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Why 'Replacing Chef Chico' deserves your undivided attention

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Chances are, your feed is graced by memes featuring Alessandra De Rossi or Sam Milby donning chef hats. Those witty and relatable memes stem from one of Netflix's most captivating series this year: "Replacing Chef Chico."

This show marks a proud milestone as the inaugural Filipino Netflix original series, headlined by Alessandra, Sam, and Kapamilya heartthrob Piolo Pascual, but it's so much more than just being the first.

"Replacing Chef Chico" draws fans for its captivating storyline, visual allure, and rich insights into Philippine culture, cuisine, and life. It's a show you shouldn't miss.

The eight-episode series revolves around sous chef Ella (played by Alessandra), who must step up as the head chef of a Filipino fine dining restaurant named "Hain" after the head chef, Chico (Sam), falls into a coma. She makes difficult decisions along the way with the help of business consultant Raymond (Piolo) to sustain the restaurant and save it from imminent closure.

What makes "Hain" unique is its personalized menu catering to each customer’s life story or requests. Each customer brings a unique narrative and articulates poignant life lessons — a cancer-stricken businesswoman, a retired chef grappling with Alzheimer's disease, a gay couple planning their wedding, famous influencers celebrating their third anniversary, among others.

Director Dan Villegas (known for "English Only, Please" and "Exes Baggage") and showrunner Antoinette Jadaone (known for "Fan Girl" and "Alone Together") cleverly intertwine some of the guests' narratives into the stories of the kitchen staff, fostering a sense of mutual learning between characters and viewers. They also showcase the challenges of the kitchen, emphasizing the tedious processes involved in preparing good food and experience for every "Hain" customer.

The series also serves up mouthwatering visuals of sumptuous dishes, from ingredient preparation to exquisite plating. Villegas intricately crafts each scene, inviting viewers to feel as though they're tasting the dishes featured throughout the series. I particularly like the three variations of laing, kare-kare risotto, and the special turon.

The show proudly showcases Filipino food and ingredients, highlighting the nation's rich resources, heritage, resilience, and ingenuity. The audience is introduced to special ingredients like asin tibuok from Albuquerque, Bohol and tinawon heirloom rice from the Cordilleras. There are also anecdotes about ingredients and their origins, including sugar palm vinegar produced by women vinegar makers from Santa Teresita, Batangas (many of whom are victims of abuse), and the tasty strawberries from Baguio farmers, who are among those affected by the Covid pandemic.

Villegas and Jadaone flawlessly capture the elements of a memorable Filipino drama, especially the themes of family and love. As Chef Ella articulates in the series' final episode, "Love is a necessary cliche." The themes of women's empowerment, LGBTQ rights, and social media are also discussed in the series.

Ella's character also demonstrates that being compassionate towards kitchen staff and guests isn't a vulnerability or a weakness but a strength that makes her stand out in the cutthroat, male-dominated culinary industry. She proves that a good person will choose to be good, even if circumstances force her to abandon kindness and humility.

This series effortlessly brings a smile. Whether you're feeling down, bored, or just seeking a brief escape from life's challenges, "Replacing Chef Chico" is a must-watch. This series could easily feel like a soothing cup of hot chocolate or a flavorful bowl of arroz caldo—akin to a warm hug from a loved one.

"Replacing Chef Chico" is streaming on Netflix.

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