On February 19, Netflix’s The Chef Show returned for its third volume. It’s a balm for my weary soul in these dark times.
For the uninitiated, the show is basically just chef Roy Choi and writer-director-actor Jon Favreau nerding out about cooking and food. It combines four of my favorite things in the world: food culture, curiosity, Jon Favreau, and the chance to see people do things they love and are very, very good at.
Favreau met chef Choi at the wrap party for one of the Iron Man films when Kogi, Choi’s food truck, catered the event. At the time, Favreau was in early pre-production on Chef (a movie that would go on to become one of my favorite 100 films of the decade). After talking about the project, Choi wound up serving as a hands-on consultant. He created the recipes for the movie, and taught Favreau the skills he needed to look like an actual chef — as opposed to far too many cooking movies, where an actor appears to have just picked up a knife for the first time in their lives right before filming started. The result is possibly the most authentic food industry movie ever.
Choi’s passion, craft, and skill as a teacher helped create a film full of delightful food porn, with Favreau displaying an impressive level of competence in the film’s cooking scenes. The extent of Choi’s involvement is evident in Chef‘s mid-credits scene, which is real footage of Choi teaching Favreau to make the world’s most impressive-looking grilled cheese sandwich.
The two remained friends after press for the movie was done, but they no longer had an excuse to cook together. Favreau had no desire to write and direct a sequel to Chef, so he came up with a better plan for the two to get back in the kitchen. [Side note: he made the right call concerning Chef 2. Chef is great just as it is, and it’s hard to imagine a sequel that didn’t feel forced at best, or ruin part of the charm of the original at worst.]
Favs decided to start making food with Choi again, and bring cameras along for the ride, just in case. As he told Eater: “At first I just got cameras and filmed us cooking in different environments with different people. It was done over the course of three years, and then I would take the footage and just start working on it. I didn’t know if I was going to pitch it somewhere. And the next thing you know, I ended up finishing it, just trusting that in this day and age, we‘d find a good partner. We ended up doing enough episodes to actually deliver a season, and it turned into a Netflix show. They loved the authenticity of it, they loved the passion.”
And thus, The Chef Show was born, wherein Choi and Favreau lead viewers and various celebrity guests on an odyssey into the glorious world of food. They guide us through the preparation of various dishes, explain different techniques, and take us into the kitchens of some of the best and most interesting chefs in the game. Favreau’s already impressive food knowledge and kitchen/knife skills, as seen in Chef, have grown even more impressive in the years since. The man can cook, like, for real. At this point, he could easily work as a professional chef.
I love watching people do something they are great at; even better when they are deeply passionate about it; better still when that thing involves amazing food. The Chef Show delivers all of that in spades.
Choi and Favreau’s excitement about what they’re doing is contagious. Their rapport is delightful, and their deep dive into the details and minutia of cooking is crack to me. I’m alternately laughing out loud and smiling at the goddamned beauty of it all. This isn’t shiny, over-produced, reality show nonsense. This is just two dudes who love cooking, and each other, geeking out about eating and preparing food.
I’ve loved Favreau ever since my friends and I watched Swingers once a week in college, but I quickly fell in love with chef Choi as well. He is so delightfully curious and creative. His brain doesn’t turn off when it comes to cooking. If he’s around random ingredients, he’s immediately improvising ways to use what’s on hand to make something special. His on the fly process makes perfect sense for a guy whose career took off in a food truck.
Watching his brain work is really fun. It’s rare to find people as good at anything as he is at what he does. His personality in the kitchen is a unique mirepoix of traits: an obsessive attention to cleanliness and organization, impeccable skill as a chef, and an amazing openness to improvisation, collaboration, and creativity in the moment. Season that with a zen-like joy for the process of food prep and cooking, and you have Roy Choi. With that as the base for everything he makes, it’s easy to see why Kogi became internationally renowned, and why chef Choi is creating a burgeoning restaurant empire.
“It was a joy to watch,” is an overused cliche, but in this case, joy is the only way to describe what I feel when I’m watching The Chef Show. I love every minute, and can’t wait for volume four.