The assumption for a story like Replacing Chef Chico, which is set in a restaurant, is that it talks about how food brings people closer. That would be correct, since the basic sentiment of the series is to be sweet. Essentially, there doesn’t seem to be a greater message to the story. It is about a woman who comes to love her workplace once her toxic boss leaves, and when he returns, she is forced to take a step back. But it all works out in the end. In many ways, this is the life of most people in any industry or workplace, and it is hard to say that Hain (the restaurant) is anything special.
It is inevitable that, for a second, this series would be compared to The Bear. While Replacing Chef Chico is far from a comedy and doesn’t have as many profanities, it is still a story about high tensions that eventually lead to each member finding their footing in the workplace and in life through the course of events. But this is where the comparison ends because, as it was said before, the vibe is completely different for this Filipino series, and there is no underlying message about family.
First of all, one of the better things about the show is how the love interests took a proper backseat in the narrative. It may have been odd how Ella seemed to have strong feelings for two different men within such a short period of time, but even if that had been different, it wouldn’t have had much effect on the story, and that is a good thing because it emphasized how it was never about them. Secondly, it may be the first time that we don’t like the name of a series, even though it cannot be denied that it was aptly named. The story starts with Ella taking the place of Chef Chico, and it also ends with that. But it feels a little off that her story is named after a coincidence and a man who was quite toxic. She has proven to deserve better than that. On that topic, it was never made clear why Chico behaved the way he did. It was one thing to be a bad leader and quite another to be so consumed by your parents’ expectations that you lost all sense of right and wrong. A more thorough background on him would have been nice. Additionally, was he ever threatened by Ella, and to what extent were his feelings for her real? These questions were only hinted at without ever coming up with a clear answer. Luckily, he is the only character in the series who gives this feeling of incompleteness.
On a different note, it was absolutely beautiful how the food was connected to the stories of the guests in the episodes. While that remained the concept of Hain as a restaurant, the excellence of the writing was in how the food addressed the guests as well as the chefs in the restaurant. Be it the episode about the influencer couple, the wedding, or even the one with the couple where the man had Alzheimer’s, the writing beautifully brought together all the elements of the guests’ lives and the staff’s, much like those beautiful dishes themselves. Our favorite episode may have been the one with the wife and the mistress, with the food actually bringing them to the conclusion it needed to.
Something that stands out in Replacing Chef Chico, and it takes a while to notice this, is the feminism in it. Ella is initially not accepted by her team members, and she is as doubtful as the audience if it is because of her being a woman. After all, a man would not be abused even by the senior-most member the way Ella was. What also strikes us is the way Ella had to handle the whole thing. She was aware of the hostility, yet she had to always take the higher road. In the show, that was shown as what eventually got her everyone’s favor, but that is not how real life works. Even when it was being discussed whether she should be Head Chef, doubts were raised (by another woman) about whether she would be capable or not the moment her gender was revealed. But the series is not feminist because of Ella. In fact, her story is the fantasy part of Replacing Chef Chico. The show is feminist because of the stories of other women, be it the wife and the mistress, the old woman who wanted to live life on her own terms, or the old couple who were getting divorced for their own freedom. Even in the initial episodes, where the wife of the man with Alzheimer’s seemed to be tolerating his rudeness, it is clear that it is a fine balancing rope she is treading on for her relationship and love, and by her choice. It is the way these women put forward their stories that made this show so endearing. Everyone may have heard how food is often the most domestic of labors, but in the food industry, it is the men who end up taking dominance once again. Therefore, it seemed quite fitting that the women were acknowledged through these stories.
My personal opinion is that the ending should have been different. Other than the fact that it wasn’t realistic, it felt like a compromise and a step back to the journey that Ella had so far. Maybe the writers could have added two more episodes to the series to show Chico turning over a new leaf and Ella moving on to bigger and better things. Because the ending was the only part of the story whose sentimentality felt so unconvincing. Overall, Replacing Chef Chico was an easy watch. It was well-written and well-paced, with everyone intent on doing a good job, much like their characters themselves. Sadly, the food in it doesn’t make your mouth water. It could be just us, but that quality is simply missing. But it has managed to give us a lot of Michelin Star exploration goals. Replacing Chef Chico is worth a watch, but with a pinch of salt.