Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition)

‘Chef’s Table’ grills smoky spectrum of barbecues


THE NEW season of takes viewers out of the spotless, stainless-steel kitchens where the Netflix series has made its bones and leads them into more smoky environs where men and women are keeping the ancient flame of barbecue alive.

Yet over four episodes, the show’s producers have done something else, too, even if they didn’t mean to. They’ve raised the age-old question of “What is barbecue?”

The series doesn’t answer the question as much as it complicate­s it. which debuts on Wednesday, visits places that most folks would recognise as barbecue joints, including Snow’s BBQ in Lexington, Texas, and Rodney Scott’s BBQ in Charleston.

But the producers also travel to Australia and Mexico to shadow two cooks on opposite ends of the spectrum: Lennox Hastie, a finedining chef in Sydney who pushes the boundaries of open-flame cooking, and Rosalia Chay Chuc, a home cook in Yaxunah who strives to preserve the pre-Hispanic tradition of slow-roasting pork in an earthen pit with fire-heated rocks.

“We felt like we couldn’t do the subject justice in a single episode, so we wanted to show kind of a broad spectrum of barbecue,” David Gelb, creator of said in a phone interview.

“Yes, of course, the subject of what is real barbecue is something that is hotly debated among aficionado­s,” he continued. “We’re not taking a perspectiv­e on, ‘This right or this is wrong.’ That’s not our place. We’re film-makers. We’re not experts on the subject so much as we are storytelle­rs trying to tell the points of view of our characters.”

The crew gets up close and personal with the four principals at the heart of the new season. The crew’s art lies less in its ability to frame a dish in mouthwater­ing ways but in its ability to get people to open up.

Time is the ally of any storytelle­r, and the team spent two weeks with each cook in the barbecue series, sometimes in communitie­s and cultures that don’t easily spill their secrets to outsiders. But the directors and producers coaxed stories, often heartbreak­ing ones, from each of their subjects.

Tootsie Tomanetz, the 85-yearold pitmaster at Snow’s, talks about the death of her husband and son; Rodney Scott talks about the estranged relationsh­ip with his father; Hastie, the perfection­ist behind Firedoor, talks about how his career path alienated his Michelinst­arred mentor; and Chay Chuc talks about her fear of rejection from those outside her tight-knit Mayan community.

Their quotes are intimate and sometimes raw, the kind of anecdotes teased out of people only after a sense of trust has been establishe­d. I asked Gelb how the crew pulled it off.

“It’s just spending time together, talking,” he said. “You know, we share our own stories with them. If we’re going to ask something that’s difficult, we present something analogous in our own lives, if we can.”

The series begins with an episode on Tomanetz, the silver-haired octogenari­an with the bowlegged gait and the soft Texas drawl. In 2008, Snow’s leapfrogge­d all the famous smokehouse­s in the state to find itself atop Texas Monthly’s best barbecue list. Tomanetz instantly became a celebrity in her senior years, not that it went to her head.

She still works as a custodian in the Giddings Independen­t School District during the week, but wakes up early each Saturday morning to drive to Lexington and cook seasoned meats over hot coals, which she personally shovels under the custom-made pits.

Barbecue’s communal atmosphere is the ghost that haunts this series. All the episodes, says Gelb, were filmed before the pandemic settled in. |

Chef’s Table,

Chef’s Table

Chef’s Table

Chef’s Table

Chef’s Table,

Chef’s Table

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