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The Weekend Binge: Replacing Chef Chico

This sweet, light Filipino kitchen drama with a savory selection of short stories and a side dish of romance may be just the late-night binge you're looking for.

replacing chef chico, netflix, piolo pascual

The Plot

Welcome to Hain, a unique Filipino restaurant with a singular specialty: it crafts incredible dishes based on its clients' personal stories. The chefs at Hain take the best of local Filipino cuisine and transform it, all while pouring their hearts and sincerity into each impeccably plated meal.

Hain is run by Chef Chico (Sam Milby), the inexplicably hot-headed and abusive head chef. He loses his cool over the smallest things -- think Gordon Ramsey but way more constipated and punchable -- and his entire kitchen has learned to just put up with him through the years. Every day, his ever-dependable and cool sous chef, Ella (Alessandra de Rossi), takes his worst tirades in stride, mainly because she loves her workmates and cooking for her diners.

A personalized menu isn't always the best profit-making strategy; predictably, Hain finds itself in the red. Enter Raymond (Piolo Pascual), a restaurant consultant hired by Hain's owners, to observe Chico's methods and make the necessary recommendations. Unsurprisingly, Chico resents Raymond's presence and tells him off every chance he gets.

One night, the antagonistic chef gets into an accident and ends up in a month-long coma. Suddenly, it is up to Raymond and Ella to step up and run the restaurant. But when the onslaught of new responsibilities and operational problems flood Hain, will Ella be able to step up and lead Hain through its most difficult months yet? And with all the heat in the kitchen, will things heat up between Ella and Raymond, too?

replacing chef chico, netflix, alessandra, piolo pascual
Things are heating up

Our Spoiler-Free Review

As the first Filipino offering of Netflix, Replacing Chef Chico has all the ingredients of a compelling personal growth story, with a side of romance and some truly intriguing dinner guests. While its unabashed display of Filipino food makes the show a challenging show to binge at night (it made us look up sisig and bopis deliveries at 2 in the morning), it largely hits the spot, not only in the stomach but also in the heart.

The growth of Chef Ella from humble sous chef to loved and respected head chef is the main thread that brings together all eight episodes, while the colorful personal stories of Hain's diners keep the audience intrigued until the final episode. Love is certainly the main course in Hain, and there is a love story in every episode -- albeit not always the conventional stories we expect. We witness diners having their final meal with their loved ones, an unexpected wedding banquet, couples who may not be all they seem, and elderly diners struggling to make memories before it's too late.

Hain reminds us that the meals we take for granted can suddenly become extremely personal and significant: it could be someone's last, a harbinger of things to come, or a marker of lives coming together or falling apart. In Hain, love is served to everyone, and the meals become more flavorful or dismal, depending on the night's company.

replacing chef chico, netflix, piolo pascual
The new head chef calls everyone to order

Replacing Chef Chico is primarily propelled by the wonderfully subdued performance of Alessandra de Rossi as Chef Ella. Patient to a fault and a bit too kind in some places, De Rossi gives her Ella quiet strength and vulnerability without being a pitiful pushover. De Rossi's charisma shines through the screen, and she deftly holds herself wonderfully with veteran actor Piolo Pascual (and those beautiful brown eyes). On the other hand, Sam Milby (Chef Chico) comes off as a bit one-dimensional and eternally constipated. We aren't privy to a long backstory as to why Chef Chico is the horrible, abusive chef that he is, but despite the barrage of expletives and stony exterior, at least Milby is predictable in his performance to the point that it's almost comical. Also shining in their supporting roles are the delightful and optimistic maitre'd Wena (Yesh Burce), Joel Saracho as the senior chef Carlon, and Paulo Angeles as the New York-trained Juancho.

Then there's the matter of the gorgeous food shots. It's probably not the best idea to binge this show late at night when all the glorious shots of sisig, lumpia, and kare-kare look so tantalizing and lead to all sorts of late-night cravings. The upbeat jazz music and well-curated soundtrack also lend a modern edge to old-fashioned Filipino dining and set the tone for the love stories Replacing Chef Chico strives to tell.

replacing chef chico, piolo pascual, netflix
Welcome to Hain!

But no matter how delicious the dishes in Hain are, some parts are bound to lose a bit of flavor and can get rather overdone. There is the matter of some lost and undeveloped stories that we would have wanted to see more of, such as Chef Carlon's ongoing resentment with Chef Ella (which disappeared a little too quickly), a bit more background on Ella herself, and whatever happened to Chef Chico in the end. The romance would have also benefited from a little more push because it got a tad too dry and a bit too fast in some places. Though it's clear that the romance isn't the priority here -- Ella and the staff's attempt to save Hain is -- it wouldn't have hurt to have a little more heat in and outside the kitchen. A modern romance could have both (if we even needed one). Even the final scene, where the lovers must make a critical decision, comes off as underwhelming and rushed.

Yet, like all interesting degustation menus, Replacing Chef Chico is a medley of lovely, unpredictable twists best served on small plates and loaded with new flavors. Filipinos are suckers for a good love story, but the refreshing focus on growth and self-actualization is a welcome departure from that tired recipe and makes for an enjoyable -- and extremely binge-able -- experience. We would welcome a second course.

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