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Jon Favreau, ‘Chef’s Table’ Director David Gelb Discuss Capturing Food on Film

Foodies and film lovers descended upon the Wiltern Theater Sunday night to celebrate the kick-off of Foodbowl, the L.A. Times’ month-long food festival.

The event, cleverly dubbed Chef’s Fable, featured several notable chefs and the filmmakers who told their stories.

The conversation was moderated by Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold. It kicked off with a panel on “Chef’s Table,” the popular Netflix food documentary series, now in its third season.

“Chefs just inherently have amazing stories because of all the hard work and all the risk. The creative journey a chef takes makes them great subjects for film,” explained “Chef’s Table” director David Gelb.

“I love the show ‘Planet Earth.’ I thought it was cool to apply that look to food,” Gelb said of his subject matter. “The food is beautiful and its an art form so it should have the same kind of reference in the way it’s captured.”

While beautiful cinematography is the hallmark of “Chef’s Table” (and Gelb’s first food film, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”), Gelb explained the stories can’t reply upon camera tricks. The key, as Gelb explained to Variety, is the casting.

“Chef’s Table” executive producer David Gelb flanked by two of his subjects: Magnus Nilsson and Massimo Bottura. Dan Steinberg

Three chefs cast on “Chef’s Table” — Magnus Nilsson (Faviken), Massimo Bottura (Osteria Francescana), and Niki Nakayama (n/naka) — talked about being profiled on the series.

Nilsson struggled with the filming process initially. “The first week when [Gelb’s] team came to Favriken, I was not exactly in a super good mood,” the Swedish chef admitted, saying that he was surprised by the size of the crew.

Bottura was more welcoming, saying by the end of filming “they were like a part of our family.”

Nakayama found the experience “surreal” and was even in disbelief her restaurant was chosen to be profiled. “We’re so new to the L.A. dining scene,” she said humbly.

Being featured on the show has not only enhanced business, but also the dining experience.

“When there’s a backstory attached to the restaurant, there’s a different expectation. There’s a different enjoyment and emotion,” Nakayama said of customers who learned of n/naka on “Chef’s Table.” She added, “it’s such a wonderful way of getting kaiseki out there.”

Jon Favreau revealed that Roy Choi sent him to culinary school to learn the fundamentals of cooking before filming “Chef.” Dan Steinberg

Jon Favreau and chef Roy Choi then joined the discussion. The two collaborated on Favreau’s 2014 feature film “Chef,” where Choi served as food consultant. Depicting a working kitchen authentically was important to both.

“There’s a military precision on a film set that you see in the kitchen as well,” Favreau said.

When asked about the difference between documentary food films and feature food films, Favreau responded, “The difference is when it’s a documentary, you have to work within the parameters of what is happening. A narrative film — you write it, you cast it, you edit it — you have a lot of moving parts that you control.”

Added Gelb, who worked with Favreau on “Zathura,” agreed. “That’s the fun of documentary. You don’t know what to expect.”

The evening concluded with a screening of Favreau’s film “Chef.” Naturally, food was offered, and guests enjoyed bites from Choi’s Kogi BBQ, Guerrilla Tacos, Pasta Sisters, and food trucks stationed outside.

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