First off, sorry for the late post. I seem to have been plagued by ill health since The Boy came along. I guess a year of sleepless nights is bad for you. Who knew, right!? The theme of this week has been chest infection, exhaustion, light-headedness, and a stomach bug. If you think I am fishing for sympathy, you’re right. I’m wiped out, and thoroughly bored of feeling rubbish. Also, I haven’t been able to eating anything particularly exciting recently (today I have had a well-fired morning roll with jam, half a packet of Tuc crackers, a bowl of chicken noodle soup from a Knorr packet, and half a plate of plain boiled rice).
It’s not all bad news, though. The down time has allowed me to catch up on some TV. For me that means food and cooking shows, and below is a list of the best Netflix has to offer.
Before I run down the list – three disclaimers:
First disclaimer: I used to turn to the BBC for all things food, but their offering has really gone downhill in recent years. I know that it is something of a vicious cycle. Netflix pumps millions into shows, picking up market share, and undermining local broadcasters. However, as the BBC strays further down the stultifying route of shows like the Big Family Cooking Showdown, where we watch amateur cooks making mundane and inelegant meals, or commission another series of the Hairy Bikers’ Pies We Have Made, Pies We Have Eaten, and Geordie Banter We have Had, the decision to switch over to Netflix for food programming is increasingly easy.
Second disclaimer: This is a list of shows where people enjoy preparing and eating good food. I do not include shows like Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead (which has an incredible scene where the presenter inexplicably drops all his plans, and flies from Australia to the USA to hand deliver a juicer to a crying trucker).
Third disclaimer: This list is entirely based on my own opinions, and I haven’t watched all the food shows on Netflix. Feel free to call me out, or to suggest shows in the comments below!
The best Netflix food shows (in no particular order)
The Mind of a chef
Narrated by Anthony Bourdain, this show is presented by a different chef in each series. The approach is irreverent and funny – enthusing about ingredients, cooking processes, and cooks, in a kind of magazine format. In amusing asides – styled as spoof high-school info videos – the legendary Harold McGhee explains the science of food, in his own inimitable style. This is a show which doesn’t take itself too seriously, but that is not to say it is anything less than genius!
This is easily my favourite show on the list. The David Chang series is my personal favourite, and really ignited my passion for Asian cooking. The short episodes fly by, and you’ll wish it wasn’t over.
An inspiring meditation on food and cooking. Each beautifully shot episode takes an intimate look at a different chef, and explores their passions, inspirations, challenges, and innovations. There’s a lot of talking heads, so if you’re not into that, then this may not be for you, but otherwise, it’s great! This programme always makes me want to cook, eat, and work with food.
Michael Pollan takes a refreshingly geeky and informative look at the processes which transform ingredients into food in this four-parter, through the fundamental elements of Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. This is an expansive show, hopping around the globe in search of the ancient and the innovative.
BBQ Pitmasters and Deep Fried Masters
I have combined these shows since they are cut from the same cloth. This is largely background TV – but great background TV! The premise is simple and reassuringly formulaic: a set number competitors approach a series of challenges for a panel of self-appointed ‘legends’. Both shows are more American than an eagle driving a Hummer, and very entertaining as a result. Expect a lot of unnecessary recaps, forced enthusiasm, and cholesterol.
Pitmasters is, at least, a little more focused on the food and technique – and the competitors seem to know what they are doing. The point of Deep Fried Masters seems to be that you can fry ANYTHING. There ‘s a lot of: ‘Ah’m gon’ bake a cake from bacon and coca cola, smother it in chocolate and cheese, put it on a stick, and fry it!’ (the stick is of critical importance). Both are very entertaining, though, and Pitmasters often leaves me salivating!
Somm: Into the Bottle
Follow-up to the exceptional Somm (which is no longer on Netflix), this feature-length documentary uncovers and demystifies the secrets of the wine industry through ten impossibly rare bottles. If you want a few nuggets to throw around next time you’re being upsold wine in a fancy restaurant or off-license, this is the one for you. In the first film, Somm, a sommelier describes the aroma from one bottle as being ‘like a newly opened tin of tennis balls’ – which goes to show you can get away with any old nonsense as long as you’re confident with it.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Another feature-length documentary, detailing the obsessive work of the three Michelin starred sushi chef Jiro Ono. This is a wonderfully tender portrait, and gives some small indication of the dedication required to survive in Tokyo’s food scene, let alone win and maintain three stars! Excellent!
Following my Chang awakening on The Mind of a Chef, and through his cookbooks, I was really excited about this show. In reality, it’s more self-indulgent, and less exciting than I had hoped. It’s not terrible, by any stretch of the imagination, but it doesn’t have a clear concept, and the episodes drag a little. Worth a look, but only once you’ve seen everything else on the list.
The Great British Bake Off (Baking Show in the US)
Not sure this really needs any introduction, except to say that all of the BBC series’ are there in their glory. The channel 4 series isn’t on Netflix, yet, so if you haven’t seen it, you’ll have to wait a little longer to be disappointed at how good it still is without Mel, Sue, and Mary (and with smug old Paul).
Happy watching! Let me know you own recommendations in the comments.