"Ah, Derek. Let me explain the order of things for you. There's the aristocracy, the upper class, middle class, working class, dumb animals, waiters, creeping things, head lice, people who eat packet soup, and then you."
That's the type of insult humor you can expect from 1993's hilarious British comedy series Chef!. Lenny Henry steps into the kitchen as Gareth Blackstock, a passionate chef who is just as adept at rattling off a sarcastic retort as he is at cooking a souffle. Chances are good that over the years, if you are a fan of BBC comedy, that you have in some way heard of, or seen Chef!. Finally having it available on DVD is a dream come true for fans, though the disc quality isn't as highly rated as the laugh-a-minute value of the show.
I don't know what it is that draws me to it, but watching TV shows revolving around the kitchen really catches my attention. Everything from Emeril to Iron Chef is very entertaining to me for some reason, but watching Chef! reminds me somewhat of that Fox show Hell's Kitchen with Gordon Ramsay. Gareth Blackstock and Ramsay are strikingly similar with their intolerance for anything less than perfection and razor sharp tongue that lashes out at cook, waiter and customer alike.
As the star of the show, Gareth is the constant center of attention both in the kitchen and out. He's ruthless to his staff, but generally at home it's his wife that really seems to wear the pants. He'd rather berate someone until they are emotionally destroyed than to come out and fire them, plus he sees no problems with substituting the word "waiter" with "moron". Despite all of this he's actually a very likable character with a lot of personality and development as the series progresses, though you do have to admit that you wouldn't want him as your boss.
While Gareth was the main character there were several supporting personalities that all added to though show, even if they were just there to be victimized. Everton (Roger Griffiths) is a new cook that wants to learn the tricks of the trade so bad that he decides to work in Gareth's kitchen for free instead of paying for school. Everton is a great source of comedy because he's constantly screwing things up and doing so without much of a care in the world. There are many other characters that you'll be introduced to during the course of this show, but the best is probably Gareth's wife, Janice (Caroline Lee-Johnson).
Janice is without a doubt the perfect counterbalance character to the hotheaded chef and the two play off of each other very well. They have many heated arguments and tender moments as well during the course of Chef!, but without a doubt it's easy to see why the two characters got married. Their chemistry alone carries many episodes but unfortunately by the third series of the show her character steps out of focus somewhat.
Chef! aired from 1993 to 1996 and had three series made out of it with a grand total of twenty episodes when all was said and done. The show followed a somewhat formula driven structure with a fair amount of continuity with some minor references to things from past episodes as things progress. Even so, every episode tends to be fresh, especially early on near the start of show.
A few episodes come to mind as favorites such as "A Bird in the Hand", "The Big Cheese", "Subject to Contract", "Fame is the Spur" and "England Expects". While just about all of the show is entertaining, these ones proved to be the best in my opinion. They were easily the most well put together and comical adventures in the kitchen of Le Chateau Anglais. Overall, this is a show that will be most appreciated by people interested in seeing a Fawlty Towers-like spin on operating a kitchen. If you have already seen it, then you know how funny it can be. If you haven't, then you owe it to yourself to check out.
Beyond the Pass
Subject to Contract
The Big Cheese
Fame Is the Spur
Rice and Peas
A bird in the Hand
A River Runs Thru It
Do the Right Thing
A Diploma of Miseries
Gareth's True Love
Leassons in Talking
Love in the Air
Chef! Complete Collection is presented with three discs, each representing the series of the show. There are no chapter selections for these episodes, though there are some chapter skips once the show gets started. Also there is a printing error on the back of the box that leaves out two episodes from the first season's listing, though they are present on the disc itself.
The image quality for Chef! varies depending on what series you are sitting down to watch, thanks to different production dates. The first series shows a lot of grain, speckle, soft edges and some slight edge enhancement. The second offers up a similar experience though the picture quality is arguably a little finer. The third season continues the video evolution and is easily the best looking that this collection has to offer, though it's not completely clean. Each series is presented with a 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio and aside from the aforementioned issues; there really isn't anything else that plagues this collection.
The DVD comes with a 2.0 English track that is standard with no other options aside. The quality is fair though there really isn't any directionality and everything comes through at relatively the same volume. I caught a few moments where there was a slight hiss in the background, but that seemed to dissipate as the show progressed into the later seasons. It's acceptable for what the show is and when it was produced, but doesn't carry a "wow factor" with it. There are no subtitle options.
Disappointingly there is a sparse collection of bonus material included on this set, which can all be found on the third disc. There are a handful of previews as well as some interviews, but little else in the way of extra content.
Lenny Henry provides an interview for the BBC program "Entertainment Express" which originally aired on January 15, 1993. The interview was shown two weeks before the UK premiere of the show and focuses on how Henry became involved with the concept. It's an interesting, yet short, talk about the show with some clips and the like.
Caroline Lee-Johnson also has an interview on the disc from the February 19, 1993 broadcast of "Pebble Mill". This interview isn't really as interesting as the one with Henry, but it's still worthwhile to watch for fans of the show. She discusses what it was like working on the show and how she got along with Henry.
The BBC's "Good Food Show" also ran a little feature on the show. I thought this was the more interesting inclusion on the set because it showed some behind the scene shots as well as interviews and information about the show. There are some pretty funny moments with Henry, but in the end it feels more like a fluff piece than an in depth look at the making of the show.
I love Chef!, I always have since I first caught the show years ago. It has plenty of sharp wit, charm and funny stories to tell that throughout the show's three series it stays very fresh. The third season carries a noticeably different tone with it, and compared to the first two series it may not be as "brilliant", but it's still fine entertainment. The disc quality varies and there is a distinct lack of "worthwhile" bonus material. This is a collection that will be most appreciated by fans of the show or those who enjoy good British comedy. Recommended
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