Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Chef! (1993-96)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Chef! (1993-96)
APC/Crucial Films for BBC, 28/1/1993-30/12/1996
19 x 30min episodes plus 1 special, colour
DirectorsJohn Birkin
 Dewi Humphreys
WritersPeter Tilbury
 Paul Makin
 Geoff Deane

Cast: Lenny Henry (Gareth Blackstock); Caroline Lee Johnson (Janice Blackstock); Roger Griffiths (Everton Stonehead); Dave Hill (Cyril Bryson); Claire Skinner (Lucinda); Lorelei King (Savannah Bryson)

Show full cast and credits

Gareth Blackstock, temperamental chef de cuisine at the very upmarket Chateau Anglais, is the unchallenged master of his kitchen. But when he and his wife, Janice, take over the ownership of the restaurant, they find that business success doesn't come so easily.

Show full synopsis

A gap of 15 years separates Chef! from Lenny Henry's first sitcom, The Fosters (ITV, 1976-77), during which time, aside from two demi-sitcom series for his Delbert Wilkins character, he had favoured sketch and stand-up. What really marked out Chef!, however, was Henry's development as an actor. As the kitchen tyrant Gareth Blackstock, he proved himself capable of representing a multi-faceted character far beyond the caricatures of his sketch shows.

Created by Peter Tilbury from an idea by Henry, Chef! presented a largely unfamiliar menu of foodie humour - the pursuit of the perfect 'signature dish'; the horror of philistine diners who insist on adding salt; how to cope with an upstart commis-chef who has just created a world-class partridge terrine. At the same time, the series managed some acute observations on food and contemporary Britain: the celebritisation of cuisine, the pathological obsession with hygiene, the near impossibility of securing genuinely excellent produce in a culture dominated by industrial farming and supermarket giants.

Chef! found its comedy in food snobbery, culinary ineptitude (missing plasters and escaped crayfish, among other disasters) and the shadowy world of black market ingredients, but most of all in the imaginatively savage insults directed by the volatile Gareth at his staff, clientele, suppliers and - when particularly brave - his wife and business partner, the indomitable Janice.

The state of the Blackstock marriage proved an enduring feature of the series, with the obsessively focused Gareth routinely neglecting his wife, and evidently much more at home in the kitchen than the bedroom. The long-suffering Janice finally gave up hope by the end of season two, and the final series showed the two attempting an amicable divorce. Another recurring theme was looming financial collapse, brought on by Gareth's relentless pursuit of perfection; by the end, control of the restaurant was in the hands of the boorish, nouveau-riche Cyril Bryson.

Henry's career has been one of quiet breakthroughs, and the character of Gareth Blackstock - a black authority figure defined by his gastronomic genius, arrogance and 'artistic temperament' (here, as ever, an excuse for primadonna behaviour), but almost never by his race - would have been all but unthinkable even a few years earlier.

Naturally, the food looked fantastic, thanks to a kitchenful of consultant chefs. But so too did the series, the first UK sitcom to be shot entirely on film - although it reverted to video for the weaker season three.

Mark Duguid

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Salmon mousse (3:59)
2. Ripe Stilton (3:06)
3. The cheese police (3:24)
Complete episode: 'The Big Cheese' (29:14)
Henry, Lenny (1958- )
Race and the Sitcom