Chef Ella works as a sous chef at Hain, a restaurant that’s not doing so well. When her boss, Chef Chico, the head chef, as well as the guy she’s interested in, falls into a coma, the survival of the restaurant falls on her shoulders. With the help of her fellow chefs, patrons, and a mystery man named Raymond in the mix, will Ella be able to save Hain from an inevitable disaster? Replacing Chef Chico is set in the fine dining restaurant Hain, which combines Filipino dishes with a special Hain experience that is like no other. Chico and Ella are actually poles apart, especially at work, but somehow, after work, everything is forgotten. This is the first time I’ve watched anything Filipino, and my initial reaction was surprise at the predominantly English dialogue of the show.
Replacing Chef Chico begins in a strange way; it almost feels like a reality show at the beginning, about customers who come to this restaurant and deal with their life trauma. It’s only after a couple of episodes that the tone sets in, and everything feels at ease. I will admit that, at first, I was quite skeptical about this show, but as it progressed, it started to feel less superficial, and the characters really grew on me. Every episode is a brief encounter with a small crisis for customers who come to the restaurant. Their little anecdotes really make this show quite a nice slice-of-life drama. I suppose you could say each episode is like a course in this elaborate eight-course meal. Each episode is a fantastic dish that leaves you waiting for the next. The entrées are quite basic, and even though some of the dishes in between don’t hit quite right, it’s the dessert that really leaves you satisfied. Chef Ella is a devoted sous chef who always puts herself last. Her journey through the show is remarkable, and it doesn’t hurt to see a woman climb up the ladder in a male-dominated world. The show is positively feminist, but it never feels forceful, more like a cute PSA.
Now, Chico is like old milk, nice when mixed with other ingredients, but completely rancid now, whereas Raymond is like an organic salad with a secret ingredient that makes him the amusingly healthy choice. Alessandra De Rossi as Ella has such a nonchalant attitude that is really intriguing for a show about screaming chefs. Her cool composure, combined with her solid acting chops, makes her a very charismatic performer, and I really rooted for her until the end of the series. Sam Milby as Chico is a mix between Gordon Ramsay and Seo Poong from the Korean drama Wok of Love, except he’s not as wonderful (you could call Chico an idiot sandwich, actually). Piolo Pascual is perfect, of course, as Raymond, the walking green flag. Although, it is odd to see him carry a notepad and scribble things down in a kitchen for most of the first half of the series. All the side characters are lively and add value to the show, never coming off as extra ingredients that overpower the main dish.
Although the show seems to be catering to a global audience, it shows off a lot of culturally significant foods, and the chefs also spit out a lot of facts about the produce there, which is interesting to see. I’m definitely dreaming about some “Laing” after watching the show, along with some of the other traditional Filipino dishes seen in the show. It’s interesting to see how classical music is always used when it comes to food shows. The first dish cooked in the show is accompanied by a remix of a melodious classical track, which definitely makes you feel the heat of the kitchen. This is a fairly simple story that follows a good pace and can be perfect as background noise while working or just a show to catch if you’re feeling demotivated. We can’t go without talking about the creative nature of the culinary world of the show. This is, after all, a fine dining restaurant, and I can appreciate that it definitely appears to be that way too.
“Love is a necessary cliche,” says Ella in the last episode, a statement that applies to the show as well. It’s obvious from the start that it’s made with care, and although flawed, it’s got some heart to it, which makes it worth watching. There have been many shows and films set in the culinary world recently: The Bear (nothing like it), the Thai film Hunger (terrible), The Menu (fun), and more, but Replacing Chef Chico is charming enough to sit at the table. Although a lot of the subplots sometimes feel dragged on, like there’s a string of dialogue between the gay chef and the intern who can’t stop being a prick, which is uncomfortably long since the episodes are only 30 minutes long, I’m willing to ignore them.
At the end of the day, Replacing Chef Chico is a strong Filipino show about a female chef trying to make it in the cutthroat culinary world. It’s definitely interesting to see the messaging the show is trying to put out there, and it’s a wonderful step in progress. However, the show is also very entertaining, and I did find myself enjoying the character interactions a lot by the second half of the series as they all grew on me. If you’re feeling a bit lost when it comes to work and need a break, this series could definitely feel like a cup of hot chocolate. It is, after all, the holiday season, so bring on the corny and cheesy because this is the perfect time to embrace it all. There’s quite a bit of profanity in the show. I’d give Replacing Chef Chico 3.5 out of 5 stars.