I love cooking competitions, and I hate cooking competitions. What I love about them is the creativity–watching talented individuals work magic with gifts I will never possess. I love learning about new food cultures and ingredients. I love making bucket lists of eateries I hope to visit one day.
What I hate is the drama. The crying. The backstabbing. Gordon Ramsey screaming and throwing things. Is it necessary to take what should be an art form and drag it through the mud of pettiness and immaturity in order to get viewers for a TV show? I would say no, but long-running series like Chopped and Cutthroat Kitchen prove that it’s clearly a winning formula.
When it comes to cooking competitions, it is with great chagrin that I find for every one Iron Chef, there are a dozen Hell’s Kitchens. In fact, I’d largely given up on the genre as a whole…until I decided to take a chance on a new Netflix Original: The Final Table. I am so glad I did.
The Final Table is a competition of 24 of some of the best chefs the world has to offer. From young prodigies to older masters, each is unquestionably talented at what they do. They hold Michelin Stars and James Beard awards. Their restaurants are consistently ranked among the best in their respective countries, if not among the best in the world. For the contest, the chefs are paired into 12 teams, and each episode is centred around the cuisine of a single country: Mexico, India, Spain, etc.
The teams are tasked with preparing a signature dish as selected by a panel of ambassador judges from the chosen country. There are some names you will know (such as Colin Hanks and Alessandra Ambrosio), but largely these are legends of the food world. After the signature dishes have been judged, the bottom three performers are placed into a sudden death cook-off. The losing team is then eliminated.
When the competition is down to the final pair, the chefs split to cook against each other. And what prize awaits at the end of this culinary gauntlet? Not money, but rather the esteem of their industry peers. Some would say that is far more valuable.
What I love about The Final Plate is that it finds that perfect middle ground between the three-ring circus of MasterChef and the pretentiousness of Chef’s Table, another Netflix original. While the show does highlight the art and romance of the cooking process, even going so far as to play Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” in the background, it is still a competition, and the stakes are high.
Despite being extremely accomplished, the chefs are genuine and respectful rather than cocky and combative. Their individual personalities shine as they cook their hearts out to impress the judges, and their creations are spectacular. When eliminated, they praise their competitors and the knowledge gained from the experience, vowing to use it to grow. In my opinion, this show has no losers.
If you like your cooking competitions with a side of soap opera, you’ll probably be bored with The Final Plate. But speaking for myself, I am relieved to see evidence that at least one show in the genre has grown up, and I hope Netflix continues on this path.
Beard Score: 10/10