The 8 REAL Main Courses In ‘Replacing Chef Chico’
Nov 29, 2023   •   Kel Fabie
8List.ph is published by ID8, Inc.
Nov 29, 2023   •   Kel Fabie
By now, all the hype over the first Filipino-produced series for Netflix has sent Replacing Chef Chico to the #1 spot in the Philippines, and with good reason. The reviews are nearly unanimous with praise for the beautiful episodic storytelling wrapped in the overarching storyline encompassing all 8 episodes. It also makes a point to tackle a few social issues while it’s at it!
The best way to describe this show is that it’s like a police procedural – it follows a formula for every episode, except it’s a show about a restaurant, not solving crimes. So instead of the mystery of the week, there’s a situation that involves a key diner in Hain each time, and resolving that situation is how the story develops across each episode.
Surprisingly, the biggest star in the show wasn’t even our lead triumvirate in Alessandra De Rossi, Piolo Pascual, or Sam Milby, but the food. The way the dishes are featured and their stories are told shows the love and care put into what is normally treated as just background, putting it front and center instead.
But again, this isn’t a review. It’s about the food and themes driving each episode, i.e., the very main course featured in each episode, and the real main course behind it. So without spoilers, let’s talk about those themes!
The Featured Main Course: Kare-Kare
The Real Main Course: Living your life to the fullest.
Filipino food is often regarded as sinfully delicious yet patently unhealthy. From our affinity for crispy pork to our fixation on sweet-style spaghetti, Filipino food is about enjoying the food and worrying about the consequences later, if at all. Kare-Kare is one of those dishes that really encapsulates the sinfulness of our cuisine.
But like all lessons in this series, this translates beyond the dining table. When we eat Kare-Kare, we often do it to the detriment of our health down the road. But if we live a life without all the sinful Kare-Kares in it and the many things it can represent, is that really a life worth living? Do we really want to live our life only before we die? Or should we not actually make the most of our lives as early as we can? That’s what this episode wants us to grapple with.
The Featured Main Course: Tibok-tibok
The Real Main Course: The heart never forgets to keep beating.
The heart is one of the most fascinating parts of our body. For as long as it possibly could, it beats to keep us alive, without any input from us. It’s almost like the heart has a mind of its own, operating independently of our will, doing what it does so we live. And that’s love, too. It has a mind of its own. The truest love remains even when everything else fails us. And in this episode, we really see that brought to the fore.
And yes, the choice of having Tibok-Tibok be the centerpiece of the meal instead of the main dish means it’s the actual main course of the meal, especially once you connect it to the heart. It’s literally in the name!
The Featured Main Course: Two kinds of adobo
The Real Main Course: Why do we stay, and should we just walk away?
Episode 3 is a beautifully framed episode featuring two diners you dread to see in the same place at the same time, yet defy all expectations. The main dish featured is adobo, with two distinct versions: pork and chicken, each done very differently from the other. Adobo is such a common fare in the Philippines, that we tend to take it for granted. The meal asks us to take stock of the most important relationships we have in our lives, and ask the hard question: why do we stay? The conclusion our two diners arrive at might surprise you.
The Featured Main Course: Arroz Caldo
The Real Main Course: Authority and humanity are not incompatible with each other.
Arroz Caldo is comfort food, and there’s nothing more comfortable than being around people who are human just like us. But this is also why we always find tension with the people who have authority over us, from our bosses to our parents. Despite that, we sometimes forget that they are human, too, and the byplay between recognizing their authority while being fully aware of their humanity and by extension, their failings, should not undermine their authority when that humanity, in fact, connects them to us.
We can’t expect perfect leaders, but when we romanticize the terror prof, why do people who may have done far less worse not get a pass? It’s a very nuanced discussion, but it’s one that Episode 4 deftly tackles.
The Featured Main Course: Turon
The Real Main Course: Life is full of surprises.
Yep, we’ve gone nearly full Forrest Gump here. Turon has become our box of chocolates analogy, and it makes perfect sense. You expect bananas, but what if there’s more to it than just that? What if life throws you a curveball, how do you roll with it? In a sweet, very endearing episode, the Hain team throws together a dessert that’s every bit as full of surprises as their main diners are, and it’s glorious.
The Featured Main Course: Three kinds of laing
The Real Main Course: Not everything is what it seems.
In a restaurant, people can let their guard down, thinking nobody sees them. In contrast, laing seems to be a dish with no possible surprises to it, yet merely creating three different versions of it should indicate otherwise. All of us love to present a version of ourselves in front of the world, and in the age of social media, it’s easier than ever to do that. But when the mask slips, what’s really behind it? And what if, despite all the ugliness and bitterness, underneath it all, is still something wonderful?
Laing is one of those tricky dishes to cook, because it’s so easy to mess it up, and you can immediately tell. But what if you can’t? Is there really a reason to put up with it, or is it just a delusion?
The Featured Main Course: Dinakdakan Empanada
The Real Main Course: Love wins, and food has no gender.
It’s no secret that this episode is probably the most heavy-handed out of all of the episodes when it comes to its themes. It’s also arguably the most tearjerking of them, and we’ve had some bangers with almost every episode when it comes to that. Dinakdakan Empanada, for all intents and purposes, is a new dish altogether, but that doesn’t stop us from understanding and imagining what it would probably taste like.
It’s delectable, yet unexpected, and despite growing LGBTQ acceptance worldwide and in the Philippines, it’s simply not common. But again: being uncommon makes it no less wonderful, and this episode goes out of its way to point out that food has no gender, and a restaurant like Hain can become a safe space for its patrons.
The Featured Main Course: Bopis, missing a key ingredient
The Real Main Course: You may not be sure what you’re looking for in life, but you’ll keep looking for it until you find it.
Ever had a meal that was delicious but still felt just… off? Like there’s something missing, but because you’re no foodie, you can’t really tell what it is? Well, the show’s final episode talks about that and more, as it tackles the typical Pinoy Bopis as its main course for the day, all while missing a key ingredient.
And like that missing ingredient in the meal, when there’s something missing in our life, we can’t help but keep looking for it, even when we think we already have everything. It’s something all of us go through until we find exactly what we’ve been missing all this time.
Replacing Chef Chico is now streaming on Netflix.
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