Two weeks ago, my editor Kenzi and I both received a missive in our inboxes alerting us that the new season of PBS' Emmy-winning The Mind of a Chef was about to premiere. We looked at each other. I was nearing tears, fearing that she'd chide me for not knowing what the words "Award-Winning PBS Series The Mind of a Chef Takes Viewers Inside the Creative World of Ludo Lefebvre in New Season" meant. Meanwhile, good old K over here had conflated this show with its sort-of-homonym, Netflix's Chef's Table, and she instructed me to seek out that show's past episodes. Only weeks later, in advance of The Mind of a Chef's latest episode airing this past Saturday, did we realize that we were speaking different languages.
Such is the state of food television, a genre in which it's difficult to distinguish one show from another! Common knowledge suggests that The Mind of a Chef is one of the gleaming exceptions to the rule that food television has atrophied in recent years—a Meryl Streep in a room of Joanie Loves Chachi extras. That The Mind of a Chef is spoken of in most corners with such breathlessly positive platitudes means it's hard to dislodge yourself from that baggage when you're watching it for the first time ever.
During the fifth season of The Mind of a Chef, we will burrow into the "the mind of" French chef Ludo Lefebvre, and his outpost in an American strip mall located in Los Angeles. Before that happens, though, we'll be treated to the season's first three episodes that are staged as a "best of" compilations of standout moments from prior seasons. These episodes are something of a primer to the uninitiated—people like me who've been comatose through this show's meteoric ascendance through the years.
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The recap is a difficult beast to pin down televisually. At its worst, it can feel rote and medicinal to those of us who don't bring a history of affection to the proceedings, engaging only for those who are diehard fans. The first episode is anything but, perhaps because of its subject—eggs. "From the NYC classic egg on a roll to Faroe Island fulmar egg and curry, re-fall in love with the best egg dishes from our archives," the episode's descriptor beckons. Eggs, eggs, eggs. America loves its eggs; crack one open, watch one hatch, stick one in some bread and put it in the oven, baby. All of this happens throughout the duration of the first episode's thirty minutes.
I stepped into this episode expecting that it would be mere white noise, as many recap episodes are, yet it more than suffices as a standalone piece. The show's aesthetic is aggressive; it's got desaturated tones and lingering extreme close-ups on eggs. These inclinations tend to offset the brusque EDM-type music and Anthony's Bourdain's stentorian narration. Jumbled together, it should be sensory assault—and yet they somehow work in concert.
For years, I have vowed only to watch one show on PBS and nothing else on that network for the rest of my life—Arthur, starring the bespectacled, aggressively normal aardvark wearing a puce sweater. But I've been forced to stymie these principles after this Saturday, when I saw my very first episode of Mind of a Chef. I find myself forced to concede on the front that this show is good. I get it, and I agree.
Check your local listings to see when The Mind of a Chef airs on PBS in your area. See the first episode? What'd you think? Let us know in the comments!
Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.