Incorporating dramatic crescendos into soundtracks and interviews with parents, partners, mentors and fannish food critics, Gelb and a team of five other directors provide plenty of porn on plates in the distinct segments that comprise "Chef's Table."
But in 40 minutes to an hour each, the Netflix Original series that dropped in late April pushes into the childhoods, failures and emotional connections between the renowned subjects and the pioneering food that defines them.
"Chefs have really interesting stories because being a professional chef and owning a restaurant is incredibly difficult and incredibly risky," Gelb said in a recent interview. "You're trying to do your art but also support yourself and keep everything afloat, not only for yourself but for your staff. Every single night they have to be performing at the highest level."
So what draws Gelb back to food features after his acclaimed look at Jiro Ono, the 89-year-old sushi master who earned three stars from Michelin for his 10-seat counter in the basement of a Tokyo office building?
After the 2011 release of "Jiro," the 31-year-old Gelb — son of Metropolitan Opera general manager Peter Gelb and grandson of late New York Times editor Arthur Gelb , moved on to direct "The Lazarus Effect," the Olivia Wilde vehicle about medical students who discover how to revive the dead.
"I just love to eat," Gelb said of his work documenting the food world. "Food has always been an important thing for my parents. Even when I was little they would take me to really good restaurants. When I was 2 or 3 years old my mom was feeding me cucumber rolls in a department store in Tokyo. Food has always been an obsession of my mine."
Gelb "just thinks chefs are fascinating." The six have big reputations as visionaries in the food world, "but none of them are as famous as, like, an Eric Ripert or a Bobby Flay," he explained. "I wanted the chefs to be discoveries for the audience."
We asked the Manhattan-bred Gelb to share what surprised or inspired him the most about the six chefs he selected for "Chef's Table."
MASSIMO BOTTURA in MODENA, ITALY
Restaurant: Osteria Francescana
"All of his dishes are based on some sort of memory or story. I was really surprised and happy to discover this beautiful love story between him and his wife and how the two of them together contributed to the incredible success of their restaurant. Massimo used to get into a lot of trouble for altering classic Italian recipes. His business suffered for it from some time, until international food critics discovered him. Now he's kind of a hero of Italy."
DAN BARBER in NEW YORK CITY
Restaurants: Blue Hill, Blue Hill at Stone Barns
"He pioneered the farm-to-table movement and definitely cooks from an emotional place. His mother died at a very young age and he started cooking, and he says it may have something to do with trying to bring the family back to the table. He's trying to balance his need to control everything that's happening in the kitchen with being able to spend time with his family. He's looking for the answer to that."
FRANCIS MALLMANN in BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA
Restaurants: Flagship is Francis Mallmann 1884 in Mendoza
"Francis is different from the other chefs in that he can't be contained or bound by the kitchen. He likes to travel. He likes to make these fires and cook these beautiful dinners in exotic locations. He's very much a traveller and a poet. His work is very much driven by visuals. The way that he cooks is incredibly beautiful with the use of open fire out in the mountains or the snow, or he's grilling something on a boat. There's a kind of wanderlust that's really amazing to behold."
NIKI NAKAYAMA in LOS ANGELES
"Her father put a lot of pressure on her and started telling her if you want to have a career you have to be a doctor or a lawyer. She wanted to be a chef. Traditionally, in a Japanese family, a woman is only supposed to cook at home. She rejected that and decided she's going to forge her own destiny. She wanted to create her own style of kaseiki (traditional multi-course Japanese meal) and she refused to quit, even as people were telling her it was impossible."
BEN SHEWRY in MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA
"Ben was born in New Zealand. He wanted to come up with a cuisine that was all his own and that really represented where his restaurant is, which is Australia. He started experimenting with natural Australian ingredients. You're not even going to have heard of some of the vegetables and fruits he grows and cooks with. He's also a storyteller in his food and there's this fantastic dish inspired by a time he almost drowned as a child. He went back to the beach where it happened and found all the different kinds of seaweeds and elements of the ocean and tried to recreate that feeling of almost drowning in a dish."
MAGNUS NILSSON in JARPEN, SWEDEN
"I love how he grew up in this place that was very barren. For six months of the year nothing grows, and he didn't like it very much. So he went to France and worked there, then he was going to do this other project that fell through. He decided he was going to quit cooking but returns to his hometown and saw everything with a new perspective and started to build this new cuisine. The restaurant is in the middle of nowhere and his ambition to make this restaurant a destination is striking. He's relentless in preserving food from the local area and cooking with it in a new way."