Calgary chef Darren MacLean of celebrated Shokunin restaurant gets a seat at Netflix’s The Final Table

When a casting director contacted Darren MacLean to see if he’d be interested in appearing on Netflix, the Calgary chef didn’t take it seriously. As it turns out, the Facebook message was the real deal. One conversation and three weeks later, MacLean, who helms Calgary’s celebrated Shokunin restaurant, left for Los Angeles to compete on Netflix’s glossy new culinary show, The Final Table.

“It was one of the best experiences of my life,” he says.

The competition, filmed last year but launched on Nov. 20, showcases 12 teams of two chefs from around the world. Calgary foodies take note: MacLean is the only Canadian on the show – a position he is proud to hold.

“You’re going to see 23 of the best chefs in the world and, well, me,” he says with a laugh. “I wouldn’t put myself there, but it’s very, very cool to see.”

For cooking show lovers, the show is, indeed, very cool. Divided into teams of two, 24 world-class chefs compete to win one coveted seat at the Final Table — a spot among nine internationally loved culinary legends such as Grant Achatz from the United States and Yoshihiro Narisawa from Japan. Each episode features a different country and its food, not to mention the nation’s own celebrity judges, food critics and top chef acting as the final judge.

The stakes are high, as is the tension, but MacLean says the competition was nothing but classy. “There’s no sabotage, there’s no drama. There’s no spinning a wheel to see where you’re going to fall,” he says. “It really is just you and the food.”

He and his Japanese food have been doing well for some time now. Shokunin has been named one of Canada’s Top 50 restaurants for two years in a row and, without giving much away, MacLean is more than happy with how he represented Canada on The Final Table. “In my own way, I’m trying to develop a new Canadian cuisine that engages our ethnic mosaic,” he says. “Canada is young. That’s the beauty of it: we’re still defining what our cuisine is.”

On a personal level, MacLean says the experiences he had while filming the show have changed him forever. “I learned the power of teamwork and camaraderie. I’m not always the easiest person to get along with, so I really learned how to be more socialized,” he says. “For me, all I want to do is move forward as a better chef.”

Come spring 2019, MacLean will take his next step as he opens a new restaurant, which he’s wary to give too much away about. Until then, his fans can dine at Shokunin and root for him on The Final Table.

“I’m hoping that I helped put Canada on the map as a food destination. I wanted to be challenged,” he says, “and I think I did a good job.”

(Photo courtesy Adam Rose/Netflix.)

The Final Table is streaming now on Netflix.

Michelle Magnan McIvor is a Calgary-based writer. A former health and wellness columnist with the Calgary Herald, she has written for publications such as Maclean’s, Canadian Business, Chatelaine, Flare, Avenue and Reader’s Digest. You can find Michelle on TwitterInstagram and, most days, drinking coffee somewhere in Mission.