Netflixable? A Thai Chef Learns if she has the “Hunger” to Succeed

It should go without saying that you don’t settle into the two-hours+ of a drama set within the world of haute cuisine with an empty stomach. That’s doubly true for the Thai tale “Hunger,” whose title is the last warning you’ll get.

This making-of-a-chef saga is a clever mashup of assorted chef-stories, with dashes of everything from “The Menu” to “Chef,” with a tiny pinch of “No Reservations/Mostly Martha.” Yes, most of those are pretty conventional, but there’s just enough of that “Menu” edge to make this savory, food-focused coming-into-her-own drama crackle in the peanut oil.

Aoy, played by by Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying of “Bad Genius,” slaves away over the wok in her aged father’s open air Pad See Ew diner, serving up delectable comfort noodles for the slurping and gulping masses. Her friends envy her because at least she had a real job to take over when she finished school, but her head’s down and likely to stay that way forever in this limiting venue.

But that changes when a handsome, well-turned-out young assistant sous chef (Gunn Svasti) orders her food, takes one bite and leaves her a business card that must cost more than anything on her menu. He’s seen how she “works the fire,” and invites her to try out at Hunger.

She has a sister in school and a brother who drops by for meals and a high-mileage father who might be easing off to let her take over the family shop. But Aoy accepts the challenge. Why, she is asked?

“I want to be special!” (in Thai with English subtitles).

Passing muster with Chef Paul in the symphony of stainless steel that serves his hottest-eatery-in-the-East won’t be easy. And beating the posh lad with culinary school-training and higher-end restaurant experience is just the beginning of her challenges.

Chef Paul, played with poker-faced malice veteran actor and director (“Headshot,” “The Secret Weapon”) Nopachai Chaiyanam, is a bully, an exacting showboat who uses the priceist ingredients — Wagyu beef, Kurobuta pork, lobsters fresh off the boat. A catered event is coming up, and his way of hazing Aoy is to take that stupidly-expensive beef and make her show him she can slice it without “sawing,” and “work the fire” so that’s it’s lightly seared, with the flavorful blood involved barely cooked.

Her apprenticeship in this top flight kitchen will include flattery and know-your-place demotions, trips with Tone the sous chef recruiter to fetch Grade A ingredients. and after-hours lessons from Tone. And if don’t know how erotic massaging meat before cooking can be, well back to your salad, dear.

Aoy works through the night and collects the flaming oil burns on her arms that it takes to achieve the higher expectations demanded of her.

But as she sees what ravenous pigs even the well-mannered elite turn into when devouring chef’s creations, she and the movie get to their point.

What and who is all this “foodie” frenzy about? Are any of these status symbol culinary “experiences” worth it? Is it as noble as the world’s famous chefs all claim? The simple “honor” of serving people your great creations that Bourdain and Ramsay and others have preached all has a pricey, performative and morally corrupting mania about it.

What might this environment do to a simple but beautiful noodle cook from the working class?

The writer of “Girl from Nowhere,” Kongdej Jaturanrasamee, scripted and produced this, and masters both the milieu and the genre with this formulaic foodie delight. Director Sitisiri Mongkolsiri (the Thai Oscar submission “Inhuman Kiss”) gives it a polish that suggests this could be his audition for Hollywood work, or at the very least a Thai film meant more for the international market than the domestic one.

In Hollywood terms, it’s just a “big game” story, setting us up for a chefs showdown/throwdown.

The story arc in such tales may be the epitome of “conventional” — chef learns that “expensive” doesn’t equate with “the very best.” But don’t be surprised if this ravishing production sends you online in search of a Door Dash serving of something, and no mere Pad Thai will do.

Rating: TV-MA, violence, drugs, nudity, smoking, rude gestures

Cast: Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, Nopachai Chaiyanam and Gunn Svasti.

Credits: Directed by Sitisiri Mongkolsiri, scripted by Kongdej Jaturanrasamee. A Netflix release.

Running time: 2:10


About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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