“A Chef’s Voyage” – Gourmet to go [MOVIE REVIEW]
by Neely Swanson
“A Chef’s Voyage,” directed by Rémi Anfosso, is a culinary journey planned and executed by David Kinch, the chef and owner of Manresa, a Michelin three-star restaurant in Los Gatos, California. Kinch, who wanted to celebrate the 15th anniversary of his restaurant, decided to shut down Manresa for a month and take his crew, his équipe de cuisine, to France to cook in three celebrated kitchens. He devised a “Pop-Up” style restaurant plan to create Manresa for a day within these well-known and highly rated establishments. While spreading the fame and expertise of Manresa, he was also intent on giving his staff a taste of other storied kitchens. Kinch had spent many years learning the ropes in different international restaurants with stops in France, Japan, and Spain, not including his stops in stellar San Francisco restaurants.
Kinch was featured in the PBS series entitled “The Mind of A Chef.” Praised by many as very accessible, Kinch lives to cook and instills that philosophy in his staff, all of whom aspire to create the fine dining experience of a Michelin-starred restaurant. The trip to France was more learning experience than vacation given the hectic schedule for all aboard.
The film opens as we see Kinch discussing with his crew what they will need to take with them in either carry-on or checked luggage. Many of the herbs and ingredients are exclusive to their dishes and may be hard to find in France. Their schedule is such that they will have no time to hunt down things they will need so they will have to bring them with them, and this includes sauces that take days to prepare. Those sauces will have to be frozen and taken in their carry-ons. Even so, the 16-20 hour travel time will stretch their efforts to the limit, and this doesn’t include the jet lag they will all suffer upon arrival. Everything has been calculated down to the minute as their first stop is at the Michelin 3 star L’Oustau de Baumanière in Provence – not an easy “commute” from Paris.
This first stop is a bumpy one as the language, cultural, and cuisine differences are at their most evident. The next stop is storied Parisian landmark and 2 star Le Taillevent. Chef Alain Solivérès, chef de cuisine since 2002 (although he has recently been replaced), presides over a very young and diverse kitchen staff. They are flexible, loose, and ready to cooperate and learn from their American counterparts. This is where the viewer first experiences joy and enthusiasm. The interviews with Solivérès are delightful. Kinch digs in like the rest of his crew and their combined French/American dinners are greeted with passion.
Final stop: Le Petit Nice-Passedat, a 3 star Michelin establishment overlooking the Mediterranean presided over by Gérald Passedat. Although it appears that Kinch and Passedat have a long-standing personal relationship, never is this connection discussed. There is a synchronicity between the two styles of cooking that jumps out, something that seemed more forced in the previous two excursions. And it is here that the shortcomings of the film stand out the most.
It is delightful to watch Kinch’s interactions with his staff and hear their feelings about cooking. Most ambivalent, in a way, is one of his most respected leaders in the kitchen, Koji Yokoyama, his sous-chef. Koji, the son of LA restauranteurs, has spent most of his career working with Kinch but, by the end, he is no longer there. He is very tight-lipped about what went wrong, but clearly something did. It would have been nice to explore.
In general, “A Chef’s Voyage” is a love fest for food, but like a plate of frites, it’s seemingly delicious but packed with empty calories. What did we learn? Kinch is a nice guy who likes to surf and lives to cook. French 3 star kitchens are tightly run. Kinch’s American cuisine is unique. I’m not sure that’s enough because our knowledge after Anfosso’s film is barely more than it was when we started. Did he only want to document the trip? If so, well done. Did he want to expand our knowledge of how fine dining is created? Not so much. In the end, although this was a pleasant way to spend an hour and a half, I’m left dissatisfied. You might say I was left hungry for more.
Available November 24 on Apple TV, iTunes, and Amazon Prime.