Canadian aficionados of Israeli television dramas will be pleased to hear that the Toronto Jewish Film Festival is streaming the first nine episodes of the latest one, The Chef, in its North American premiere. It will be available online until July 11.
Created and directed by Erez Kavel and Orit Dabush, it is mostly set in an upscale restaurant in contemporary Tel Aviv.
The central characters are Dori (Gal Toren), the middle-aged co-owner and innovative chef of the Sophia; Nimrod (Guri Alfi Aharon), one of its employees; Sara (Yael Elkana), an up-and-coming cook who earns Dori’s respect; Osi (Rotem Sela), his business partner, and Alona (Romi Abulafia), Dori’s mistress.
As played to perfection by Toren, Dori is a talented, driven and ambitious chef who will stop at nothing to please guests. Temperamental and ruthless, he reprimands staff when necessary and unscrupulously redirects a shipment of fresh sardines to his restaurant ordered by a competitor.
Nimrod enters the picture when he lands a menial job at the Sophia after a career in the high-tech sector and a long bout of unemployment. It’s unclear why he left his former position, but as the father of two young daughters, he’s relieved he’s finally earning a living. Nimrod, however, is unhappy. “Fuck my life,” he mutters in a depressing aside.
In his first assignments, Nimrod cuts a Jerusalem artichoke, slices Parmesan cheese and washes pots and pans. He claims he’s a fast learner, and much to Dori’s satisfaction, this proves to be true as Dori hands Nimrod a succession of new tasks. Aharon’s portrayal of Nimrod is low key and effective.
Like Nimrod, Sara is nimble and competent. She and Nimrod establish a rapport that Dori does not fail to notice.
Tensions flare when Sunny, a first-rate pastry chef, complains she is not appreciated. Dori doesn’t understand her gripe and mistakenly assumes she’s looking for another job.
Dori, a bachelor, is having an affair with Alona, the wife of his wealthy friend, Micha, who wants to open a restaurant in a hotel in London he has just purchased. Micha asks Dori to run it, but this subplot dribbles into oblivion.
Osi, meanwhile, informs Dori she is pregnant. The father-to-be is an acquaintance.
Although he’s successful, Dori is far from content. He’s lonely, drifting along aimlessly, consuming drugs, and concerned that the Sophia is no longer “relevant” and has “played itself out.” As far as he’s concerned, the Sophia needs to be “reinvented.” Osi resist, claiming that a makeover would be too expensive.
Dori, in the meantime, is developing feelings for Sara. He offers her a partnership in a food kiosk he plans to open. And he gladly gives Nimrod a raise in his salary.
Sara is placed in an awkward position when she realizes that Nimrod and Dori are both romantically interested in her. But as much as he likes Sara, Dori still pines for Alona and asks when she plans to leave her husband.
In the last few episodes, Dori auditions for a prominent role on a TV food show, offers Sara a promotion, and is accused of assaulting a waitress.
The Chef is buoyantly entertaining, even when it descends into dark places, and the cast is excellent. It’s a series that transcends international borders.