The Grand Chef, which is also known as Gourmet, is a Korean television drama (K-drama) from the South Korean television network SBS. The series is made up of twenty-four hour long episodes. YA Entertainment has released it in two volumes. Volume one (this review) has the first twelve episodes. Volume two has the second twelve episodes and includes bonus features. The show is about the cutthroat world of an elite cadre of chefs looking to be the best, which does not seem like an interesting subject on the surface. However, as with many K-dramas, it gets pretty dramatic. As for the quality, The Grand Chef is definitely "grand". The series is captivating with beautiful scenes, solid acting performances, and an entertaining storyline.
The series begins with a quick overview of the role of the Royal Chef, who served the Korean Emperor until the Japanese took over. Many years later, the bloodline of the Royal Chef continues the cooking traditions by running a multi-generation restaurant called Umanjung. Umanjung is an upscale restaurant and one of South Korea's best. The current head chef Oh (Choi Bool Am) is proclaimed to be the descendent of the Royal Chef. His son Bong-joo (Kwon Oh Joong, Damo) is an aspiring chef preparing to take over the resturant. However, Oh fears Bong-joo will not have what it takes to keep tradition alive. Bong-joo wants to expand Unamjung and make it an internationally famous name. At the same time, Oh's adopted son Sung-chan (Kim Rae Won, What Planet Are You From?, My Little Bride) wants to become the best chef. Oh wants Sung-chan to take over the family business because is more interested in making the best food possible versus fame and fortune.
Oh's preference for Umanjung's successor does not sit well with Bong-joo. In order to be fair about it, Oh sets up a competition. Any chef can participate. The winner will become the new head chef. Bong-joo, Sung-chan, and Min-woo (Won Ki Joon, Jumong) enroll in the competition and a fierce cooking battle takes place. As the competition comes to a close, Sung-chan and Bong-joo learn the truth about their heritage. Sung-chan is the true descendant of the Royal Chef. The news is upsetting. At the end of the competition, Sung-chan runs away, leaving Bong-joo to take over Umanjung. As the story continues, the adopted-brothers face each other in the kitchen again as rivals supporting different companies.
Along the way, there is a myriad of other drama that includes romance and several side stories. The romance comes from two lovely ladies: Jin-soo (Nam Sang Mi, Sweet Spy) and Joo-hee (Kim So Yeon, All About Eve). Joo-hee grew up with Bong-joo and Sang-chan. She helps run Umanjung. She developed romantic feelings for Sung-chan, which is a complicated matter. Bong-joo is also in love with her. Meanwhile, Jin-soo enters the picture. She is an aspiring reporter who gets a part-time job at Umanjung and slowly becomes a critical part of the brothers' lives. There is romantic tension between them all. However, while the romance developed in the storyline, it is not a primary aspect. The main focus is between the sibling rivalry and the quest to be the best chef. As for side stories, there are feel-good moments with Sung-chan going out of his way to help troubled individuals (such as reuniting parents with their estranged children) and dramatic moments with the Umanjung staff catering to high profile dignitaries (if the meals are not good, they could lose their reputation).
In addition to the general enjoyment surrounding the storyline and relevant character development, the cook offs are pretty intense. If you have ever seen the reality television show Iron Chef America: The Series, then you have an idea of what I am talking about. The cook offs begin with a cooking task (create a gourmet dish using a specific base ingredient, following a general theme, or something else) and proceed with planning, acquisition of rare ingredients, the dramatic creation of the dishes, and the taste tests. These aspects are portrayed in an exciting manner and tied together for an intense culmination.
Another great aspect of The Grand Chef is the cast. The four leading characters were casted well. They give great performance and work well with each other. In particular, Kim Rae Won plays the "good" son. As you get to know his character, it is easy to root for him. At the same time, Kwon Oh Joong is also stellar. He gives his character the right balance of good and evil, as he struggles to do what is right, but also what he feels like is necessary (even if it means going against the people he cares about). As for the leading ladies, their role is much smaller than the men. However, they still give good performances. Overall, I was very pleased with The Grand Chef's first volume. The story begins with a good start and does not lose its momentum. It has plenty of nonstop drama with intense cook offs, solid character development, melodramatic love triangles, feel-good side stories, and other related content. In the end, The Grand Chef is a K-drama that you will not want to miss out on.