Nothing is more viscerally challenging than food. We are triggered by the sights, smells, and even sounds of what we eat. Food carries specific markers that define our personality, our heritage, and our cultures. There is an entire network devoted to handing down recipes and the lifestyles that are associated with them. What Netflix has done different is to focus on the personalities behind the food.
In Chef’s table, we are given an inside look into what helped shape and continues to define the great chefs of the world. In episode one, we get to meet Massimo Botura. Viewed as one of Italy’s innovators responsible for reshaping the idea of what traditional Italian food should be.
What is truly interesting about this episode is the dual storylines. Two love stories that intersect and become one. The first love story is that between Massimo and food. The second is the story of him and his wife Laura. Both relationships are important for the culinary world because, without one, the other would not be complete.
Massimo’s love story with food covers three basic themes. The art of creation, nostalgia, and his deep love of parmesan. His love of parmesan cheese is strong enough that he was called on to help save the parmesan industry when Modena was struck by an earthquake in 2012. Massimo put forth a call to the world through a recipe. A Risotto dish that engaged the world in the act of consuming 360,000 wheels of cheese that were damaged and would go bad if not eaten soon. His use of a recipe as an act of social justice paid off. No one lost a job and the cheese producers could continue their amazing work.
Massimo’s visual style of his plates is striking. It is like walking through a modern art gallery as the dishes flash across the screen. He has built his illustrious career on the deconstruction and reconstitution of traditional Italian cuisine. At first mocked and ridiculed by his peers and customers, his persistence has paid off by bringing his memories to the table in whimsical and vibrant fashion. Seeing dishes like “Oops, I dropped the lemon tart”, and “Hare in the woods”, evoke a visceral charm. I can hardly imagine eating the dishes that he has created for fear of offending the artist. But not eating them would be the true disservice.
Of course, vision for creating his dishes comes from his own memories of sitting under the table in the kitchen and sneaking nibbles from his grandma as she prepped fresh tortellini. Every dish, no matter how surreal and abstract the creation, reaches back to a memory of the food he ate when he was a child. His love of these flavors and experiences is what drives him to create and share his world with his diners.
Throughout this exploration of Massimo, we gain the experience of his love that he has built with Laura, his wife. They met in a restaurant, they have worked together to build his restaurant, and even got married in his restaurant. She expresses that the restaurant never took him away, in fact, it has provided a greater family and environment for them to build their love on over the years.
She is also responsible for introducing Massimo to the world of modern art. It was in this introduction that much of his current visual flair was born from. You see the influence of art on the plates he sends out of his kitchen. Splashes of color collide with bold flavors and ideas to immerse his patrons in the entire dining experience.
Watching this inaugural episode makes me yearn for the opportunity to experience even one meal under the direction of this artist. It is the pure ADHD fueled focus that he has built his reputation on. To be able to tap into that for a split second would be breathtaking.