In its third season, Chef’s Table is trying to relax. Creator David Gelb’s Netflix series is typically a paean to the kind of austere, über-expensive restaurants casually referenced as “temples” to their chosen cuisine, with the annual World’s 50 Best list as its unofficial source text. That description still applies to about half the new season’s six mini-docs, because this is still Chef’s Table:the Peruvian restaurant Central, currently fourth among the all-important 50, has its own research department, and an interlude with tyrannical Berliner Tim Raue could be retitled Whiplash: Germany. But the other half constitutes a real and intermittently successful effort at change, and the story of ramen chef Ivan Orkin represents the peak.
The proprietor of Lower East Side–by-way-of-Setagaya shop Ivan Ramen is both a perfect and atypical subject for the docuseries. On the one hand, he tells us in his opening voice-over, “You have to be all in to get into ramen” — obsession and commitment being the traits Gelb prizes above all else in his subjects. On the other? “Ramen isn’t dainty,” Orkin says, by way of explaining how a “fuck-you kinda guy” became a respected figure in the culinary world. “It’s messy.” On a show on which tweezers appear as often as knives, that’s a step off the beaten path.