Nothing brings a couple closer together than a shared experience. For Australian chefs Shane Osborn and Mark Best, their bromance was ignited in The Final Table, the new Netflix show that brings together 24 high-powered international chefs who compete in an intense global cooking competition.
It’s rumoured to be the world’s most expensive non-scripted series with each episode costing $2 million to produce. With 10 episodes in the series, that’s some serious coin. The series trailer has no shortage of Hollywood production and presents like an action blockbuster. Influential American food website Eater says it’s “a show that could make all other cooking competitions irrelevant”.
The show’s format sees contestants work in teams of two (Osborn and Best are one of the 12 teams) to cook national dishes from nine countries: Mexico, Spain, England, Brazil, France, Japan, the United States, India and Italy. Each episode focuses on a different cuisine and is judged by celebrity ambassadors, food critics and a prominent chef from each country, eliminating teams until the finale.
The twist in the final episode is that the remaining teams are broken up and chefs compete individually for the last remaining seat on the Final Table alongside nine culinary stars including Enrique Olvera (Mexico), Andoni Aduriz (Spain), Clare Smyth (UK), Anne-Sophie Pic (France) and Grant Achatz (USA).
Before teaming up for the show, Osborn and Best had never worked together, but shared a mutual respect for one another. Although teams didn’t have to be made up of chefs with the same nationality, team Osborn-Best are ideal ambassadors for Australian cooking.
Perth-born Osborn, 48, is one of Australia’s greatest chef exports and was the first Australian to be awarded one and then two Michelin stars while head chef at London’s acclaimed Pied à Terre. His CV includes time at Gordon Ramsay’s L’Oranger under chef Marcus Wareing and Mayfair’s prestigious two-Michelin-starred The Square with Philip Howard. Four years ago, Osborn opened his own restaurant, Arcane in Hong Kong, a 32-seater with lush greenery and an impressive kitchen garden. It won its first Michelin star in December.
Born in Pinnaroo in South Australia before moving to Norseman in the Goldfields of WA as a 16-year-old, Best, 53, is widely regarded as one of Australia’s most important chefs. His Sydney fine diner Marque has won every major dining accolade in Australia and held three Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide hats for 10 consecutive years. It also received the Breakthrough Award in the 2010 edition of the World’s Best 50 Restaurants list and held a position on the countdown for three years. Since the closure of Marque in 2016, Best has operated a restaurant, Bistro by Mark Best, aboard luxury cruise liner, Genting Dream. And despite his reputation as a stern, serious chef, Best was behind much of the humour on set.
“They were absolutely the jokers of the group,” says fellow contestant Jessica Lorigo, the chef at Gerald’s Bar in San Sebastian in the Basque Country. “Mark has such a dry sense of humour and then you put him together with Shane and they were just outrageous.”
“We had a great time,” says Osborn. “It was a lot of fun.”
While Osborn and Best are tight-lipped about where they finished on The Final Table, they were happy to share details about the experience and their new-found friendship.
Broadsheet: How did you become teammates on The Final Table?
Shane Osborn: When I was first approached by the show’s producers and asked if he could think of a teammate, only one name came to mind. I’ve always admired Mark. I like him as a man, he has a good sense of humour, he’s intelligent, and my wife just adores him. When I told her that I’d been approached to do The Final Table and told her the premise of the show, working in teams of two, she said, ‘You have to do it with Mark, you two would be great’. I told her I’d already asked him.
Mark Best: When Shane asked me, I thought that sounds great, but I didn’t get too excited, I’m quite laid back. We’d met at Gourmet Escape and through Masterchef. I supposed we admired each other from afar. It was his wife, actually, that got us together.
BS: What was it like being on set?
SO: Walking into the studio for the first time, my first thoughts were of total excitement. The stage was enormous and the amount of people and equipment involved was huge, with over 200 people working on it.
MB: I’m a big movie lover, so to go into those studios, to be in Hollywood and on set was incredible. It was awe-inspiring with a great sense of history. Inside, there were a dozen double, full-sized ranges [cooking stations], each with six-burner stoves with two ovens on each side, plus an enormous pantry, which was as big as a small supermarket. The sheer scale of it was unbelievable.
BS: What would you say is each other’s best quality?
SO: Mark is extremely intelligent. The creative process sets him apart, he thinks outside the box and he goes in very deep. Mark is extremely well travelled, well read and open to ideas.
MB: Shane’s a fabulous guy. He’s very smart and dedicated with no fuss, no bullshit, straightforward. You know where you stand with him. We’re remarkably similar in that regard.
BS: Did anything annoy you about each other? Were there any clashes on set?
SO: Not at all, we got on very well. When you’re in a pressure cooker, you have to be with someone you trust and rely on. We spent a lot of time together on and off the set. We’re like the odd couple coming together.
MB: No, not really, I’d say that Shane is absolutely meticulous. He makes me look messy, and I’m pretty meticulous.
BS: The Final Table took seven weeks to film. What was it like working and spending so much time together?
SO: Mark and I had a great time, it was a lot of fun.
MB: The jokes were constant – we laughed the whole the time. Shane loves his banter and quips, he’s got an old-school British comedy sense of humour.
BS: It sounds like a high-pressure situation. It can’t have all been good times.
SO: It was a little bit stressful, there were moments when I was anxious if things weren’t going so well, and when things were going very well, it was exciting.
MB: Shane and I were in a tight two-step; we knew what we were doing, we knew our strengths, knew what each of us could do. I’d say it was special for sure. Before the show, we said one thing to each other, we had a deal: no matter what happened we had to be resolutely positive. And that was to help us and it turned out to be a pretty powerful tool. It would take three days to do a one-hour episode, there’s a lot of waiting around, you’ve got to be strong mentally when going through something like this.
BS: What did you enjoy the most?
SO: I think I can speak for Mark also in saying that we loved the creative side, learning and understanding each country and its cuisine and representing it in a true and honest way.
MB: From the competition point of view, it was the purest competitive experience I’ve ever had in terms of testing pure cooking talent. No sous chefs, no support teams, just chef-on-chef. To come up with the results on The Final Table, you needed the knowledge, and it was great to be able to say at the end of each challenge that it was a job well done. We would compliment each other all the time, “Oh you nailed it” then Shane would say, “No you nailed it”.
BS: What surprised you the most?
SO: Learning. That’s what I love about this industry. The Final Table put me outside my comfort zone, live on stage, thrown in the deep end, cooking dishes I’ve never cooked before with produce I’d never seen before. I learnt a lot from the other contestants.
MB: How well Shane and I actually got on, I suspected we would, but it was just so easy. I was surprised at how much we gained. We had a lot to lose. I know of a lot of people who backed out because of the potential risk of their reputation.
The Final Table is released on Netflix on November 20.