Recipe For Success

Sunday, March 22, 2015
Back when I was reviewing/recapping Top Chef, I had a common...well, it wasn't a complaint, per se. More of an observation. The producers would bring in these big names from the food world to be guest judges, and the contestants would be duly impressed by them. The audience, however, was often left out in the cold. If you weren't familiar with the person, then all you had to go on was a gushing interview from a contestant, talking about how much they respected the Name of the Week. It's not that I didn't believe that these guests were accomplished; they were just unfamiliar, so I didn't know how much stock I put in their opinions.

We so often don't know what goes into forming the opinions and motivations of chefs, no matter how famous they may be, which is why the PBS show The Mind of a Chef is such a nice change of pace. It's produced by Anthony Bourdain (who also narrates), and each season focuses on one or two particular chefs. We follow the chef through multiple episodes, as they explain and demonstrate the aspects of food and food culture that inspire them or that they concentrate on.

As of this post, three seasons have aired, and I've worked my way through the first one. Season 1 centered around David Chang, the Korean-American chef who founded the Momofuku group of restaurants. Naturally, he loves working with Asian ingredients, specifically noodles. But he is by no means a single-minded chef. Through these sixteen episodes, we visit several countries with him, diving into ramen, the edible parts of a pig, whiskey, eggs, cookies, and much more.

Each episode fills us in on a part of Chang's history or a particular ingredient that has been important to his development as a chef, and this deep exploration of a career is something that audiences and diners see far too rarely. As a television concept, it's brilliant. It's executed well, too, though I did have one or two issues.

The first is just a personal thing: Season 1 features several scenes of people eating ramen, and I don't believe there's a food that's less attractive to watch people consume. The other is more structural. Since the chef is involved with foods, trends, restaurants, and people that they enjoy, it can get a little repetitive watching them heap praise on everything that's featured. Everything can't be awesome. I don't expect them to eat foods they hate or to delve into stories of their career's failures, but it would be nice to get a more multi-faceted look at the chef's personality; I want to hear about the foods or cooking methods they avoid as well as the ones they flock to.

Aside from that, though, this show is not only entertaining and informative, but important to the television landscape. We're always being told that so-and-so is an expert, but now, we don't have to take a host's word for it. We can see the evidence for ourselves.

The Mind of a Chef - Season 1: B