1 9 9 3 – 1 9 9 6 (UK)
19 x 30 minute episodes
1 x special
Gareth Blackstock (Lenny Henry) was the gifted chef de cuisine at Le Chateau Anglais, a stately French restaurant deep in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds. When the Chateau fell into financial difficulties, he and his wife, Janice (Caroline Lee Johnson), sold Linden Cottage, their picture-postcard home, and bought control, themselves.
Keen to build on his Michelin two-star status, Blackstock found his ambitions hindered by his inept kitchen hands, especially the accident-prone soul food specialist, Everton (Roger Griffiths).
Chef! found its comedy in food snobbery, culinary ineptitude (missing plasters and escaped crayfish, among other disasters) and the shadowy world of black market ingredients, but most of all in the imaginatively savage insults directed by the volatile Gareth at his staff, clientele, suppliers and – when particularly brave – his wife and business partner, the indomitable Janice.
Nobody escaped the chef’s fits of pique, as he lambasted staff and customers alike with pearls of sarcastic abuse. But although he ruled with a rod of iron, deep down Gareth nursed a fragile ego.
This was tested particularly in the third and final series (two years after the second) when his marriage broke down and the restaurant was bought by the boorish, nouveau-riche Cyril Bryson (Dave Hill), whose spoilt daughter, Renee (Sophie Walker), came to work in the kitchen.
The show presented a largely unfamiliar menu of foodie humour – the pursuit of the perfect ‘signature dish’; the horror of philistine diners who insist on adding salt; how to cope with an upstart commis-chef who has just created a world-class partridge terrine . . .
At the same time, the series managed some acute observations on food and contemporary Britain: the celebritisation of cuisine, the pathological obsession with hygiene, the near impossibility of securing genuinely excellent produce in a culture dominated by industrial farming and supermarket giants.
Well supported by a team of top chef advisers – particularly John Burton-Race – writer Peter Tilbury (who scripted the first two series from an idea by Henry) gave viewers a revealing insight into the world of a top kitchen, with its exacting standards and finest attention to detail, gently parodying the celebrity status of Britain’s leading chefs.
Caroline Lee Johnson
Ian McNeice (1)
Jeff Nuttall (2)
Pui Fan Lee
Jean Luc Rebaliati