SIFF Review: ‘Chef’s Diaries: Scotland’ Highlights Scotland’s Unrealized Gastronomy

The Roca Brothers embark on a tour of Scotland, learning about its unique history, food and culture in Chef’s Diaries: Scotland. Joan, Josep, and Jordi — all of whom are culinary maestros behind one of the best restaurants on the planet El Celler de Can Roca — pay homage in this documentary to the tastes and traditions of a small nation, often absent from the global culinary stage.

As an aside, Jordi – the visionary pastry chef of the formidable trio – was featured in the second series of Chef’s Table, which afforded some additional insight into the brothers’ creative process and the genius behind their restaurant.

This documentary certainly has a similar feel to the popular Netflix series, with close up shots of artfully plated dishes that defy culinary conventions, and intimate interviews with the brothers and the experts they meet along their journey. If anything is to be criticized about this documentary it is the development and structure of its narrative arc. We are repeatedly taken between a brainstorming session in Spain to different parts of Scotland and then back again, and sometimes it feels although not enough time is given to the individual stories that they present. That being said, I would expect a film such as this to result in an extravagant denouement where we see all of the brothers’ fieldwork culminate in a spectacular showcase of Scottish-inspired gastronomy, but, in keeping with its focus on the producers and the land itself, the beautiful dishes that they create are devoted less than 5 minutes of the film’s 75-minute run time.

At the core of the documentary is a heartfelt and respectful sentiment for the Scottish environment as a natural pantry, full of resources that we would be foolish to waste or overlook. A sense that we should all adopt a greater awareness and appreciation for where our food comes from, and the people who produce it, is communicated poetically and eloquently throughout, and is embedded within the brothers’ culinary philosophy. Josep states that the angle of the light in Scotland makes one view things differently, and it is clear that the Roca brothers see the beauty in a culinary tradition that is often disregarded as basic or unrefined. Ultimately, the documentary serves as a tribute to the land, the people, and most importantly, the great food that is waiting to be discovered.