Dan Levy’s The Big Brunch Season Finale on HBO Max, Possible Season 2

In October 2020, months into the pandemic’s decimation of the restaurant trade, Dan Levy bought the concept for “The Massive Brunch,” the uplifting HBO Max cooking competitors that revolves round his favourite meal of the day. Levy was in mattress on the time, and sprung as much as “write it down from begin to end.” The following day, he known as his managers to inform them about it, and after they requested Levy what precisely the present can be, he introduced it to them in “nice element.”

As we sat collectively on a seafoam inexperienced banquette, dealing with the open kitchen during which the cooks cook dinner on the present’s bistro-inspired set — designed by David Korins, of “Hamilton” fame — it was clear that these particulars are essential to “The Massive Brunch.”

As is the present’s coronary heart, with which followers of Levy’s “Schitt’s Creek” are by now well-acquainted. Levy has buddies who’re cooks, he stated, and he feels that gathering round a restaurant desk, now greater than ever, is essential. “The need to deliver folks collectively by way of a shared widespread expertise is one thing that I believed was actually lovely and profound,” he stated.

Courtesy of Jeremy Kohm/HBO Max

The ultimate two episodes of “The Massive Brunch” — Levy’s first self-generated mission since “Schitt’s Creek” ended its six-season run in April 2020, and would then go on to a historic Emmys sweep in each main comedy class — drop on HBO Max on Thanksgiving Day. In its closing two episodes, the “Massive Brunch” group will go from 5 semifinalists to 3 finalists, after which to at least one winner (no spoilers right here), who will obtain a money prize of $300,000.

That payoff is bigger than these bestowed by different cooking competitions for a purpose. “I didn’t need it to really feel performative,” Levy stated. “I actually needed the prize to vary any individual’s life.”

“Massive Brunch” government producer Andrew Fried, the president of the present’s producer Boardwalk Footage, echoed Levy’s sentiment about wanting to vary the winner’s life. “If we didn’t accomplish that, it was form of like, what’s the purpose?” he stated throughout an interview from the manufacturing workplace.

“The Massive Brunch’s” good-vibes-only ethos additionally leans arduous on the cooks’ “actual, private narratives,” as Fried put it, which started with a bunch of 10. Which is all to emphasise that “there aren’t any losers on our present,” Fried stated, and even these eradicated early have been given “a platform to amplify themselves and their manufacturers.”

Courtesy of Jeremy Kohm/HBO Max

If the early years of Bravo’s groundbreaking “High Chef” assembled gifted casts of fine-dining cooks with backgrounds in French cooking, all of whom needed to open their very own eating places, effectively — the forged of “The Massive Brunch” exhibits how a lot instances have modified. Among the many present’s semi-finalists are J Chong, a queer lady initially from Toronto who focuses on Cantonese delicacies; Roman Wilcox, a vegan chef from El Paso, Tx., who runs a group diner in a meals desert; and Daniel Harthausen, who focuses on Korean-Japanese cooking, and has a profitable pop-up restaurant in his hometown of Richmond, VA. It’s such a diverse group that even the present’s judges — chef Sohla El-Waylly and restaurateur Will Guidara — have discovered from them. For El-Waylly, who was one of many stars of Bon Appétit’s standard “Check Kitchen” YouTube channel, after which helped lead the summer time 2020 rebellion towards the journal’s tokenizing and underpaying of the channel’s BIPOC cooks, the shift has been a very long time coming. “There was a time the place every part needed to be French to be thought-about fancy or technical,” she stated. “And it’s good to see that we’re to this point previous that right here.”

El-Waylly added that Wilcox’s vegan creations particularly have opened her eyes: “It’s loads of stuff I’ve by no means had earlier than. I’m identical to, ‘Whoa, perhaps I might be vegan!’”

“I’m being launched to new issues,” stated Guidara, who’s the co-author of 4 cookbooks, and the previous co-owner of Make It Good, the restaurant group that included Eleven Madison Park. “And there’s this dynamic within the relationship the place I really feel completely snug saying, ‘I don’t have a reference level for this — clarify this to me.’”

Courtesy of Jeremy Kohm/HBO Max

Nor does each chef within the forged merely need to open their very own restaurant. As government producer Sarina Roma, additionally of Boardwalk Footage, put it: “Each single individual within the culinary world has a unique dream — you would possibly need to write a cookbook, you may want a meals truck, you may want a cooking present. How can we assist these cooks in getting what their particular dream is?”

All through “The Massive Brunch” competitors, the judges have centered on giving significant critiques, even within the uncommon moments when a chef has whiffed: There aren’t any Simon Cowells right here. “The entire thesis of that is they’re gonna go off and do one thing greater,” Guidara stated. “Whether or not they win this or not, it is a platform that ought to assist their greater goals. And that’s simply — that’s superior.”

“Everybody’s simply attempting to do their finest,” El-Waylly stated. “And it’s been actually enjoyable to see how a lot they’ve grown because the first episode.” (Throughout my late-March set go to, I tasted every part made for the Nov. 24 holiday-themed seventh episode, which included lobster mashed potatoes and vegan soy curls, amongst different revelations. And I can fortunately testify to the standard of the cooks’ meals.)

Levy is presently in Europe filming “Good Grief,” his function directorial debut for Netflix, which he additionally stars in and wrote. However on “The Massive Brunch” set, he was reminded of “Schitt’s Creek,” his co-creation together with his father Eugene that propelled him into stardom.

“‘Schitt’s Creek’ was all about texture and really feel and element,” he stated, “and ensuring that not solely had been the scenes we had been writing humorous, and that the actors had been doing essentially the most with it — however that the precise world we had been creating was considerate and satisfying and aspirational in a method that was comforting to folks.”

One factor I seen watching the cooking in motion was that the cooks had been serving to one another, regardless of being opponents. “There’s 5 folks left, and for those who’re nonetheless in it, you possibly can style it, proper? Like you possibly can really see your self profitable,” Guidara stated, marveling. “And on the finish of everybody’s time, they’re all serving to one another plate!”

“It does really feel, oddly, just like the characters who’re enjoying within the sandbox we’ve created embody the spirit of the present from the primary day that we developed it,” Fried stated. “And I don’t assume we might have compelled that.”

That spirit is strictly what Levy needed from “The Massive Brunch.” “Nothing needs to be unfavorable, every part needs to be supportive,” he stated. “We don’t need anybody to really feel dangerous, even when they find yourself going house. They need to know that even simply being right here was a win in and of itself.”

Issues have modified since March at HBO Max, with the ache of post-merger cost-cutting casting a shadow over Warner Bros. Discovery. However on the set of “The Massive Brunch,” the ideas appeared excited concerning the risk that this could possibly be a franchise.

Courtesy of Jeremy Kohm/HBO Max

“Hell yeah!” Roma responded when requested whether or not Boardwalk would need to do a second season. “Completely,” Fried stated in settlement. “We’ve tapped into one thing right here that adheres to loads of the conference of those exhibits that we love — and veers simply off of it to create one thing that’s distinctive and singular.”

Levy’s vote, in fact, is the one which issues most. And sure, he’d very a lot need to do extra, thanks. “I by no means thought I’d return into unscripted tv except it meant one thing,” he stated. “I had no thought simply how particular this complete factor can be.”

It’s the teamwork he likes most of all — together with his fellow judges, with the manufacturing, and most of all, among the many contestants.

“It’s a very emotional affirming expertise to look at camaraderie like that,” Levy stated. “As a result of I’m so accustomed to simply folks tearing one another down.”