned that some of the chefs have incorporated aspects from this show into their current menus. Cuisines and other chefs can, and should, inspire each other to evolve the food that people enjoy. Whether it is techniques, ingredients or culinary styles, that integration shows that food is inclusive. Around the table, delicious food can bring people together.
As food fans countdown the days till the November 20 premiere of the ten episode series of The Final Table on Netflix, I would encourage everyone to start a food conversation. While only a few will be culinary greats, anyone can be inspired by the chefs and cuisines on this show. Being willing to explore ingredients, flavors and techniques is part of being a fan of food. This don’t eat hungry program can be more than another culinary competition.
Who will earn a seat at The Final Table? That answer will be revealed soon. But, the bigger part of this show is how will The Final Table impact your love of food?
Eater: Netflix Rewrites the Recipe for Cooking Shows on ‘The Final Table’
By Greg Morabito on November 8, 2018 10:39 AM EST
On a gray Friday in Los Angeles last December, the stage of The Final Table was covered in a sweeping digital mural depicting a storybook illustration of the heavens, complete with clouds, moons, and a constellation of stars. Nine culinary titans — including chefs Grant Achatz, Clare Smyth, and Enrique Olvera — ceremoniously walked across a raised balcony in the center of the stage, paused for impact, and descended down to the kitchen below, where four chefs were ready to cook their hearts out. Once a clock started running, Andrew Knowlton — editor-at-large of Bon Appetit — bounced from station to station, asking the chefs about each dish as they sweated over the stoves, and the others watched from the sidelines. When the time was up, the chefs dropped their utensils.
This tense, but carefully orchestrated pageant was just the warm-up to the defining moment of a season finale: The Avengers-like supergroup of titans, after tasting the four competitors’ dishes, would determine which of the four competing chefs would be joining them at the “Final Table.” It’s a prize that involves no cash payouts but could change the winner’s career forever, especially if the show is a big hit.
The Final Table represents the next stage in Netflix’s quest to conquer every corner of the entertainment kingdom: The media company is now charging full steam ahead at the culinary competition show, one of the most popular — yet stagnant — TV formats. On November 20, audiences will finally get to see Netflix’s attempt at reimagining the genre: the 10-episode series pits 24 acclaimed chefs against each other in a grand challenge overseen by nine of the world’s kitchen masters. If the series, which like most Netflix shows, will drop an entire season all at once, succeeds at its mission to become a global culinary spectacle, The Final Table could make shows like Top Chef, Hell’s Kitchen, and Chopped — all on the air for more than a decade — seem irrelevant. In a best-case scenario, it could become one of Netflix’s tentpole series, right up there with Chef’s Table, Stranger Things, and House of Cards.
The Final Table’s premiere will mark the end of Netflix’s impressive, year-long ramp-up of food-themed series. Since January 2018, the Hollywood maverick has deployed an array of shows that flip the script on representation and storytelling in food media. David Chang’s Ugly Delicious lead the charge last winter, along with the massively popular reboot of Queer Eye, the delightful game show Nailed It!, the scorching food corruption documentary series Rotten, and the family-friendly travel show Somebody Feed Phil. The summer brought the lighthearted baking challenge Sugar Rushand the lightheaded marijuana cookery antics of Cooking on High. And fall saw the launch of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, a true game-changer in the realm of food TV, and the irresistible oddity The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell. It was a major directional shift from a company that previously produced only two hits in the food-entertainment space: David Gelb’s genre-defining docuseries Chef’s Table, which debuted in 2015, and Michael Pollan’s less popular, but still well-regarded four-part series Cooked, from 2016.
“When Netflix came to us and said, ‘Bring us a cooking show that you’ve never seen before,’ obviously, that’s a really tall order,” said veteran TV producer Yasmin Shackleton, who created The Final Table along with her colleague Robin Ashbrook. Both producers worked on several reality shows, including Gordon Ramsay’s hit series MasterChef. Ashbrook says that he and Shackleton talked about the impact of Chef’s Table and the existing framework of shows like MasterChef, and asked themselves, “How do we make it feel more like a movie?” The answer, to their eyes at least, was to assemble the best possible group of contestants and judges — a process that involved conversations with critics and food writers around the world — and employ production techniques that had never been used on cooking shows before.
“We have these cameras that you normally see on the side of football fields that race up and down, and we literally slung them on the ceiling and used them to shoot beautiful overhead shots, which is kind of like a signature look of the show,” Shackleton said. ”We’re just trying to push everything and create a visual feast.”
“It would be factually correct to say, that in terms of the size and the scale,” Ashbrook said, “it is the biggest culinary show in a studio that has ever been made.”
The Washington Post: Netflix has a new cooking competition, and this D.C. chef is a contestant
By Tim Ebner on November 1, 2018
Usually, when an anticipated restaurant faces permitting delays, the chef goes into panic mode — quick.
Not for Reverie’s executive chef Johnny Spero, who last fall sneaked away from D.C. while his Georgetown restaurant faced permitting and design delays to do battle in a global cooking competition called “The Final Table.” It’s coming to Netflix on Nov. 20 (see the trailer here).
“Somehow I timed this all perfectly,” Spero said, jokingly referring to the delays, and the fact that the show will air just 45 days after Reverie’s opening.
“Thinking about it now, [the show] seemed like such a long time ago. It was a blur,” he said.
Just like most made-for-television cooking competitions, “The Final Table” is predicated on high-stakes, time-limited food challenges. But what sets this show apart is its global appeal and talent. Contestants come from around the world: Shane Osborn (Arcane: Hong Kong), Aaron Bludorn (Cafe Boulud: New York), Manuel Berganza (Tapas Club: Singapore), Monique Fiso (Hiakai: Porirua, New Zealand) and Charles Michel (a roving “culinary artist”), to name a few.
“I really wanted people competing who weren’t TV chefs,” says Yasmin Shackleton, the show’s co-creator and executive producer, who previously worked on Fox’s “MasterChef.” “These are people who you haven’t seen on TV and who genuinely work in their kitchen week in and week out.”
The international casting is also part of Netflix’s strategy to lure in food-obsessed viewers and appeal to a growing segment of international subscribers. A few other things that set this show apart: There’s no behind-the-scenes drama, no screaming or throwing pans in a fit of rage, and no cars or cash prizes.
“Our show is all about the celebration of food,” Shackleton said. “We don’t really care what the chefs think about each other. It’s basically let the best man or woman win. They’re all competing to show off their best selves and win a seat at the table.”
The seat she’s referring to will be awarded to a winner on the tenth (and final) episode. That person will have earned the right to join a table of nine judges of internationally recognized names: Enrique Olvera (Mexico), Andoni Aduriz (Spain), Clare Smyth (United Kingdom), Helena Rizzo (Brazil), Vineet Bhatia (India), Grant Achatz (U.S.), Carlo Cracco (Italy), Yoshihiro Narisawa (Japan) and Anne-Sophie Pic (France).
But first, there are nine episodes and culinary challenges to overcome, each with a different food challenge tied to a specific country and dish.
The two-dozen chef contestants work in teams of two. Spero cooked alongside teammate, Jessica Lorigo, who is head chef at Topa Sukalderia in San Sebastian, Spain.
“You stick with your teammate almost the whole way through,” Shackleton said. “Then if you take your partner to the finale, it’s head-to-head.”
It’s a surprise twist that reveals itself in the final episode. The last two teams split, and the chefs compete individually in a challenge judged by the nine star chefs, who pick one winner. Instead of a prize, the winning chef gets the prestige of having a seat at the final table.
Lorigo has a D.C. connection. She worked with Spero at R.J. Cooper’s Rogue 24 in Shaw before moving to Spain and eventually luring Spero there to work at Aduriz’s Mugaritz in 2015. For Spero, the decision for a teammate was easy.
“The show asked: If you had your dream partnership, who would it be? The answer was Jess,” Spero said. “She just gets me, and we work on the same wavelength as far as communicating and talking through our ideas.”
That’s a good thing because the food challenges were fast and varied. In the Mexico episode, the challenge — to build the perfect taco — was judged by two celebrity judges: Mexican boxer Julio César Chávez and actress Martha Higareda. In the Italy episode, soccer star Alessandro Del Piero and Italian food journalist Eleonora Cozzella did the judging.
The celebrity judges decide which three teams are up for elimination. Then those teams compete in a “final plate challenge” judged by a country’s food critic and star chef — for Mexico, it was food critic Mariana Camacho and chef Enrique Olvera.
Surprisingly, the Spain episode proved challenging for Spero. “I love Spain, but I’m not a classically trained Spanish chef,” he said. “I think we saw the most pressure put on us there because everyone assumed we were the experts.”
While Spero will not say how far he advances, or whether he lands the coveted seat at the final table, he did reveal one perk to the show — meeting comedian Dax Shepard and “Fargo” star Colin Hanks, who served as celebrity judges for the U.S. episode.
“It was interesting to meet them, and really they’re just people, too,” Spero said. “I treated them like I would any other guest at my restaurant.”