The Final Table is a spectacle that only Netflix could produce. A ten-part show that bills itself as “a global cooking competition,” The Final Table features 24 chefs from 18 countries working in teams of two, among them Michelin star winners, culinary pioneers, and even a taco truck vendor. Set in a large flashy stadium and hosted by Bon Appetit magazine’s Andrew Knowlton, the chefs compete to win a coveted seat at the final table, joining nine culinary legends who serve as guest judges throughout the series. With good intent, the show blunders through with over dramatic cuts and disappointing judgements. In spite of all that, the show’s culinary competitors still shine and make for a wonderful first season, and we all hope to see more.
Each of the first nine episodes is themed around a country, from Japan to the US to France. In the first round, three guest judges (usually one food critic and two celebrities) from that country choose a signature dish for the chefs to cook. In Mexico, chefs presented unique takes on tacos; in India, butter chicken; and in the UK, an English breakfast. It is perhaps here that the show fails the most. Despite being a show that claims to find the best chef, with these first round of cultural challenges, it became immensely clear that those familiar with the native cuisine received large benefits and those unfamiliar, received large disadvantages. In the round in India when the chefs had to make butter chicken, the chefs looked for incredibly specific details about the dish, such as the creaminess and the sweetness, that many competitors unfamiliar with the dish did not know about and therefore suffered. What certainly did not help either, were the celebrity judges’ lack of culinary knowledge and judging based off base intuition. It seemed more often someone went to the elimination round because they did not know about a specific of the cuisine rather than an actual cooking blunder.
The bottom three teams played in an elimination round, to be judged by a world-famous chef from that country, who chooses a local ingredient for the chefs to work with, ranging in anything from sea urchin to cassava. It was here that chefs truly shined, working without limits and being tested by an experienced tongue. This is undoubtedly the best part of the show, because the results are so varied, and the chefs are brutally honest with their praise and criticism.
The show in the end is a joy to watch and passes as truly binge-worthy, in classic Netflix fashion.The competitors were charming and interesting to watch, especially the witty Dundee native Graham Campbell and the Australian duo of Shane Osborn and Mark Best. The show’s over dramatic editing and music was distracting, but was not enough to take the spotlight off the cultural and culinary celebration that is The Final Table.
Image by Sally May via Flickr.