“The curse of the pastry chef,” Michael Laiskonis says in the final episode of Chef’s Table: Pastry, “is always having to follow someone else.” Laiskonis would know: For eight years he was the executive pastry chef at Eric Ripert’s three-Michelin-starred New York restaurant, Le Bernardin. Working in the realm of desserts means never getting to be the main event, the raison d’être, the star.
So it’s fascinating that the newest clump of episodes from the Netflix documentary series Chef’s Table, which focuses on sweets, treats pastry almost as a secondary subject. All the usual elements are there—Vivaldi-scored montages of culinary creation, kitchens gleaming with cold steel, close-ups of modernist concoctions filmed in impossibly high definition. But the four new entries have an underlying theme that in some moments relegates dessert (again) to the back of the kitchen. Chef’s Table: Pastry is all about ego.
You might not sense it in the first episode, which features Christina Tosi, the Momofuku Milk Bar creator and human embodiment of everything Julie Andrews lists in “My Favorite Things.” It becomes clearer in the second, in which the Sicilian baker and gelato maker Corrado Assenza explains the core of his gastronomic philosophy while milking sheep for ricotta and single-handedly saving Sicily’s almond groves. It’s further exposed in the third, as the eccentric Spanish pastry chef Jordi Roca details his Shakespearean sibling rivalry in a dramatic, laryngitis-ravaged whisper. And by the fourth, as the American chef Will Goldfarb reveals why he abandoned New York’s restaurant scene to move to Bali, the series’s real subject is in full focus. “You think you’re special, you think you’re the center of the universe,” is how Goldfarb describes finally getting rave reviews. “After that, the new minimum standard for me was to try to be the best in the world.”