Binging food and cooking shows on Netflix. Yes, you can do it anytime of year, but given that we’re all going to be spending a lot more time at home in the coming weeks, desperate for quality entertainment, putting our favorites together in a list of the best Netflix food shows seemed only appropriate.
And, of course, the bonus hooray for us food-obsessed viewers is that there is tons of compelling culinary content streaming right now. From wanderlusty docuseries and fluffy baking competitions to insightful commentaries on food and culture, these are 13 food and cooking shows we’re devouring on Netflix right now.
Given that it’s been a while since we’ve had new content from food show heavy hitters like “Chef’s Table” and “Great British Bake Off,” the timing of the just-released second season of David Chang’s hit show could not have been better. The quirky, unique production style, the celebrity cameos, and the all-access pass to tag along to the culinary experiences and legends that Chang has access to all adds up to one hell of an interesting show. But hands down my favorite thing about it are the culinary roundtable discussions he engages in with his peers: The complicated history of southern fried chicken and racism; the challenges of raising a child while working in the food industry (and the powderkeg topic that is school lunch in this country); the larger environmental and social implications of cattle farming and eating beef. I find myself talking to the TV, trying to engage in the conversation, having struck a passion or a nerve I hadn’t necessarily been aware of.
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And while we’re on the subject of shows with new seasons worth getting excited about, “The Chef Show” is recently back with its third. Hosted by actor/director/megastar Jon Favreau and his pal, chef Roy Choi (who worked together on Favreau’s movie “Chef,” hence the name), this show feels like a modern, friendly take on the classic food show formula: Pick a topic, seek out the expert in that discipline, make the dish together. It’s simple, but it works, in large part, I think, because it comes across so clearly on the screen how genuinely and unpretentiously the hosts love learning about and sharing their love of food.
As much as I’d like to be one of those people who’s making the most of this unexpected mandatory home-sequestering, doing productive things like deep-cleaning my apartment or starting to study a new language, I’m not kidding myself either. The best I can resolve to do is balance my time between the binge-worthy shows everyone at work had been talking about (yes, I’m talking about “Love Is Blind,” and yes, two days in, I’ve already finished it), and shows where I’ll actually learn something. Take this charming, easily digestible single-subject docuseries for example. Each of the five episodes focuses on a different iconic style of taco, taking you on a 30-minute journey into its origins and history and cultural significance, as well as showcasing its premier craftsmen throughout Mexico. The show is (almost) entirely in Spanish, so my only struggle was remembering to keep with the captions while distracted by the truly mouthwatering action happening on the screen.
It makes sense that in these dark, uncertain times, we crave food TV for the mood-lifting culinary escapism it can provide. Of course I want to watch and pretend that I too am in some far corner of the world making pasta or dumplings or tacos with the woman who learned to make them the way her grandmother’s grandmother did. Or sit there and imagine that I’m also having dinner with some world-renowned chefs, eating dinner at their buddy’s impossible-to-get-into spot like it’s just some normal, casual thing to do on a Tuesday night. It makes sense; that kind of programming is just so comforting, right? But if you’re like me, you’re not only sitting at home freaked out and in need of a virtual hug, you’re also fired up, boiling about the situation and the system and all the missteps. Which is where “Rotten” comes in: A perfect outlet for you to indulge in your inner food activist. Each episode focuses on a different critical issue in today’s food system, from the concerning way in which we mass-produce chickens for consumption and overfishing to the point of breed extinction, to the effect current farming practices have had on the rise of people with food allergies.
Oldies but Goodies
These food shows are always worth a second (or third…or thirteenth) helping.
One of the best brand-new offerings in 2019, this docuseries from the “Chef’s Table” team explores street food (aka, the often-humble and vibrant dishes that make local dining scenes so special), and will not only make you hungry for Indonesian market snacks, Japanese takoyaki, and Indian chaat, but for travel to all these enticing places. Since that’s off the table for a while now, taking a vicarious trip through TV is the next best thing! The first season focuses on nine cities in Asia and spotlights dishes like golden crab omelettes in Bangkok, knife-cut noodles in Seoul, and buffalo stew in Delhi that people wait in line for for hours. More than mere food porn (though it is also very much that), the show introduces us to the people behind these dishes, many of whom have been perfecting their cooking—and sometimes focusing on mastering a single dish—for decades. If watching this makes you wish you could be there, check out 10 Dishes from Netflix’s “Street Food” We Want to Eat Right Now and try making them at home.
Based on the award-winning cookbook of the same title, this docuseries chronicles cook and author Samin Nosrat as she deep-dives into four of the essential elements involved in making food taste so damn good. It’s part culinary wanderlust—complete with gorgeously captured shots of far-flung locales and engaging up-close-and-personals with experts—and part friendly, approachable cooking show. What I love (aside from the envy-inducing travel porn that’ll make you want to jump up off the couch and cash in your credit card points…as soon as that’s a viable option again), is that the cooking show bit is so relaxed and broadly helpful. Instead of being presented with a formulaic one-off recipe, you’re given foundational, reusable advice on cooking philosophy. I.e., “This is why you want to season different components of a dish individually,” vs. “Add two cups of salt to the water.” It’s fun, and you will leave hungry, and hungry for more.
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Finally! A show about a foodie and his international culinary exploits that doesn’t make you want punch said person in the face. Quite the opposite, in fact. Originally aired on PBS (as “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having”), this absolutely charming show follows Phil Rosenthal, the writer and creator behind the sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond,” as he eats and explores his way around the world with wide-eyed, gushing enthusiasm. Obviously, it’s a formula we’ve seen before: Food-obsessed person ventures to a food mecca to dine, drink, take in the culture and hang with the local culinary luminaries. But in this case, the food-obsessed person is not some higher-than-thou snob, but rather a nerdy, average dad type. And watching him totally and genuinely geek out in each hour-long episode makes for some refreshingly fun food TV. (Can you tell I’m a little obsessed?)
Do you follow the chefs behind the world’s top-ranked restaurants the way some people follow players on a favorite sports team? Are you interested in the stories and experiences that have shaped their careers and personalities? Do you crave behind-the-scenes access to their lauded temples of gastronomy? Do you geek for cinematic, porn-y shots of food (that you might never get to try yourself and most likely won’t be able to recreate yourself)? Yeah? Then “Chef’s Table” (and its offshoots “Chef’s Table: France” and “Chef’s Table: Pastry”) will be your jam. It’s the gold standard of culinary escapism meets aspirational chef profile.
Basically, this show is like “Chef’s Table” and “Top Chef” had a baby. The schtick of this “global cooking competition” is that each episode is dedicated to the cuisine of an iconic food country. In the initial round, the chefs have to cook their version of that country’s signature dish, which has been decided by a panel of local “culinary ambassadors” (aka, food writers, media personalities, and celebrities). The chefs responsible for the least successful plates are forced to cook in an elimination round for a surprise big-name chef who is briefly profiled “Chef’s Table”-style. And there’s an added twist too: Instead of playing solo, the cheftestants—who come from across the world and are all quite well established in their careers—are participating in teams of two. In most cases they’re friends but have never really worked together, and so watching them navigate each other’s styles and personalities brings an added layer of intrigue to the competition. And unlike some other cheap thrill cooking competitions where the ridiculousness of the ingredients is more important than the actual dish being produced, this show really has you marveling at and learning from the techniques and creativity that the chefs display.
I can’t bake, don’t bake, don’t care about learning to bake, and yet even I can’t get enough of this show (also known as GBBS or GBBO to many fans). Legit, it is the most friendly, low-drama cooking competition you’ll ever watch. There are no provocative villain types looking for their 15 minutes of fame. Instead of sabotaging one another, these competitors actually jump in to help each other out and give thumbs-up to their opponents when they have a “good bake” or get an elusive congratulating handshake from Simon Cowell-esque judge, Paul Hollywood. It’s fascinating. Episodes are an hour long and feature three different challenges—”signature bake,” a surprise “technical challenge,” and the “showstopper”—that center around a weekly theme (i.e. bread, pastry, spice, vegan, etc.). “Ready? Set. Binge watch!” If you’ve never seen it, now is the perfect time. And if you’ve seen it all, there’s never a bad time to re-watch.
This is the food studies student’s food show. Hosted by best-selling author and activist, Michael Pollan, this sleekly shot four-part docuseries is essentially a heartfelt, motivational speech about the fundamental role of food in our lives and why caring about what you eat really, truly matters. Each episode uses a different core cooking element—fire, earth, water, and air—as a vehicle to discuss everything from food history, culture and tradition to technique and industry. It’s cerebral stuff to be sure, but presented in a way that feels less patronizing lecture and more inspiring rally cry.
If you like crafty, project-centric baking and watched a lot of “Beetlejuice,” “Addams Family,” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas” as a kid (or still do now, no judgement), then “Curious Creations” is for you. In this unquestionably unconventional take on the conventional how-to baking show, host Christine McConnell, assisted by her charming band of miscreant puppet creatures, displays how to create playfully macabre sweet treats. Even if learning how to sculpt a realistic-looking bone out of peanut butter, white chocolate, and pretzel sticks isn’t your thing, you have to applaud McConnell’s innovation of what can easily feel like a stale show format.
OK, OK, so this one is maybe a bit of a cheat because it’s not technically a full show. Still, for anyone who’s curious about the level of detail/stress/work/pressure/multitasking/putting out of fires/absolute general insanity that goes into opening up a restaurant at the highest level, go watch this immediately.
Gone (From Netflix) But Not Forgotten
Chefs are constantly being questioned about their inspiration: “Where’d you get the idea for this dish?” “Why did you use that technique?” “How does where you grew up and what you ate affect the food you make today? Inquiring, hungry minds want to know and thankfully we have this smartly put together program to help satiate some of these curiosities. Narrated by the late, great Anthony Bourdain, each season focuses on one or two chefs and explores the many topics that have inspired them and driven their success. For example, noodles and David Chang, preservation and heritage and with Sean Brock, leftovers and “nasty bits” with April Bloomfield. It’s got cooking demos, eating, traveling, learning, cameos from chefie friends—all in all, entertaining brain food to be sure. This title left Netflix just this month, but you can still catch it on PBS, or see some episodes online.
In case you need another reminder of the gift that was Anthony Bourdain’s smart, thought-provoking, and irreverent approach to the intersection of food, travel, and culture, “Parts Unknown” lives on, thankfully. While it left Netflix in December 2019, it’s still available on Amazon Prime and other streaming platforms.
If you do Hulu, we’ve got you covered—see the best food shows on Hulu, and if you’ve cut the cord, check out the best cooking shows on IGTV. Or explore the best food podcasts and listen while you cook (or just chill out on the couch).
Header image courtesy of Netflix