Food and restaurants have become popular reality TV subjects, with at least one channel dedicated to such shows. Rémi Anfosso’s A Chef’s Journey may seem like something you would find on the Food Network, but it really doesn’t follow the template of those reality shows.
The film follows Chef David Kinch of Manresa, a Los Gatos, California, restaurant with 3 Michelin stars, as he takes his staff on a trip to France for a series of “four hands” dinners at other esteemed restaurants. They will go to other 2 and 3 star restaurants in Provence, Paris, and Marseille. Most of his staff is young; many have never been abroad. The idea is that the events will serve as a kind of cross-pollination for the staffs of the restaurants involved.
If this were a Food Network show, we would be expecting near disasters (or total disasters), but that is not the way Anfosso presents this story. Kinch and his staff worry about getting the ingredients they will need (such as abalone and sauces that take several days to prepare, so they are taking them frozen) to the places they will be cooking. The staffs will be working together and may have little ability to even speak a common language. Chefs in general have a reputation for being a bit imperial and not wanting to share. But as we watch the trip unfold, everything seems to work out well. The biggest problem is that the various members of staffs are all trying not to offend their counterparts and not really getting to know each other or what they do.
Also different from the way the Food Network would approach this is that the food itself stays in the background. We see some of the dishes being prepared (and this is all small plates of very beautiful and artistic food), but the only eating we see happening is when the staff gets to taste the foods the others have made. We hear some of the foods described, but some we never know just what we are seeing.
Each of the stops on this journey provide a different setting, country, city, and Mediterranean coast, that affect the way the chefs in those places approach cuisine. In Provence, the emphasis in on the freshness of the herbs and vegetables. In Paris, the restaurant sees itself as the height of French cooking. In Marseille, it is all built around what the sea can deliver that day. It is the chef in Marseille, Gérald Passedat, who provides the clearest view of his philosophy of cuisine.
While it is refreshing that the film doesn’t generate conflict the way a Food Network show would for dramatic purposes, it would have been good to see what problems they did encounter and how that was resolved. It also would have given us a chance to see some of the cross-pollination that I’m sure must have happened.
The film is meant to be a celebration of cross-cultural cooperation. It serves that function, but not as deeply as it might.
A Chef’s Journey is available on Virtual Cinema through local arthouses and on Vimeo.
Photos courtesy of First Run Features.