Five things the Netflix series ‘Replacing Chef Chico’ got right

The eight-episode series puts Filipino food front and center, and touches on several themes from love to gender equality.

About a fortnight ago, the first Filipino Netflix original series, Replacing Chef Chico, dropped on the streaming giant to the delight of many Pinoys. It looks expensive, it’s headlined by a stellar cast, and it shines the spotlight on one thing we all love: Filipino food.

Created by Antoinette Jadaone (Fan Girl, On the Wings of Love) and directed by Dan Villegas (Cattleya Killer, Exes Baggage) the series has eight 30-minute episodes and is binge-worthy enough to finish in one go.

Every episode of Replacing Chef Chico has love at its core—from familial to filial love, romantic love to self-love—showing that no matter the imperfections, when real, love always wins, in one way or another.

The story revolves around the fictional restaurant Hain and follows the struggles of Ella—played by the ever-formidable Alessandra de Rossi—a sous chef who suddenly finds herself trying to prove she’s worthy of being interim head chef after the actual head chef and restaurant owner Chico—brought to life with seething intensity by Sam Milby —falls into a coma. Completing the talented troika of leads is the ageless Piolo Pascual, who is always as great an actor as he is great looking. (I’m sorry if I sound like I’m fawning but I actually am.) 

The central question is: Can Ella replace Chico?

Replacing Chef Chico feels like the hit American TV series The Bear at times—especially when things get too intense in the kitchen. It’s also reminiscent of the Japanese series Shinya Shokudo (Midnight Diner), particularly its episodic format. Each episode shines the spotlight on a dish and customer/s and highlights a certain theme.

Despite the similarities, Replacing Chef Chico is a series all its own—one that is near-perfect in its execution and brims with heart.

I had high expectations coming into the series; I’m happy to report that they’ve been met. And a few more. But I’m not here to do a review, rather, I would be talking about five things, which in my opinion, the series got right.

1. If men can, women and LGBTQ+ members can do it, too—sometimes even better.

Sam Milby plays the temperamental titular character.

One of my favorite aspects of Replacing Chef Chico is how it goes beyond aesthetics, giving us enough food shots to make our mouths water, while also tackling the struggles which sadly, even in this age of “wokeism,” still hound women and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Ella, for example, has to fight her way through a patriarchal kitchen. Despite her obvious talent and passion, she still has to work twice as hard and twice as much just to prove she’s deserving of being named head chef. This is something to which many women can relate.

With her calm demeanor, Ella almost loses losing her cool, while chef Carlon (Joel Saracho) proves that talent has no gender and should not be limited by that.

Borrowing the words from the food critic’s (Sheenly Gener) glowing review of Hain: “And it’s thanks to female chefs like chef Ella, who have endured harassment, the misogynistic culture, and habit of ignoring women’s achievements in culinary cuisine.”

It was this review-turned profile of Ella that secured Hain’scomeback on the Asia’s Best List, effectively keeping the struggling restaurant alive.

 2. Love is a necessary cliché.

Piolo Pascual plays Raymond, a consultant hired by Chico’s family to help save his restaurant Hain from closing down.

There’s nothing else in this world that has as many clichés as love. I’m sure many of us can still recall—not without cringing—filling out grade school “slum books” where we were asked to give our definition of love. (I still recall jotting down ‘Love is like a rosary full of mysteries’ when I was in third grade).

But love is clichéd because it’s a universal experience. All of us have experienced love in one form or another; it doesn’t have to be of the romantic kind. And whatever our experience is of love—good, bad or something in between—we can’t deny that it is an integral part of our existence.

Every episode of Replacing Chef Chico has love at its core—from familial to filial love, romantic love to self-love—showing that no matter the imperfections, when real, love always wins, in one way or another.

3. Leave when there’s no more love.  

Alessandra de Rossi breathes life into Ella, a talented sous chef at Hain.

In episode 3, wife and mistress face off in an adobo dinner showdown. But instead of a scandalous catfight—bubbly receptionist Wena (Yesh Burce) already had her phone ready to record—the birthday dinner for the philandering husband became an opportunity for the two women to take stock of their fraught relationship with the man they both love (Or is it loved?).

As the legal wife Tina (Max Eigenmann) and other woman Brittany (Gabby Padilla) “compare notes,” they realized that despite their differences, they have one important thing in common: They don’t love him anymore.

And in what is one of the series’ most satisfying twists, husband arrives but with the two having left already, leaving behind their bill for him to pay. The best part? Him seeing the note they left beside his table napkin with the joint message: “Not staying where there is no love.”

Easier said than done, of course, but learning when to leave—but also when to stay—is crucial if we are to avoid more years of being in an unhappy, toxic, or abusive situation.

4. Breathe.

A commercial kitchen is one of the most intense workplaces there is. I have never worked in one myself but watching Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen and more recently The Bear, and playing restaurant service games such as Overcooked and Diner Dash gave me an idea on how difficult it is to run a kitchen. As pressure mounts, tempers could flare even more hotly than the stoves. Chico knows this all too well as he is one tempestuous force himself.

As Chico’s mom (Frances Makil Ignacio) advised him while he was teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown in the last episode: “Relax. Take a break. Breathe.”

When things get too tough and out of control, sometimes the best thing for us to do is take a step back, breathe, and in some cases, go on a break. This pause calms our nerves, allowing us to keep our emotions in check so we could look at the situation more objectively and avoid hurting people’s feelings. 

5. Filipino cuisine is rich in history—and possibilities.

The series shines the spotlight on modern Filipino cuisine.

Every dish featured in Replacing Chef Chico is a homage to our rich culinary heritage, many dating back to hundreds of years before Ferdinand Magellan reached our shores. From the simple goodness of home cooked laing to the delightfully complex flavors of sisig, it will take more than a lifetime to fully discover and enjoy our country’s gastronomic delights. 

These dishes, as much as they are deeply rooted in tradition, are also canvases on which creative possibilities are endless. In the series, there’s Ella’s lumpiang sisig, the dinakdakan empanada in episode 7, the tinawon arroz caldo in episode 4, among other equally creative twists to time honored recipes.

As shown in Replacing Chef Chico, in the hands of talented and passionate individuals, Filipino cuisine will continue to evolve all while staying true to age-old traditions.

To bring the dishes to life, Jadaone and Villegas tapped on the expertise of chef Mae Montalban, a culinary instructor at the Magsaysay Center for Hospitality and Culinary Arts, Inc. (MIHCA) and a chef with close to three decades of experience both here and abroad. The cast also underwent a seven-day culinary workshop conducted by MIHCA.

Replacing Chef Chico premiered on Netflix on Nov. 24 and is available for streaming in the Philippines and other regions.

The new lifestyle.