Chef, Virginia Plain Theatre | Review

Alice Birbara, Chef, Kings Cross Theatre KXT Bakehouse

Don’t have time to read the full review? Click here for a quick summary of the who, what, where and wine of this production.

Note: this review is from February 2022. Dates have been updated in Tasting Notes to reflect Chef’s 2023 Season

Wearing chef’s whites on top and trackpants on the bottom, Chef admires a ripe peach and wonders why anyone would try to improve something rendered perfect in nature – actually, it’s more like she instructs us not to be that arrogant. Reflecting on her current predicament as a prison inmate, Chef traces a life – her life – characterised by the food she cooked and the trauma she overcame.

Directed and designed by Victor Kalka, Chef is a story about the way our experiences shape us, the power gained by finding one’s passion, and the unpredictable nature of every tomorrow. The very name of the show tells us what’s important to the character; her given name isn’t alluded to or criticised, it’s simply unimportant. ‘Chef’ is the only title that she values.

Writer Sabrina Mahfouz imbues the character of Chef with incredible complexity; Chef is a victim and a survivor, strong and fragile, flawed and worthy of love. Alice Birbara’s performance is inviting and endearing, giving us ‘diamond in the rough’ vibes of a diamond that has had to deal with more rough than it deserves. Chef never sits down, a pretty rare sight for a one-woman show where the chair is often a supporting character, but her constant movement captures both her tumultuous life experiences and the dinner-rush of a commercial kitchen. Approaching every new anecdote and realisation with compassion and intense honesty, Birbara’s Chef is my new favourite recipe.

Sound and staging guide us through the ebbs and flows of Chef’s reflections. A fearful high-pitched ringing stalks the many harrowing accounts of trauma suffered at the hands of loved ones, while quiet moments of clarity are accompanied by far-off birds in the sky. In this way, Birbara is never truly alone on stage. The simple staging is effective, the off-white tiles, steel bench and whiteboard transformable into whichever kitchen Chef transports us to; however, the whiteboard – where Chef writes the recipes that guide her storytelling – isn’t positioned in a way that allows the entire audience to see what she writes, and the items aren’t often said aloud – so your ability to connect with parts of the performance are dependent on where you’re sitting.

Chef is a bittersweet reflection on the home our character found in the kitchen, and reassurance that despite the uncertainty of her future, passion cannot be quashed. I’ll never look at a peach the same way.

Wine Pairing | The Companions, Tempranillo Shiraz, 2019

For Chef, it was important that the wine emulated the complexity of the character, so I was looking for a wine that had fruit, and herbaceous notes. The Companions is a deep ruby, ruby wine with aromas and flavours of red plum, raspberry and cranberry, and provides the complexity we’re looking for through notes of white pepper, charred wood, dark chocolate and forest floor.

This is a Naked Wines exclusive, pick up a bottle for $22 as a one-off or $13 as a member.

Tasting Notes

Aussie Season17-20 Feb, KXT Bakehouse, Virginia Plain Theatre Co.
Ticket $$20-35
WriterSabrina Mahfouz
DirectorVictor Kalka
Theatre Type & GenrePlay, one-woman show, autobiographical, resilience through trauma
See it if you likeStories of struggle and perseverance, following one’s passion, suspense
Other InfoFirst performed in 2014 at Edinburgh Fringe Festival where it won the Edinburgh Fringe First award
Wine PairingThe Companions, Tempranillo Shiraz, 2019
Criteria for Wine PairingTop-notch quality at a low price, full bodied, grounded, earthy flavours coming through along with ripe fruit flavours.