115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Docu-Fusion: Unwrapping Chef’s Table’s Relationship to the Cooking Show and Documentary

Josie Glore, University of Southern California

In this paper, I will analyze how Chef’s Table employs the locational and aim-oriented spectra identified in the cooking show genre while simultaneously utilizing the functions of documentary in a way that allows it to reside within both genres. 

Proposal: 

In 2015, Netflix released just its second docu-series since the platform began producing its own original content in 2013. The series, entitled Chef’s Table, has since produced two follow-on seasons, as well as its own Paris spinoff show, indicating its relative success within the currently packed landscape of television streaming. Each episode profiles a different renowned chef, traveling across different continents to tell the stories of its subjects and the food that they create. It is tempting and perhaps even logical at first glance to divorce Chef’s Table from the cooking show genre and cleanly and firmly label it instead as a documentary about cooking. In his review of the first season of the series—which my analysis will focus on—Neil Genzlinger, for instance, writes, “It has been years since a cooking show could get by with merely demonstrating how to prepare a particular dish, but these days a lot of entries in the genre are tarted up absurdly.... ‘Chef’s Table,’ an elegant six-part docu-series Netflix offers beginning Sunday, goes refreshingly in the opposite direction” (Genzlinger). The nuance here is that, while Genzlinger does implicitly acknowledge Chef’s Table as a cooking show, he also suggests that it transcends the boundaries of the genre to become a fully-fledged documentary. In this paper, I will analyze how Chef’s Table employs the locational and aim-oriented spectra identified in the cooking show genre while simultaneously utilizing the functions of documentary in a way that allows it to reside within both genres. Ultimately, what emerges from this fusion is that, rather than presenting food as an object of consumption, the series instead at least strives to focus on the chef as subject of admiration and study.

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