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by Melanie Liebheit and Gereon Wetzel

grade: 5

Making your way in the world of cooking, searching for your place in the world. The hypothetical tag-line of the documentary She Chef could be this, summarising the training path that Agnes Karrasch, a 25-year-old Austrian, decides to undertake in order to realise her dream.

Agnes’ dream

The She Chef who gives the title to Melanie Liebheit and Gereon Wetzel’s newest documentary is 25-year-old chef Agnes Karrasch, a member of Austria’s 2018 Junior World Champion team who, after her apprenticeship in Vienna’s famous ‘Steirereck’ restaurant, sets off on a further year-long intensive training course in Europe’s most prestigious restaurants.

Making your way in the world of cooking, searching for your place in the world. The hypothetical tag-line of She Chef could be this, summarising the training path that Agnes decides to undertake to make her dream come true. Unfortunately slow, the documentary limits itself to a reality show style, leaving the protagonist herself to determine the ethics of the whole, for an unexpected ending that in any case does not redeem a work that, all in all, has nothing new to say. Let us take a closer look at why.

In She Chef, therefore, the stages chosen by Agnes seem to follow a kind of life and then cooking path. Step number 1: Bergisch Gladbach, Germany. At Joachim Wissler’s Vendome, it is like being at home, given the type of cuisine on offer and the pragmatic, straightforward approach. What’s more, it feels like seeing the famous Ford production process applied to cooking, with discipline and repetitiveness as key ingredients. After all, ‘to become a 3-star chef, you must first know how to cook goulash’. That’s it.

Having overcome this obstacle (for the viewer, given the total absence of noteworthy events other than the post-pause cigarette, smoked strictly at the back door), the excellent references received are hopeful for the next step: Barcelona. In the Costa Brava, the biggest obstacle will be the exact opposite of the first experience; and it is not Oriol Castro’s ingenious and technical cooking, but the Coronavirus. The period of study and improvement at Disfrutar in Barcelona will in fact be interrupted twice by the lockdown that stopped the world literally three years ago.

Back in Vienna, this stage of She Chef is the classic ‘what if’, what would have happened if life had not stopped. The rhythm of the narrative, aided by the Spanish language, unfriendly to Agnes but with a dancing rhythm, gains speed and colour, despite the interruptions, empty airports and deserted cities that certainly do not evoke good memories.

Speaking of wilderness, how to describe the context of the last stage, the Faroe Islands? Hosted by Koks, by the young and visionary Poul Ziska, Agnes knows how to perfectly settle into the island microcosm of the wild north, magnificently tuning in to the frequencies of the supply chain, of the kilometre zero and the need to know how to adapt. Legendary, in this sense, is the use of the Land Rover when it rains hard.

Surprisingly, at the most controversial and seemingly distant step from the protagonist, the significance of She Chef finally makes itself understood. The clever choice of title focuses not only on Agnes but above all on her values and what she fights for: equality and sustainability. Taking the latter for granted, especially when she herself goes out to feed the färingi birds or to look for bivalves under the rocks, it is the feeling of finally being in the foreground in an environment that is still too male-oriented that makes her decide to stay on the island.

She Chef is, fundamentally, a wasted opportunity. Because the idea, however interesting, is not brought to absolute fruition and gives neither food for thought nor grounds for conversation. We have seen and followed the experience of a very good, nice and responsible chef, who struggles to be considered seriously also and above all as a woman chef. So what?

Original title: She Chef
Directed by: Melanie Liebheit, Gereon Wetzel
Country/year: Germany, Austria / 2023
Running time: 103’
Genre: documentary
Screenplay: Melanie Liebheit, Gereon Wetzel
Cinematography: Gereon Wetzel
Produced by: Horse & Fruits, BKM, DFFF

Info: the page of She Chef on iMDb; the page of She Chef on the website of the Österreichisches Filminstitut