Welcome back to Black on Hulu, your number one source for Black & African diaspora entertainment of the Hulu and Hulu+ streaming service.
For our first 2016 edition is a show I’ve intended to write about for some time now. The star and co-creator of the show is a powerful force in the world of comedy, most especially in his native Great Britain, and of the past few years, has used his great reputation to fight for better representation of Black and brown faces in English productions as leading men & women roles, as well as non-stereotypical ones, are few and far between in that land. And for that sake, everywhere.
Yes, I’m talking about Lenny Henry, and the show is Chef!
Before Gordon Ramsay ever growled, “It’s raw!” to knucklehead chefs on Hell’s Kitchen, before cooking competition shows became a worldwide pastime, and even before Anthony Bourdain’s bad boy antics became widely known, the original oppressive but talented chef was the fictional Gareth Blackstock. Owner and head chef of the English countryside’s Le Chateau Anglais, Lenny Henry’s Gareth was a master chef, totally obsessed with being the best at all things culinary.
Gareth’s arrogance was only superseded by two things: his genius in the kitchen, and his ability to abuse his kitchen staff with intimidation and unfiltered sarcasm. I am actually wrong here, as one thing indeed superseded all of this, Gareth’s patient and salt-of-the earth wife Janice (Caroline Lee Johnson), whose levelheadedness most often (though not always) brought Gareth’s tempestuousness crashing back to Earth. In season two Janice assumes management of Le Chateau, leading to more hilarious confrontations between the couple.
This all seems quite dramatic, but the comedy is quite strong, with Chef getting into numerous comedic situations, usually through something culinary-related that he becomes obsessed with, or through his dry personality catching up with him. Regular appearances from superstar Jamaican comedian Oliver Samuels, as Gareth’s father, and character actor Ian McNeice (“Bridget Jones: the Edge of Reason,” HBO’s “Rome”) also enhance the show’s comedic chops.
The other series mainstay is actor Roger Griffiths as Everton, the Jamaican-born apprentice, and eventual commis chef, at La Chateau. Forever Gareth’s comic foil, Everton’s kind yet strong nature is presented in many ways as the man Chef Gareth would like to be, though he’s way too proud to admit it. Henry himself is the son of Jamaican immigrants (reflected in Gareth’s past as well), so his casting of a Jamaican actor speaks volumes (in fact, his first sitcom “The Fosters,” the first all-Black cast sitcom in England, a “Good Times” knock-off in which the parents are from the Caribbean).
Yet make no mistake, with his intimidating frame, sharp-wittedness, and ability to contort his face in every which way, Henry puts his comic genius on full display in his still best known international role. Some American audiences may know him as the star of the 1991 Charles Lane film “True Identity,” which was supposed to be Henry’s star-studded debut to American audiences, but flopped, forcing his contract with Disney to unfortunately be canceled, but two years later blessing the world with the perfection that is “Chef!” (Also, Henry has been socially busy regarding Black talent in England over the past two years, so stay tuned for more about him).
Here are some standout episodes. All the ones from Season 1 can be watched sans a Hulu subscription:
Season 1, Episode 4: “The Big Cheese”
Gareth is thrown into a panic when celebrity French chef Albert Roux reserves a table for lunch. Gareth goes in search of the perfect unpasteurized English Stilton. But beware the cheese police!
Season 1, Episode 6: “Rice & Peas”
Gareth has promised his estranged father (Oliver Samuels) a Caribbean evening at Le Château Anglais. The trouble is, he knows nothing about Caribbean cuisine and must endure the ultimate indignity of requesting Everton’s expertise.
Season 2, Episode 4: “A Diploma of Miseries”
Publicity-shy Gareth is hounded by Janice to appear on a chat show to boost the audience for the restaurant. But, she soon wishes she had never bothered. When Gareth badmouths Janice’s cooking to the television audience, he might as well never come back home.
Season 3, Episode 1: “Gareth’s True Love”
What changes at La Chateau Anglais! Gareth has to transfer ownership of the restaurant to a loud mouth name Cyril and Janice really turns Gareth’s life around when she decides Gareth loves the restaurant more than her…and leaves them both!