Best Food Shows on Netflix Right Now

As we continue with this pandemic that has been wreaking havoc not just on our wallets, but also our waistlines, we should always look for the silver lining. With restaurants operating at limited capacities, cooking at home has increased expeditiously and might stay that way for the near future. American families are getting more adventurous in their cooking with celebrity chef instruction at their fingertips. I guess this may be one reason for the heightened popularity of the numerous food shows available for viewing. There are so many excellent shows on food and flavors, from Good Eats, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, Master Chef to Street Food. There are just so many to choose from! Netflix is still my favorite streaming service, and they have some of the best food series right now, so I am going to limit my selections to their offerings.

‘Somebody Feed Phil’

Phil Rosenthal, the creator of ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ is the star, although an unlikely one, of this light-hearted series. Phil is not a chef, but he is a foodie in the most real sense of the word. There is no pretension about his culinary background or preferences. He is the ultimate mensch, which in Yiddish means someone kind and considerate, and that he is. The premise of the show is that he is simply a guy who loves to eat and wants someone to feed him. He doesn’t offer any insight into the dishes he eats; he smiles and tells you how delicious they are. The series gets some negative reviews that claim the Rosenthal series is “too cute,” but heck, we could all use a little more “cute” these days.

The series has three seasons where Phil travels the world, visiting some of its most beautiful cities, immersing himself into the local culinary culture. From Tel Aviv to Venice to Cape Town, Phil makes friends and gets fed wherever he goes. His most charming trait is that he endears himself to everyone he encounters on the way, and they want to make him happy, happy with their food. The dishes are local, and usually quite unpretentious, prepared in family establishments and food markets. He delivers the homegrown charm of the cities he visits like New York to the screen as talks with pizza shop owners and construction workers on the street, asking them their opinions on neighborhood eateries. He connects the food to the people and the places he visits with a sense of silliness and gratitude we could all use right now. His daily video calls with his aging parents bring an additional dose of sweetness and familiarity to the program. Well worth a binge-watch!

‘Chef’s Table’

David Gelb’s hit documentary series is the antithesis to Phil Rosenthal. This is serious fine dining, no street food, or hawkers here. From the somber background music to the expansive cinematography, the series gives a glimpse into the world of haute cuisine. A “chef’s table” is typically located within a restaurant, and it is reserved for guests of the chef. You feel like a guest as you watch this fantastic series. This is one of Netflix’s most popular food series, understandably so, with six seasons and numerous knock-offs as a result. What makes the show so popular is that it gives the viewer a look into dining experiences prohibitively expensive for the average person. The show celebrates some of the world’s best chefs and restaurants and helps us understand why they take on the responsibility of starting a fine dining restaurant, which is no easy task. What I found compelling is the artistry of the food and the establishments themselves. Using the rarest and finest ingredients combined with the unique and far-flung locales makes this series an educational guide of gastronomy. It is an explanation of what drives these master chefs into perfecting what truly is an art. These renowned chefs share their deeply personal stories and what inspires them. You understand why guests of chef Magnus Nilsson travel to frozen Järpen, Sweden, far from any city, to visit the stark and austere Faviken, which is considered one of the best restaurants in the world. One of the most popular episodes is on Jeong Kwan, a Buddhist monk who claims in the opening scene that she is not a chef. Nicknamed, the “philosopher chef,” she does not own a restaurant and has no formal training, but her plant-based dishes have elevated her to one of the world’s best cooks. The stories are unique, and anyone with a passion for haute cuisine should watch this incredible series.

 

‘Ugly Delicious’

OK, this series might be a combination of the previous two series. ‘Ugly Delicious’ stars and is produced by superstar chef David Chang, the founder of the famed Momofuku restaurant group. Chang worked his way up through some of the world’s most prestigious restaurants, perfecting the classic and grand dishes they are famous for. But somewhere along the way, he remembers and begins to embrace his immigrant background and the delicious, although not always pretty, food from his childhood. His parents had emigrated from Korea, and Chang relays how he was often embarrassed by the Korean dishes his mother had prepared while he was growing up in Northern Virginia. Foods were different from those of his friends.

Stepping out of upscale, white linen establishments, he visits unassuming local eateries around the world. Chang believes food is a way to break down cultural barriers. He talks about the immigrant experience and how it has affected American cuisine. In one episode, David travels to Houston, Texas, a city with a huge immigrant influx where he samples some of what he calls the best Viet-Cajun cuisine. He explains how the Vietnamese who had originally immigrated to New Orleans have branched out into Houston, a city that seems to have a more open mind about culinary diversity and, because of that, has created this vibrant food culture. One episode, which is centered around barbecue, Chang explores the styles and flavors of American barbecue but always travels to sample the similar style and tastes of Asian barbecue. He talks with celebrities, activists, and fellow chefs about their own experiences as immigrants and how their connections with food have shaped their life. You can’t not like David Chang. He is funny, honest, and real and completely lacking in pretension, in spite of his esteemed culinary background. The series is like a global history lesson on food and family, the good, the bad, and yes, the delicious ugly.

‘Cooked’

I will admit that I was hesitant to watch this Michael Pollan series, which is based on his 2013 book. Anyone who has ever licked the neon orange residue from their fingers after polishing off a bag of Cheetos would be hesitant to watch this food writer, historian, and activist. Pollan, a journalist at UC Berkeley, is famous for such titles as “Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food.” Pollan wants us to eat real food and avoid what he calls “edible food-like substances,” and he tells us how. He tells us, “Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” Hum that might be easier said than done.

Well, I decided to watch the series anyway, and I was glad I did. Pollan’s academia is obvious, but he still manages to be affable and relatable to viewers. In the series, he explores food through four elemental categories – fire, water, air, and earth. It actually feels like chemistry, anthropology, and history lesson rolled into a show about food. Pollan explores how cooking transforms our food and how it shaped the world. It opens with a scene of Aboriginal people in a remote part of Australia in a sort of ritual ceremony centered around a fire. The elderly women literally pull their food, which in this case, are giant lizards from the earth. For me, the scene was a little hard to watch, but as it continued on to show the community sharing and enjoying the fruits of their labor, it explained how the technique of cooking with fire is a very primal and joyful experience. Cooking literally transforms our food. Water, used as a hot liquid, causes vegetables and meats to change and develop their flavors. It depends on the reactions of the foods that are combined in these dishes; water becomes the medium of flavor, and water breaks down the tougher fibers of our food. But this method of cooking takes time; something most of us don’t have too much of these days. Pollan points out we should make the time.

The series is wonderful and unique as it explains how earth’s basic elements of fire, water, air, and earth combined with earth’s basic foods, vegetables, fruits, meats, and bread are really the source of all the world’s nourishment. You complete viewing this series feeling smarter and motivated to eat and cook healthier, and to throw away much of your pantry. Definitely worth a watch!

‘Salt, Acid, Acid, Heat’

The title sounds a little like that of the previous series, and it is. Samin Nosrat is the star of ‘Salt, Acid, Fat, Heat’ and was also a guest contributor on ‘Cooked.’ Nosrat is a celebrated Bay Area chef who wrote the 2017 book from which the series is titled. Nosrat wants everyone to cook, and she believes great food can be accessible and easy to prepare, and she shows us how. She wants us to expand our meal preparation beyond reading a recipe. She wants to teach the viewer to understand why you are using certain ingredients, why certain tools are used, and why certain procedures are used. She wants to teach you how to cook. She believes the education of these skills boils down to a basic understanding of the four elements of cooking: salt, fat, acid, and heat. Much of the series reads like a science class with Nosrat explaining molecular breakdowns, equilibriums, and mineral levels, but the instruction is practical and easy to understand, even for someone who failed high school chemistry.

Nosrat, too travels the world as all great chefs seem to do in the attempt of mastering the art. She starts in Italy with the magical resources of fat as she savors and explains the properties of olive oils and cheeses. She believes the origin of the fat within a culture is the basis of the cuisine. The cinematography is beautiful; sprawling olive groves in the countryside of Italy and quaint cobblestone villages are the settings as she converses and cooks with the skilled Italians she visits. Her teachings about the importance of salt are impressive as she travels to Japan and explains the various forms salt can take and how it is one of the most crucial aspects of cooking and has been for centuries. Acid brings us to Yucatan, where we learn how this element brings new dimensions and complexities to foods. Acids work as tenderizers as they break down the fibers and penetrate and flavors your food. Nosrat eventually heads back home to California for the episode on heat. She starts with a lesson on grilling and continues with a lesson on the best way to shop for meat. While home in California, Nosrat prepares a home-cooked meal derived from her Persian culture for family and friends, giving the series a sentimental touch that compliments the pragmatic lessons she teaches.

 

Hungry yet?