Judge Daryl Loomis didn't think he could love pork more intensely, but here we are.
Our reviews of The Mind of a Chef: David Kinch (published January 16th, 2016), The Mind of a Chef: Edward Lee (published October 1st, 2014), The Mind of a Chef: Gabrielle Hamilton (published December 20th, 2015), and The Mind of a Chef: Magnus Nilsson (published December 24th, 2014) are also available.
Sometimes it's the simple things that really blow you away.
I love obsession and I love obsessed people. This is why I love chefs. Few other professions, at least on the highest level, require the kind of commitment to both excellence and minutiae to make it as a chef and, for those who do make it in that realm, I salute you. Food is the embodiment of all of our senses. In sight, the glimmer of a freshly cut lime; in touch, the spongy softness of a cake right from the oven; in sound, the sizzle from a hot plate of fajitas; in smell, the fumes from a perfectly brewed cup of coffee; in taste, the briny purity of a newly shucked oyster. The great chefs take all of these things and encapsulate them onto one stupid plate. Outside of writing, cooking is the one art that I strive to improve myself on because, in a world of instant gratification, there's no faster way to put genuine smiles on the faces of your friends than that first bite of an incredible home-cooked meal.
That's why I so easily fall in love with a show like Mind of a Chef. The Anthony Bourdain-produced PBS series is as fond of obsession as I am and, within its two seasons is a celebration of that, all in the name of great food. The first season focused on David Chang, whose easy charm and wacky ideas made for a great look at his world of cuisine. The second season is divided into two parts. The first half focused on Sean Brock, a friend of Chang's and an award-winning chef in his own right. He may not deliver the excitement of his predecessor, but his earnestness and dedication to the heritage of Southern food was refreshing.
But these are the back eight episodes of the Second Season of Mind of a Chef, and they focus on the English-born, New York-based April Bloomfield, owner of the Michelan-starred Spotted Pig and Breslin restaurants. She is very different than the previous two chefs. It's not that she lacks the obsession of the others. Quite the contrary. April is so unbelievably focused on the quality of her ingredients and the end result that it's almost maniacal; and because of it, I kinda want to marry her.
Kidding aside, April Bloomfield's portion of Mind of a Chef: Season Two is my favorite of the series, strictly because of how intensely focused it is on the ingredients. I don't watch shows like this to ogle food porn or worship celebrity chefs; the only thing I care about is learning more about food and cooking. And while I'm sure that David Chang and Sean Brock both have an absolute wealth of material to teach me, April Bloomfield is the first one to actually teach me useful and interesting things on the show, rather than just revealing this or that cool thing.
Bloomfield isn't as charismatic as the other two subjects, but she's so involved in the process, not just of cooking her beloved hogs, but of opening and maintaining establishments across the country that I can't help but respect the hell out of her craft. The magic she makes with pork is amazing in its own right, but her skills with vegetables are just as impressive, really for someone who loves to cook, inspiration worthy.
The show's as cheap as it's always been and that's okay; it keeps our minds on the important things. Bourdain narrates each episode, but his involvement is very brief, while Harold McGee, food science guru and author of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen (the greatest book ever written on food), chimes in with some fantastic science-y business. The rest of the time is spent strictly on April Bloomfield, her influences, and her work. It's the best food show on television because it never forgets what it's about: the craft and artistry of cooking. No Gordon Ramsey bluster here.
The DVD from PBS does the job, but there's absolutely nothing special about it. The 1.78:1 anamorphic image looks just fine. The food looks nice, but it's pretty basic. As is the sound, which is a simple stereo mix that delivers the dialog just fine. The only extras are three brief deleted scenes that are fun, but don't add a whole lot to what is already there.
I hope Mind of a Chef keeps going, if only because the celebrity food world is encroaching more and more on the world of real, actual culinary brilliance. April Bloomfield comes across as the opposite of that and I appreciate her so much. There is no question that I will visit The Spotted Pig when I'm next in New York, relishing some kind of amazing pork liver that will bring me to tears. My only complaint about the show is that I never want to see another ad for Breville contraptions again. I do understand, however, that you have to dance with the one who brought you, so whatever.
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