TV review: Netflix’s latest Street Food series is gorgeous, but the format is wearying

The globetrotting doc series' trip to Latin America has moments, but there's an assembly-line feeling to its chef interviews and prep montages


STREET FOOD: LATIN AMERICA (David Gelb). All six episodes streaming on Netflix Wednesday (July 22). Rating: NNN

This is a really strange time for food-tourism shows. Part of the appeal of such a program is the sense of possibility: viewers can imagine themselves going to one of these spots and ordering the specialty they’ve just seen created in loving detail. It’s a fun fantasy, but right now that’s all it can be. Who’s planning any travel at all these days?

Produced before the pandemic, Street Food: Latin America – following on from 2019’s Street Food: Asia – is designed to get viewers thinking about jumping on a plane, just to lose themselves in Brazilian feijoada stew, Oaxacan tlayudas or the Japanese-influenced ceviche of Lima. (The impossibly cheese-filled tortilla of Buenos Aires – served in a wedge the size and shape of a slice of cake – will have its appeal as well.)

Replicating the format of his feature film Jiro Dreams Of Sushi, executive producer David Gelb lets the chefs tell their own stories, illustrated with glossy footage of their process and the result.

Each episode zooms into a different city in a different country on the continent, with Gelb and his crew perching in cramped kitchens and atop the occasional food cart to capture vivid, almost sensual scenes of preparation and food service. He brought the same showstopping imagery to his sushi documentary, though it gets a little wearying when it’s employed four times in the course of a half-hour program.

Episode 4, which centres on Lima’s Al Toke Pez, is the standout of the season; director Tamara Rosenfeld plays things a little livelier than usual, tracking a cooking montage with fun musical rhythms and building a motif of quiet moments around self-deprecating chef Tomas Matsufuji, creator of the aforementioned ceviche and master of the combination platter.

But the other episodes have an assembly-line feel to them, and the limitations of Gelb’s structure are beginning to show: you can feel the chase producers just off-camera, prodding a couple of the featured chefs to tell a more interesting version of their life story.

That said, Street Food: Latin America’s value as gastro-porn is still off the charts. And given that none of us is likely to be jetting down to Bolivia for a chola sandwich any time soon, it’s a fine way to kill some time.

Just have some snacks at the ready. Your stomach is going to growl.

@normwilner

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