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We’re supposedly living in a golden age of television, where every new show is much-watch entertainment and the next greatest work of episodic entertainment since … the previous weekend when the last greatest work of episodic entertainment debuted. And yet, even though I have a list of TV recommendations longer than "War and Peace," when I sit on the couch to watch television, I gravitate toward food shows.
Listen, I can’t cook worth a damn; my breakfast today was Cocoa Pebbles that I managed to overcook (why I was cooking cereal is a question for another time!) and my version of an adventurous home-cooked meal is boiling some mac and cheese. If I was in charge of a Blue Apron-esque food company, we’d fill our boxes exclusively with SpaghettiOs, Skittles, Mountain Dew and maybe a bottle of wine for health food. (It’s made of fruit!)
But while my cooking skills are crap, my cooking show expertise is damn near the level of Julia Child. I can’t get enough of food shows, whether it’s a culinary competition, actually breaking down a recipe, an inquisitive food documentary or just some good ol’ fashioned wholesome food porn. It’s both brainless and brainy, entertainment you don’t have to focus too hard on yet educational and filled with info that sticks to your brain like a good stew sticks to your ribs. In between scintillating shots of palate-wetting pastries, these shows teach you something – whether about just your kitchen or about the world.
And also they make me really, really, ridiculously hungry. Many a late night Pick ’n Save run or Chinese food delivery has been fueled by a visit to the Netflix main menu.
So, to turn these extra pounds I’ve gained binging on shows and snacks into something positive, here are eight scrumptious food shows you should stream – all found on Netflix save for the last pick. Those on a diet: Stream with caution.
1. "The Great British Baking Show"
There is no better comfort food on television than this British import, which is basically a big cuddly hug delivered via a screen. Actual baked goods wish they were as warm and comforting as "The Great British Baking Show," which currently has seven seasons on Netflix, plus some bonus holiday specials and cooking tutorials.
In each season, around a dozen Brit home bakers take to a tent in the middle of a UK field to face off in several baking challenges – from breads to cakes, cookies and biscuits, classic tarts to extravagant desserts – to please the palates of Paul Hollywood and the delightfully named Mary Berry. (Most of the original cast has been replaced by the new seasons, but if anybody could replace Mel and Sue, it’s "Mighty Boosh" goofball Noel Fielding.)
The contestants run the gamut of grannies, techies, teen students and construction workers. The only things they have in common are an affinity for baking and that they’re all the nicest people on the face of the planet. Seriously. They all are just so happy to be baking, helping one another out and taking whatever truly constructive criticism they receive from Hollywood and Berry with a smile and a kindly joke. You just want to be friends with them all – and not just because they bake the best snacks.
In a world filled with high-intensity reality shows and loud personalities all trying to make an impact (and get their own show), "The Great British Baking Show" and its low-key pert politeness shouldn’t be a hit. But that’s exactly why it is. It’s a show about the joy of baking, where everyone’s aware that it’s just a silly competition over who can make the scrummiest crème pat. And it’s just so gosh darn nice and sweet and cozy. Maybe it’s just the plummy accents, but it’s a TV show that plays like a blanket. Take it from somebody who can’t even microwave a Hot Pocket right: You don’t have to be a baker to love "The Great British Baking Show."
2. "Ugly Delicious"
There’s nothing ugly about "Ugly Delicious," the Netflix Original food doc mini-series hosted by all-star chef David Chang as he looks at particular dishes – from pizza to dumplings, fried chicken to tacos – the cultures behind them and the assumptions we associate with them.
The result is a show that’s light like a merengue but dense and intelligently crafted like a fudgy chocolate cake, talking about the lines that needlessly divide food and cultures (for instance, the anti-MSG movement that existed only as a racist dismissal of Chinese food) while also just nomming away on delicious dishes. I’m quite positive it’s the only food show that can talk about the complex racial connotations of fried chicken one episode, then praise Domino’s pizza the next, without the audience blinking an eye.
It’s a food show that doesn’t just limit itself to what’s on the plate, but who made what’s on that plate, how it got there and what it means – two seasons of thoughtful entertainment that’ll stuff your brain that you should definitely not watch on an empty stomach.
3. "Chef’s Table"
There’s an entire world of culinary choices and documentary mini-series on Netflix nowadays, but the grandfather of all these shows is "Chef’s Table," the first original documentary show created by the Big Red Streaming Monolith. (You’re welcome, "Making a Murderer.")
Created by David Gelb – the director of the terrific food doc "Jiro Dreams of Sushi," also available on Netflix – "Chef’s Table" travels across the globe to find chefs cooking up all kinds of fascinating and delicious work. You learn about the philosophy of the cooks, what brought them to food and what brought them to their particular corners of the culinary world – whether it’s a fancy four-star restaurant or an exploration out into nature.
But the star of the show is the loving shots of the chef’s handiwork during each episode, food porn of the highest level. Each shot lingers and luxuriates over the dishes, made even more drool-inducingly delicious knowing the thought and effort gone into each menu. The rest of the show is no slouch either, though, beautifully photographing the worlds of each chef.
Every episode ends with you craving dinner – and maybe some plane tickets to one of the lovely locales from "Chef’s Table."
4. "Nailed It"
Most food shows are about the beauty of watching experts at their craft take simple ingredients and create delicious dishes. "Nailed It" … is not that.
This bright and bubbly Netflix Original is a tribute to those of us who can’t cook to save our lives, who manage to burn Spaghettios and bake cookies that would make better fribees than food. Each episode finds three crappy home cooks and challenges them to recreate some intricate dessert artworks – with the final product looking more like Instagarbage than Instagram-worthy.
But everyone is just so gosh darn happy to be there – like "Great British Baking Show" if everyone took a brick to the head and forgot everything they knew about food – and eager to have fun ruining some ingredients in the name of winning money. There’s no mean spirits, just some mean-looking final products – and with pro dessert chef extraordinaire Jacques Torres there, you even might learn something from this mess, too. And while a little bit of host Nicole Byer goes a long way, she’s often legitimately funny – which is better than you can say about most milquetoast food show hosts. (*glares at the entire Food Network, minus Alton Brown*)
The food may be a disaster, but when it comes to food entertainment, unlike its contestants, "Nailed It" indeed nails it.
5. "Salt Fat Acid Heat"
Based on the popular cookbook of the same name by Samin Nosrat (who also hosts the Netflix Original), "Salt Fat Acid Heat" is a four-part mini-series about exactly what it says on the tin: salt, fat, acid and heat. But, of course, it’s not that simple, as Nosrat travels the globe and explores how those four essential elements of cooking deliciously cross cultures and generations. The docu-series is gorgeously shot, a key part of any good food show (gotta get that food porn), and Nosrat is a delightful host, intelligent and thoughtful about food and culture but also joyously bubbly and charmingly adventurous as she tastes and savors new experiences. "Salt Fat Acid Heat" may have just four ingredients in the title, but it’s a food show rich and deep in flavor.
6. "The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell"
It’s scary times these days – so why not include a cooking show that combines desserts, dead bodies and demented puppets. Appetizing! But in Netflix’s "The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell," this macabre menu ends up deliciously, deviously entertaining. The viral famous goth baker and Instagram star serves as your tour guide for a season-long journey into the undead side of desserts, assembling gorgeous and devilishly ornate creations, with a gang of ghoulish puppet pals – created by puppet icons Henson Alternative – joining her as she cooks up her creepy monstrosities, from edible Ouija boards to snackable spiders. If Tim Burton made a cooking show, this would be it – but thankfully there’s no Johnny Depp!
7. "The Chef Show"
Still craving that grilled cheese sandwich or that bowl of pasta aglio e olio from "Chef"? Well, sorry, you'll have to find that elsewhere – but thankfully the good folks behind that 2014 food dramedy, writer-director Jon Favreau and star chef Roy Choi, served up something new to equally satisfy your hunger for entertainment and food porn: "The Chef Show," 20 episodes of the duo cooking up tasting recipes with some of their favorite friends from the worlds of both cinema (Robert Downey Jr., Seth Rogen) and culinary arts (David Chang, Aaron Franklin). Come for the fun conversation and absurdly tasty-looking dishes, stay for guest Gwyneth Paltrow having fully no idea that she was in a "Spider-Man" movie.
Gwyneth Paltrow forgetting that she was in Spider-Man: Homecoming gives me so much hope. Because, you know, maybe I was in a Marvel movie too? Maybe we all were? Maybe we're all so darn successful, it simply slipped our minds! pic.twitter.com/FvrUW8fRtL — Marshall Julius (@MarshallJulius) September 23, 2019
8. Binging with Babish
Is a YouTube channel allowed to be on this list? Why am I asking you; it’s my article, and I can do what I please – and what I please is to watch more of these addictive videos that combine two of my favorite things in the world: movies and people cooking for me.
Created by Andrew Rea, Binging with Babish is a YouTube series in which our bearded amateur chef attempts to create recipes and dishes from famous movies and TV shows, from the tomato sauce in "Goodfellas" to the ratatouille from "Ratatouille" and the Krabby Patty from "SpongeBob SquarePants." Some of them are delicious; others are monstrosities (looking at you, Rachel’s English trifle from "Friends") but in that case, Rea creates improved versions that you could take from the screen to the kitchen table.
It’s a fun and amusing project, one made even better since Rea takes time to throw in easy cooking lessons along the way, making the videos entertaining and informative. Plus, he’s technically an amateur cook as well, so each video has welcoming vibe making you think that you too could cook these dishes up. In fact, he’s begun a second show on his YouTube channel, Basics with Babish, that ditches the TV gimmick and goes straight for culinary tricks and tips to help turn viewers into their own cooks. And it’s equally enlightening and entertaining. For instance, I now know that you should only make Homer Simpson’s famous Moon Waffles if your waffle iron has a death wish. This is information I need to know!
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.