Netflix cookery show The Final Table: top chefs, no shouting or screaming – and no Chinese food

  • The Final Table brings 24 top chefs together in Los Angeles, competing in pairs cooking different national cuisines
  • Nations featured include Mexico, Spain, England, Brazil, France, Japan, the US, India and Italy
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 November, 2018, 6:02pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 November, 2018, 8:13pm

Many of Hong Kong’s restaurants already glisten with Michelin stars, but can the city’s chefs hold their own under the bright lights of reality TV?

Three top chefs will be flying the Hong Kong flag on Netflix’s ambitious new global culinary competition The Final Table to prove they’ve got what it takes.

Going big on Asia: Netflix plans 17 more Asian original productions

The trio will be pitted against some of the world’s most talented chefs in a bid to earn their spot at the elite “final table” of nine culinary icons, including molecular gastronomy master Grant Achatz of Alinea, Clare Smyth of Core, who is the first female British chef to be awarded three Michelin stars and Spain’s Andoni Aduriz of Mugaritz.

The Final Table will see 24 star chefs compete in pairs in country-themed challenges set by masters of each cuisine. Representing Hong Kong is Shane Osborn of Michelin star Arcane in Central, “LA Taco King” Esdras Ochoa of 11 Westside in Kennedy Town, and Rafa Gil who was at the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong during filming last year.

After 30 years in some of the world’s top kitchens across three continents, Osborn says he was drawn to the series because The Final Table promised to celebrate “the industry for its excellence and skill involved in creating high-class food”.

“The producers did not want it to be another screamy, shouty [reality cooking] show where they build you up for failure,” says the Australian chef, who has called Hong Kong home for the past six years. “There are moments where people make mistakes and there is high drama, but the programme is about 24 exceptionally talented chefs of different calibres from different backgrounds really showing their passion and love for cooking.”

Having previously run two-Michelin star Pied à Terre and one-star L’Autre Pied in London, and with his modern European restaurant Arcane receiving its first star in this year’s Michelin guide, Osborn says it was “perfect timing ” for him to take on a “new challenge”. But he admits that a high-stakes cook-off in a huge arena in Los Angeles was a whole new kettle of fish.

“It was challenging and exciting. Any competition is tough when you have 16 cameras focusing on you, capturing every moment; you have to be on best form all the time,” says Osborn who was partnered with long-time friend and one of Australia’s leading chefs, Mark Best, to take on the competition.

Filming took place over 40 days in an I ron Chef-style arena at Sony studios. Host of the show Andrew Knowlton wasn’t able to fully grasp the scale of The Final Table until he stepped onto the set where it was being filmed. “It was ginormous,” he says. “Star Trek had just been shot in it.”

Knowlton, a long-time Bon Appetit magazine editor, signed up to host the show because he was enthralled by the scope of it.

Grisse: a ‘nasi goreng western’ with Tarantino-like style and violence

“I started talking to the producers about the names – the contestants, the celebrity ambassadors, food critics, star chefs, and saw how they decided on who joins that level of expertise,” says Knowlton. “I thought, ‘This is no joke, this is the best of the best. It’s about the beauty and artistry of cooking’.”

Each of the 10 episodes filmed in front of a live audience focuses on a different country’s cuisine, with the pairs cooking the national dishes of Mexico, Spain, England, Brazil, France, Japan, the US, India and Italy.

The tension – of which there is plenty; this is still a reality cooking competition after all – doesn’t come from chefs lambasting or sabotaging one another as seen in other cooking reality shows, but in them using their own techniques and training to create a dish profoundly intertwined with a culture they have no connection with.

“You’d think that the chef from the home country would do the best dish,” says Knowlton, of the competing chefs who hail from 18 different countries. “But that’s where things come out of left field. We had a chef who had never had a taco – or at least not in 30 years – doing their own take on the taco, knowing how the flavours and ingredients go together, and that was the thing to watch.

“It is eye-opening to see these chefs, who are the masters of their own cuisine, cook anything, even if they didn’t have a relationship to that food. You see them running around with cameras in their faces, and the pressure of the show, to cook something they’ve never cooked before.”

Hong Kong rep chef Rafa Gil says bringing together the top talents in the cooking world (as judges and contestants) made for the “most beautiful experience of my entire culinary career”. The Brazilian chef is now based at Keraton at The Plaza Jakarta Hotel, but spent the past five years working in Hong Kong.

In many ways the show’s global format mirrors Gil’s own food journey over the past 11 years – and that of many top chefs in the industry who have spent their careers chasing their culinary dreams across countries and continents.

Secrets behind dough of ‘world’s best pizzas’ in Hong Kong revealed

“Cooking has brought me to different parts of the world, introduced me to different ingredients, to meet different people. The journey of The Final Table was similar to my life. I’m from Brazil. After finishing culinary school I decided to move to Spain. After a few years there I had the opportunity to come to Asia: first Singapore, then Hong Kong and now Jakarta,” says Gil, who was partnered with Mexican chef Esdras Ochoa, who also was competing for Hong Kong.

“But there are many countries I have never been to, so it was an amazing experience on the show to challenge myself and get myself out of my comfort zone.”

Gil says his time in Asia has given him a leg up on the competition. “Living in Hong Kong and in Asia I learned about different products I had never touched in my life. The way people work is also very different. I never used a wok in Brazil or Spain. You learn different techniques and this helps a lot. This competition is a tour of the culinary world,” he says.

It’s a big step for renowned chefs to put their hard-fought reputation on the line in the name of reality TV – there’s no prize money, just bragging rights – but with Netflix’s recent slathering of successful food offerings such as The Chef’s Table series, which raised the bar on culinary storytelling, top chefs were only happy to be involved.

“I’ve never really wanted to do TV – the Top Chefs and Masterchefs never really interested me at all,” says Osborn, “but talking to the producers and being able to see what they did with Chef’s Table, and the quality of that production and how they told the stories and showcased the chefs was quite unique. Nobody has done a cooking on a grand scale like this.”

There is one notable absence in the show highlighting global cuisines – the showcasing of Chinese cuisine.

“Chinese culture and cuisine is worshipped and a huge part of the food canon,” says Knowlton. “But we only had nine countries to go to, and went with what was the most doable and felt right for right now. But if we’re lucky enough to do another season, Chinese will be one of the cuisines that we will push for.”

So after this experience, will Osborn and Gil chase a new career in the spotlight? Both are adamant the kitchen is where they are most comfortable, but aren’t ruling out dipping their toes into the television arena in future.

The Final Table is available on Netflix from November 20