Ever since “Chef’s Table” first aired back in 2015, Netflix have been setting the standard for modern food programming. A combination of quality production, gorgeous visuals and staggering storytelling has helped redefine what the world expects from TV shows that are ostensibly about cooking. Suddenly, an hour watching Gordon Ramsay screeching at terrified cooks on a set in Los Angeles doesn’t seem quite so impressive.
While “Chef’s Table” is both arresting and undeniably impressive, there has always been the feeling that it’s a little lofty and soulless for some audiences. It’s impossible to present people with images of food that they can never afford, described in terms that you need a PhD to understand, all set to a score from Vivaldi’s Winter concerto grosso without seeming slightly pompous. Even episodes that focus on inclusion and representation have a whiff of snobbery about them.
Recognising this seems to have been at the forefront of producers’ minds when they pitched a new project for the international streaming platform. Rather than focus on the elite world of fine dining, this new series instead addresses dishes that are eaten by millions every single day. Where Chef’s Table is exclusive, this series is universal. This is why “Street Food”, which aired last week, may well be the most exciting food show to air in 2019.
Made by the same team behind Chef’s Table, Street Food shares much of the DNA of its sister show. However, where the other is occasionally cold and distant, Street Food is warm, relatable and immensely gratifying. Profiling 35 vendors across nine Asian cities, the programme tells the story of some of the most celebrated foods on the planet, revealing how some people have dedicated their lives to one dish and why you don’t need to have done a stage at Noma to be a world class cook.
Among the dishes on display are an iconic crab omelette from 73-year-old Thai cook Jay Fai, who became world famous after winning a Michelin star for her sensational street food in 2018, and blow-torched izakaya-style tuna from Osaka-based Chef Toyo. Every episode features big, bold bowls of flavour that look just as beautiful as any of the fine dining featured on the programme’s famous predecessor. As a way to introduce audiences to food outside of a traditional restaurant, it’s tough to imagine anything more effective.
One of the reasons we all love watching people cook is because food brings us together. Sharing something delicious is one of the most effective ways we have of bonding, so it makes perfect sense that we all enjoy staring at something mouth-watering on screen. This effect is even more pronounced when it’s something that we recognise in a setting that feels relevant. Restaurants may be lovely, but they’re not for everyone. It's because anyone and everyone can and does enjoy food from the street that this new series promises to be Netflix’s most engaging and entertaining yet.