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CROSSING EUROPE 2023

Review: She Chef

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- Melanie Liebheit and Gereon Wetzel’s documentary on chef Agnes Karrasch’s journey across international restaurant kitchens offers intriguing insights into finding oneself

Review: She Chef

There are many ways to work outside the norms; one might say that the opening of Melanie Liebheit and Gereon Wetzel’s She Chef already makes such a case in point. Their documentary, which first premiered at DOK Leipzig 2022, just had its Austrian premiere at Crossing Europe 2023 in the section Working Worlds, before coming out in Austrian theatres on 18 May. Their protagonist, young chef Agnes Karrasch, is standing in a knife shop, examining the Japanese selection. Alas, they are intended for right-handed people only. Karrasch’s magic in the kitchen, however, flows through her left hand.

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Her left-handedness is our hook into this world of Haute Cuisine. What sets Karrasch further apart, and what drew Liebheit and Wetzel to their protagonist, is her isolated position within the scene. Karrasch is one of the few women trying to make it to the top in a working environment dominated by men. Fresh from winning the Culinary World Cup 2018 with the Austrian junior national team, Karrasch starts her wandering years around Europe and its most prestigious kitchens, breaking with the tradition of young male hot shots from culinary school with little to no life experience.

Most of the following scenarios unfold in the three restaurants, where Karrasch takes up internships: the fancy Vendôme in Bergisch Gladbach, the experimental Disfrutar in Barcelona, and the remote Koks on the Faroe Islands. But it isn’t basic food porn that Liebheit and Wetzel are interested in. Neither are they keen on showing conflict in the kitchen, breakdowns or utter chaos. They are focused instead on peeling off the layers of what it means for Karrasch to be a chef, what her ambition in life is, while also breaking that famous glass ceiling.

“You will have to carry me out of the kitchen” is her remark to Vendôme sous-chef and friend Dennis Melzer when talking about the job. It would be easy to dismiss Karrasch as someone living for the job. But She Chef evades this pitfall of male storytelling, in which women are painted as striving for either / or. Karrasch openly expresses her wish to have it all: the partner, the kids, a place to belong. But, and this is a recurring theme within her journey, it is not easy for women in Haute Cuisine, where sexism — “you’re such a delicate girl, can you even already work with these knives” — as well as extreme working hours make it twice as hard.

The fact that Karrasch spent most of her Barcelona time in the budding COVID-19 crisis leaves a lingering effect on her but does not take over the narrative. It is her run-of-the-mill tenure at Vendôme, her silent months at Disfrutar due to language difficulties, and her arriving and blossoming in the rough but homely wilderness at Koks, that always stay the main focus. Without double-checking where Karrasch settles in in the end, the movie gives it away by widening its gaze from the kitchen to the breathtaking beauty and wilderness of the Faroe Islands, the staff outings, and the bond formed between them. 

Karrasch has found her little utopia, the best of both worlds: Haute Cuisine and a personal life. This might be an isolated event in the bigger picture, but it allows the viewer to question the norms. It is a best-case scenario in the meeting of skills and ambition with hierarchies and traditions, showing how the latter can be overcome step by step to foster a more equal work environment for all.

She Chef is produced by Horse&Fruits Filmproduktion and distributed in Austria by Filmdelights e.U. and internationally by Magnetfilm.

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