Thanksgiving is an American holiday, so
it may seem odd for me to suggest a
British television show as a way to
somewhere on the long list of things for
which I’m grateful is the BBC comedy
Chef!, coupled with the fact that it is
finally available, complete, on DVD.
about gourmet cuisine and the mad egos
that create it, and watching it while
stuffed with turkey and pumpkin pie may
help you avoid a craving for pate or
follows the adventures, gustatory and
otherwise, of Gareth Blackstock (Lenny
Henry), chef de cuisine at Le Chateau
Anglais, an upscale nouveau-French
restaurant in Oxfordshire.
skill as a culinary artist is matched
only by his mastery of verbal abuse—he
regularly weaves extravagant tapestries
of sarcasm and hyperbole and insult and
threat toward his cringing kitchen
staff, turning his perceptions of their
hopeless incompetence and disloyalty and
vile sanitary habits into soaring epic
of course, a lovable tyrant. Beneath his
epigrammatic bluster is a sweet
uncertainty about every area of his life
not connected to cooking.
much defiance, he rightly worships his
cool, unflappable, conjugally frustrated
wife (Caroline Lee-Johnson), and he
endures the quiet moral nudging of
Everton (Roger Griffiths), his old
school acquaintance turned bumbling
elements combine to make Chef! such a
dazzling verbal craft and ingenious
plotting of Peter Tilbury, who wrote the
first two seasons (or “series” as the
Brits call them).
the performance of Henry, who plays to
sly perfection both Gareth’s bombastic
outrage and his underlying warmth.
superb ensemble cast who act as Henry’s
foils, led by Lee-Johnson, Griffiths,
and Ian MacNeice as the kitchen’s
second-in-command Gustav, a cranky
cockney recovering-alcoholic who, alone
among the staffers, isn’t in awe of
and second “series” of Chef! are
brittle, savory perfection. The third
and final series, written by hands other
than Tilbury’s and marked by changes in
cast and style, is much inferior to its
predecessors. Focusing on Gareth’s
marital troubles with Janice, it’s
played too broadly, almost like a
conventional sitcom. But even this
heavy-sauced third course is better than
most comedy fare available on the
American TV menu.
Chef! The Complete Collection from BBC
video features all 18 half-hour episodes
on three discs.
also has a few minor extras: fluffy
“chat show” interviews with Henry and
Lee-Johnson which amusingly prove that
entertainment journalism is at least as
unctuous and insipid in the U.K. as it
is in the U.S.
however, a cool behind-the-scenes
segment from BBC’s The Good Food Show,
which gives us a look at Paul Headman,
the on-set chef who prepares the
on-camera food and, at times, provides
the hands for Gareth’s more
digit-endangering stunts, like chopping
unsuitable for family viewing less for
its occasional urbanely off-color jokes
than simply because it’s unlikely to
interest younger kids.
It’s adult in the best
sense of the word.