The Missing Ingredient In Netflix's 'The Final Table'
Reality is a dish best-served family style.
This story will -- as absurd as it sounds -- contain light spoilers for Netflix's recently released cooking competition The Final Table.
It's a stupid disclaimer, but it's also crucial to what seems to be one of the biggest missing ingredients into the massive cook-off that pits chefs from all across the world against each other.
The series begins with 12 pairs of some of the world's greatest chefs, each episode is set around the cuisine of a specific country -- India, Brazil, Spain... even the US -- with the weakest couple being eliminated until only one chef remains, earning them a seat at the Final Table (just like the title!)
The aggressive, brash lovechild of Chef's Table and Iron Chef, the series is like the perfect antithesis of The Great British Bake Off, a series where the only dramatic tension comes from the fact that it's too hot or too cold in the tent.
Final Table is a show that boasts its global diversity, set in a sterile arena void of time or place, it has a baffling live audience watching the pairs cooking away. The judges of the first round take their seats at a table that is elevated to above the fray, the show's host says the word "final" so much it's practically begging for a drinking game to be made out of it.
And it's kinda a lot of fun to watch.
A lot should be said for Netflix's investment in food-centric shows, with its recent (excellent) series Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat and the ongoing food porn Chef's Table. Final Table has handpicked elements of successful shows on and off the platform and Frankenstein'd them together, setting them in a spaceship.
But there's one major element of Final Table that feels off. It's very lonely.
Yes, like the judges suspended over the pantry, watching the chefs cook from afar, partway through the series it dawned that there was no way to really have a conversation about the show.
The Netflix model we've come to love -- giving us the ability to binge our favourite shows in a matter of hours -- really does a disservice to Final Table, limiting the ability to actually talk about the episodes in a timely manner.
Early in the season, chef Shin Takagi emerges as one of the show's warmest characters. The two Michelin star-holder is humble, talented and a long throw from many of the others in the competition, who are keen to flout their constant talents.
After drafting three tweets about Takagi -- all of which revolved around the idea that we as a society must protect him at all costs -- he and his teammate Ronald Hsu were eliminated. Immediately a fourth, outraged tweet was drafted, as Takagi would always be the winner in my heart... but posting it would have given away his downfall to others who may not have watched the episode.
The epic, ridiculous scale of The Final Table is one you're forced to endure alone, which takes away so much of the joy of these kinds of formats. Thinking back to Bake Off or our own MasterChef, part of the appeal of the competition for us at home is the conversation surrounding it.
Each episode is live-tweeted, fans are urged to have an opinion. You may be shovelling handfuls of chips into your mouth like a slob, but you're screaming at the TV, and onto social media, about the right way to sous vide an egg.
Would Final Table resonate better had it been released weekly remains to be seen, but cracking into a conversation could have elevated the series like its rotating roster of judges.
There are absolutely other issues bubbling away at the core of The Final Table -- in the US episode the host touted the nation as one rich with diverse cultural cuisine, only to introduce three white men as the judges -- and the latter half of the season becomes a true festival of sausage when the sparse female contestants are whittled away.
All of that rattles around your empty apartment as you sit at The Final Table alone.
The Final Table is now streaming on Netflix.
Featured image: Netflix / Supplied.