Film review: A Chef’s Voyage

When three Michelin-starred American chef David Kinch of Manresa took his California kitchen crew to cook with France’s finest, he gave viewers a chef’s table seat to the action.

Chef David Kinch plating with his team as the French cooks look on at Taillevent in Paris

A great documentary – one that devotes attention to detail, unity of purpose, a mixing of intriguing elements into a harmonious whole, flawless execution and, at the finish, imparting a feeling of satisfaction – is in many ways akin to a great meal in a three-star restaurant, which is what makes Rémi Anfosso’s A Chef’s Voyage so intriguing to watch, not only in what it portrays but also in how it portrays it.

Two years ago, David Kinch, chef/owner of the three Michelin-starred Manresa in Los Gatos, California, took his key kitchen staff and a ton of produce and frozen ingredients on a road trip to France to cook with great chefs in rural Provence, Paris and Marseilles, all of whom boast two or three stars of their own. A Chef’s Voyage, streaming this week on Apple TV, iTunes and Amazon Prime, tells the story not only of the voyage, but also of its preparation and the debriefing that came after the return to America.

Along the way, we learn a lot not only about the lunches and dinners prepared, but also about the philosophies and mentoring habits of Kinch and his hosts – Alain Solivérès (Le Taillevent, Paris), Jean-André Charial and Glenn Viel (both of L’Oustaude de Baumanière) and Gérard Passédat (Le Petit Nice, Marseilles), all of whom boast three Michelin stars with the exception of Solivérès, who has two.

Refreshingly, there is no forced drama – no lost bags, forgotten passports, severed fingers, temper tantrums, or bad blood flowing in the galleys – so we can concentrate on just seeing how these chefs pull it all off night after night, even when the visiting team is sharing a kitchen with the home team.

The drama is in detailing how it’s done and how draining that can be to chefs, their strained faces showing more than sweat ever could.

Chef Gérald Passedat of Le Petit Nice appears in the documentary

Amazingly, Anfosso gets his cameras close up throughout the whole thing, so we miss nothing. He also does a great job of mixing scenics with interviews, work shots, laughs and looks of relief when the night is over, all very smoothly, never lingering too long on any one shot.

One of the amusing things to note is the differences in the French crews. At L’Oustaude, when Kinch has his hosts taste all the Americans’ dishes before show time, telling them in passable French the ingredients and methods, the staff are collegial and curious. However, at Le Taillevent, the very young crew, while polite, want to show they are cool, making certain they don’t act impressed, even if they are.

The film is not all about plate drizzles and amuse-bouches, however, as there a one note of balancing acidity after the trip is over that borders somewhere between sorrow and sour, and director Anfosso handles it well. Sous chef Koji Yokoyama reflects on the experience, noting he has decided to move on to another job.

Nothing odd there, as Kinch notes – we all have absorbed everything we can from a kitchen and moved on. But Yokoyama makes sure we sense his discontent, that he feels he didn’t get that much out of the trip, and neither does he have chef heroes or mentors, Kinch included. He leaves us to wonder what it is he wants and whether he will ever find it.

Meanwhile, pastry chef Courtney Weyl, distinctive due to her big smile and pink hair, has been wowed by the experience and participated fully in it, soaking everything up like a slice of brioche. She can’t wait to get back into the Manresa kitchen and put her findings into practice.

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