Jon Favreau has built a career out of curiosity, and that’s exactly what makes his new Netflix series The Chef Show so compelling. His work directing films as varied as Elf, Iron Man, and The Jungle Book transcends the efforts of your typical “journeyman” director precisely because you can feel Favreau’s genuine interest in making the kind of film at hand, regardless of whether he’s ever made a film like that previously. The filmmaker’s 2014 indie Chef, which he wrote and directed, came on the heels of the blockbuster disappointment Cowboys & Aliens and was a passionate, stripped down affair. Chef follows a restaurant chef who decides to embark on an ambitious venture working in a food truck after receiving a very public negative review for a “safe” dish he crafted for a prestigious critic. Indeed, the story of Chef was no doubt directly inspired by Favreau’s experience with Cowboys & Aliens, which failed to hit with critics or audiences, and the well-received indie inspires this new Netflix series.
The Chef Show is an extension of Favreau’s work on Chef, during which he became enamored of the world of cooking and began an apprenticeship of sorts under renowned chef Roy Choi. In The Chef Show, Favreau and Choi cook various dishes—some inspired by the cooking in the film Chef—with a number of different guests that range from Gwyneth Paltrow to Bill Burr to Robert Rodriguez. But this is far from your traditional cooking show in all the best ways. In The Chef Show you won’t find any contrived “problems,” forced humor, or clever editing to make the perfect dish. This is, to be frank, a “no bullshit” cooking show, as evidenced by the sequence in which we watch Favreau and Choi make a whole batch of Café du Monde beignets only to discover after the fact that the mix was long expired. It’s a hilarious bit of candor—complete with Choi throwing the rest of his beignet away instead of continuing to eat it—and it’s indicative of how “real” The Chef Show is in comparison to other shows of this kind.
The chemistry between Favreau and Choi is infectious. Favreau’s curiosity shines through as he’s constantly trying to learn more from his mentor, and you can feel that he genuinely wants to please Choi with his own skills and cooking. There’s a natural back-and-forth as they work out recipes, with Favreau peppering Choi with fascinating questions about procedure or flavor—to which the veteran chef humorously sometimes doesn’t know the answer, as his cooking is marked by plenty of improvisation and inspiration. More than once Favreau will tell Choi that the recipe he’s using is one that Choi had texted him previously, with Choi admitting he has no memory of recommending that specific list of ingredients. That’s real cooking.
The mentor/apprentice relationship also adds a unique twist to The Chef Show, as you the viewer get to feel like you’re learning from a master chef like Choi alongside Favreau, who is genuinely looking for guidance and praise from Choi. The two are clearly friends, but it’s refreshing to see a filmmaker of Favreau’s stature simply want to do a good job for a teacher he so clearly respects. And indeed, Favreau’s curiosity propels these moments—it’s obvious he’s making this show out of a genuine passion for cooking and a desire to become a better cook himself, not as some vanity project.
The structure of each of the first season’s eight episodes varies. The opening episode finds Favreau and Choi cooking a vegan recipe for Paltrow in her kitchen, but the latter half of the same episode finds comedian Bill Burr joining Favreau and Choi in their kitchen to make sandwiches—including the ooey, gooey grilled cheese from Chef. There’s also an episode dedicated to the late food critic Jonathan Gold, with chef Jazz Singsanong joining in to create some insanely delicious-looking Thai food, then there are two episodes dedicated to Franklin’s Barbeque in Austin, Texas with guest Aaron Franklin. Favreau and Choi also travel to the house of Robert Rodriguez where he makes them homemade pizza, and in a special Atlanta episode the duo sit down for food and conversation with Avengers: Infinity War cast and filmmakers including Robert Downey Jr., Tom Holland, and Kevin Feige.
The conversational aspect of The Chef Show is another main draw that sets the series apart, and it’s why in describing the show I’d call it a cross between Favreau’s film Chef and his previous celebrity conversation TV show Dinner for Five. Favreau is an extremely charming and, again, curious guy, so with each guest always comes great, fascinating conversation.
The Chef Show is a cooking show that, like The Great British Baking Show, elicits feelings of pure joy and delight. There’s no nastiness, no fakery, and no trying to be “edgy” to make the series seem relevant. This is a show about cooking, conversation, and community, and in directing every episode himself, Favreau keeps the series laser focused on these three themes while somehow still managing to make each episode feel fresh. If Favreau and Choi want to keep cooking together and filming it for the rest of their lives, releasing new seasons of The Chef Show every couple years, we’ll all be the better for it. I gobbled up the first season in just a few days and I’m already craving more.
Rating: ★★★★★ – A perfect meal
The Chef Show premieres on Netflix on June 7th