I love food. I love eating it, learning about it, reading about it and watching it. One of the reasons I’m glad I don’t have cable is my propensity to spend unnecessary hours with the food network.
And so, when looking for something to watch on Netflix I noticed a new series called Chef’s Table I dove right in. I discovered the unexpected in these six documentaries. Rather than getting a mediation on food (though there was some) or inspiration on dishes (again, there was some) what I found was a compelling look at the lives of artists.
The six chef’s from all over the world have different styles of living and cooking but what binds them all is the uniqueness of their visions and the passion of their drives. I was only familiar with one of them: Dan Barber whose book The Third Plate I devoured while on vacation last summer. The rest were new to me and I was impressed with the choices that covered much of the globe: LA to Sweden to Patagonia. I was glad to see a woman highlighted (LA’s Niki Nakayama). The director’s weaves personal stories, food stories and the politics of artistic entrepreneurship in a way that makes the viewer feel like you’re getting a glimpse at something special.
And all of this made me think about theatre.
In DC it is hard not to make the leap between participation on the arts and in food life. The amount of disposable income being plunked down on restaurants in this city is massive and I’m guessing I’m not the only art maker who wishes that some of that excitement and money could be shifted over to arts makers.
And yet, the thing that became clear while watching is that these chef’s are artists. And they make theatre. At least three of the documentaries discussed the theatrics or performance of the meal. The diner in all cases was being considered as an audience member. The artist/chefs ruminated on the same questions that face any kind of artist (but particularly theatre makers): how do you balance vision and economy? How do you work with a team to provide and receive inspiration? How do you maintain work/life balance? How does your product represent the immediate (the time and place, here and now)?
Imagine my shock when in the first of the series, Italian chef Massimo Bottura describes his wife Laura as being indispensable to the process of his creation. She is “looking at the things from a distance, so she sees everything very clear.” That may be one of the clearest descriptions of the role of dramaturg I’ve seen.
There must be ways of merging the creativity of food-making with the creativity of performance making. With blending the two worlds and economies not as separate but connected modes of sensual storytelling.
In the meantime, watch the documentaries. If you don’t have the time to take them all in, I’d suggest watching Mossimo Bottura and Niki Nakayama first.