New series explores the lives and kitchens of six international culinary talents

The Staff Canteen

Coming to Netflix on Sunday is Chef’s Table. This brand new series offers viewers the opportunity to go inside the lives and kitchens of six of the world's most renowned, international culinary talents. Directed by David Gelb, the creator of Jiro Dreams of Sushi, it tells the story of six world-class chefs and showcases their kitchens and food. It explores the most exciting restaurants of the moment in the farthest reaches of the world and how the chefs continue to perfect their craft. Each episode focuses on a single chef, we take a closer look at the six chefs set to star in the programme: Ben Shewry, Attica Restaurant in Melbourne, Australia Born and raised in rural North Taranaki, New Zealand, Ben believes that food can have a deeper meaning than just another item to consume; it can be evocative, emotional and thought-provoking, appealing to all of the senses. Of course, the key to all this is that it tastes of the purity of its ingredients and is something delicious to eat. For inspiration, he often draws from his childhood; from the volcano, rivers, ocean, and native bush that make up Taranaki, as well as his current Australian surroundings. The menu at the Melbourne restaurant is studded with earthy flavours and foraged ingredients, while the dining experience is simultaneously sophisticated and deeply grounded. Ben was named “Best New Talent” by Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine in 2008. He moved to Australia and then America to further cement his skill set in the fundamentals of exquisite cookery. He spent time under chef David Thompson at Nahm in London and was inspired to visit Thailand, where he developed his now highly complex—and often challenging—understanding of seasoning. Ben identifies with chefs like Heston Blumenthal, inspired by their refusal to accept limitations in the kitchen. And the menu items at Attica reflect Ben’s curiosity, ingenuity, and discipline, combining unlikely elements with seamless execution for a surprising and often entirely unique experience. And when Attica was named the 73rd best restaurant in the entire world in the 2010 San Pellegrino list, Ben cemented his place as an important contributor to the future of global cuisine.  

Magnus Nilsson, Fäviken in Järpen Sweden Magnus Nilsson has become the poster boy for the new wave of Scandinavian cooking that has captured the world’s imagination. He had originally wanted to become a marine biologist but instead attended a local cookery college. Fäviken, which was ranked the 19th best restaurant in the world in 2014, lays claim to being among the most isolated restaurants on the planet and Magnus can regularly be found foraging and hunting in the 20,000-acre hunting estate for ingredients to serve in his rustic dining room. Magnus's cooking is bold and creative with seemingly simple preparations often requiring a time-honoured skill and patience that has long died out in many kitchens. A dish of rakfisk (fermented trout) and sour cream, for example, requires a three-day brine followed by a six-month maturing process where pH levels must be kept under continual observation. He has previously worked at Michelin-starred L'Arpège in France, under Alain Passard and Pascal Barbot's L'Astrance where he worked for three years. He took a break from cooking and decided to become a wine writer. He had become disillusioned with cooking after he returned to his homeland as he found it hard to source ingredients in Sweden that were as good as those in France. He was recruited in 2008 to put together a wine cellar as a sommelier by the new owner of the Fäviken estate, after a year he returned to the kitchen and became head chef. Because of the local climate over the winter, efforts are made to preserve ingredients, Magnus said: "We say goodbye to fresh ingredients on the first of October, and then we don't see them again until April." Due to the techniques and sourcing of ingredients that Magnus uses, comparisons have been made to René Redzepi of Noma.

Francis Mallmann, El Restaurante Patagonia Sur in Buenos Aires, Argentina Francis Mallmann's fame was forged by hard work and delicious food. He was trained in the kitchens of Europe including two years of learning alongside Paul Bocuse. He opened his own restaurants (and taught) in Argentina, starred in the gourmet television series called 'Fires of the South', and now offers his own insights into cooking with fire in a book 'Seven Fires'. Francis Mallmann's extensive and successful culinary career began when he was just a child growing up with his family in a log house in Patagonia. "In that house," Mallmann says in his book Seven Fires, "fire was a constant part of growing up for my two brothers and me, and the memories of that home continue to define me." Mallmann gained notoriety for his gourmet Haute-French food but broke from this style (and his own pretentiousness, he says) to return to what he learned as a child. Fire. Wood. Ash. Mallman cooks with wood fires and cast iron and has opened three restaurants: 1884 Francis Mallmann, in the Argentine wine region of Mendoza, Patagonia Sur, in Buenos Aires, and Hotel & Restaurant Garzon in Uruguay. Sizzling shrimp in an iron box, smashed and roasted goat cheese, burnt carrots with rosemary, and 7-hour baby goat are all exemplary dishes that are on the menu.  

Niki Nakayama, N/Naka Restaurant in Los Angeles, CA, USA Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, chef Niki Nakayama began her career at the renowned Takao restaurant in Brentwood, working under the guidance of esteemed chefs Takao Izumida and Morihiro Onodera. Committed to exploring new techniques, Niki embarked on a three-year working tour throughout Japan, sampling her way through different regional flavours and immersing herself in the essentials of Japanese cuisine, both traditional and cutting-edge. While working at Shirakawa-Ya Ryokan, (a Japanese inn owned by relatives) Niki trained under chef Masa Sato in the art of kaiseki the traditional Japanese culinary practice that emphasizes balance and seasonality of a dish. Upon her return to Los Angeles, Niki opened her first restaurant - Azami Sushi Cafe, which quickly became known for Niki's popular omakase menu. Azami was an immediate LA staple, touted by Zagat and the Los Angeles Times in addition to earning Citysearch's "Best of Sushi" distinction in 2006. Inaka, Niki's ambitious second venture, functioned as a gourmet Japanese take-out by day and an intimate eight-course chef's table by night. Focusing on tasting menus allowed Niki to do what she enjoys - and thrives in - most: creating a thoughtful and cohesive series of dishes that provides a personal experience for each diner.  

Dan Barber, Blue Hill Restaurant at Stone Barns and in New York City, USA Dan Barber is the co-owner and executive chef of Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and the author of, The Third Plate. His opinions on food and agricultural policy have appeared in the New York Times, along with many other publications. Appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, Dan continues the work that he began as a member of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture's board of directors: to blur the line between the dining experience and the educational, bringing the principles of good farming directly to the table. In 2009 he was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. A model of self-sufficiency and environmental responsibility, Stone Barns is a working farm, ranch, and a three-Michelin-star-worthy restaurant - it's a vision of a new kind of food chain. Dan's philosophy of food focuses on pleasure and thoughtful conservation - on knowing where the food on your plate comes from and the unseen forces that drive what we eat. He's written on US agricultural policies, asking for a new vision that does not throw the food chain out of balance by subsidizing certain crops at the expense of more appropriate ones.  

Massimo Bottura, Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy Massimo was born and raised in Modena in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. In 1986 he was studying law when he heard that a roadside trattoria was for sale on the outskirts of Modena. He decided to put his studies on hold then bought and renovated the building opening Trattoria del Campazzo a week later. Massimo then apprenticed himself to chef Georges Coigny to build his culinary foundation, a combination of regional Italian cooking and classical French training. He also worked with Alain Ducasse at Louis XV in Montecarlo in 1994. Alain invited him to stage in his kitchen following a surprise visit to Trattoria del Campazzo. In 1995 Bottura opened Osteria Francescana and then spent a summer at El Bulli with Ferran Adria, which encouraged him to continue pushing boundaries and re-writing rules with his cuisine. Osteria Francescana was awarded its third Michelin star in 2012 and received third place in 2014 on the World’s 50 Best List for the second consecutive year. Massimo is able to balance the demands of heritage and modernity and has created a restaurant where traditionalists and those seeking something entirely new are both amply catered for. Massimo’s more avant-garde creations are fun and unapologetically eccentric, yet always underpinned by perfect execution and, most importantly, deliciousness. The menu can now be split into three categories. The traditional dishes such as tortellini with Parmesan sauce and tagliatelle with ragù. Then the modern classics, such as the kitchen’s five ages of Parmesan and foie gras. Finally the newly developed dishes, with recent examples including ‘camouflage’ – a thin layer of foie gras decorated with powders (hare blood, chestnut, various herbs), arranged to look like army woodland camo.

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 24th April 2015

New series explores the lives and kitchens of six international culinary talents