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Sugar and spice

Season four of ‘Chef’s Table’ is meant for your sweet tooth



Christina Tosi, chef/co-founder of Milk Bar

Wikimedia Commons

The new season of “Chef’s Table,” which landed on Netflix in early May, is an exciting continuation of the previous seasons, but with a new focus: this time it’s just desserts. You may be wondering why we’re covering a show over a month after its release. Well, to be honest, it just fell to the bottom of my queue; you know the feeling.

Season four brings four episodes that address the theme in very different ways but that are bound together by joyful experimentation in each of the chef’s establishments.

The first episode, featuring Christina Tosi and her bakery, Milk Bar, sets the lighthearted tone for the show. Tosi uses baking as a way of exploring memory, childhood, and fun. Simultaneously silly and intellectual, she exemplifies the balance between flexibility and discipline.

The second episode features Corrado Assenza, a Sicilian pasticciere who uses local flavors to make classic and quirky dishes. He’s world-famous for his densely flavored and perfectly textured gelato, but in this episode he talks about another dish. An unlikely dessert, his raw oysters served on sorbet-like almond granita express the flavors of the sea. The risks he takes, like the oyster dish, have been a double-edged sword: They sprang him to the international stage of culinary experimentation but simultaneously alienated his local customers. In recent years, this extreme contrast has balanced out, and the menu at his legendary Caffè Sicilia features both the classic and the experimental, appealing to the full spectrum of sweets lovers.

“Chef’s Table” is most recognized for its incredible, beautiful cinematography: near-slow-motion pans and zooms across dishes, around markets, and through kitchens. The filmmaking communicates the deliciousness of the food without smell, touch, or taste. Beyond that, it gives viewers language to understand food as a way of seeing the complexities of the world we live in.

In the third episode, which features Jordi Roca, pastry chef of the three-Michelin-star Spanish restaurant El Celler de Can Roca, Roca describes the elements of his dishes as if they are lines in a poem, forming an elegant and thoughtful whole. This may sound a little high-minded, but the creators of “Chef’s Table” make it feel relatable and useful beyond the kitchen.

Will Goldfarb, the disgraced former NYC-based pastry chef who launched the dessert bar concept, is the subject of the season’s finale. A few years ago, Goldfarb dropped out of the New York scene and quietly opened a new spot in Bali, allowing him to work and live close to the origin of many of the ingredients in his arsenal: vanilla, chocolate, nutmeg, and tropical fruits.

“Chef’s Table” is food porn at its best but also at its most serious. Sometimes I wish the show would allow a little more silliness rather than portraying the episodes’ subjects as god-like. But, in a way, that’s the show’s strength. The chefs featured built their worldviews and culinary philosophies on diligence and infinite curiosity; the show allows us a small peek into their imaginative worlds.

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