You typically don’t read television reviews here on Nosh, but these are unusual times. While many of us are dusting off our old cookbooks and making more meals at home during quarantine, even the most industrious home cooks need a break. There are days when all we want to do is be a couch potato, and watch someone cook rather than do it ourselves.
Fortunately, at least for those of us who are interested in cooking and food, there are plenty of great food shows and series to watch, and from which to learn something new about our culinary passions. Here are some food shows, available to stream on a variety of platforms, that we’ve been binge-watching since the shutdown.
While we can’t travel to try food from around the globe right now, watching a travel show with a focus on food will have to do for now. And in some cases, it’s not too bad of a substitute. While you don’t get to taste anything, you do get to see some great sceneries and learn about food. Keep notes for places you want to visit when the pandemic is under control.
Street Food: Latin America (Netflix)
The second season of “Street Food,” a series from the people behind “Chef’s Table,” premiered this summer, focusing on street vendors in Latin America. (The first season focused on Asia, and made a viral star of Thai chef Jay Fai and her crab omelet.) Along with mouth-watering footage of popular street food dishes, you learn about some of the small mom-and-pop vendors who have become superstar chefs.
Gordon Ramsay’s Uncharted (NatGeo/Disney+)
For “Uncharted,” British chef Gordon Ramsay (“Hell’s Kitchen,” “MasterChef”) travels the world, cooking with local chefs and learning about indigenous ingredients. You get the amazing photography of National Geographic combined with a lot of outdoor cooking. Ramsay visits both international locales like Morocco and Laos, but also drops into spots in the United States, like Hana in Maui and the Louisiana Bayou. Season 2 premiered in late June.
Other food travel shows of note“Day of Gluttony” (Hulu) might be six years old, but it’s still fun to watch its hipster hosts Harry Yuan and Bruce Aguirre visit popular food cities in North America and challenge themselves to eat 24 dishes in 24 hours (Don’t worry, they count a visit to a cafe for a latte as one destination). “Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner” (Netflix) is really more about New York chef David Chang hanging out and eating with his famous friends around the world, like Chrissy Teigen in Morocco and Kate McKinnon in Cambodia.
With everyone sheltering at home and doing a lot more cooking, food shows produced during the pandemic have also shifted their focus on the kitchen. No longer able to head out for a chef interview or travel destination, many chefs and television personalities are back in the kitchen, helping home cooks with recipes during these days of quarantine.
Amy Schumer Learns to Cook (Food Network)
The brash comedian and her James Beard Award-winning chef-husband Chris Fischer launched “Amy Schumer Learns to Cook” when New York went on lockdown. Cooking from a cabin in the woods, Schumer kicks off each episode with a cocktail recipe and then provides the humor as Fischer demonstrates dishes based on themes. Their nanny is their camerawoman while other Food Network techs work remote cameras planted throughout the kitchen. There’s a rough YouTube charm to it all. The first season of “Amy Schumer Learns to Cook” was released soon after the pandemic began, and consisted of only four episodes. I felt it went by too fast, and apparently I wasn’t the only one to feel that way; Food Network released a second season in July. While I was glad for more episodes to watch, it’s sad that this crisis is lasting so long that an impromptu show spurred by the coronavirus has already come back with a second season.
Jamie: Keep Cooking and Carry On (Hulu)
The popular British chef has regular cooking shows on PBS, but because of COVID-19 he premiered “Keeping Cooking and Carry On,” a series that’s all about easy-to-make recipes at home. Oliver puts a lot of effort into giving suggestions on how to swap out ingredients if you don’t have them available or can’t find them at the grocery store. The first five episodes are great, but starting at episode six, things go awry when the lockdown throws a wrench in production, making it so Oliver is unable to work with his television crew. The remaining episodes are a mix of the chef at home with his wife filming on her phone, spliced with “favorite” segments of old Oliver cooking shows.
Other cooking shows of note
Netflix will release new episodes of “The Great British Baking Show” on Friday, but I especially love “The Great British Baking Show Masterclass” (PBS/Netflix), a behind-the-scenes cooking demo series featuring original judges Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood baking the desserts and bread challenges from past seasons. “Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street” (PBS, various streaming services) is led by the grandfather-like Kimball (formerly of “America’s Test Kitchen”) and his team of young cooks who demonstrate with precision recipes from around the world.
Chef’s Table: BBQ (Netflix)
Netflix series “Chef’s Table” has set the standards in profiling famous chefs from around the world. The first season, released in 2015, started out lovingly filming the signature dishes of global chefs, but in recent seasons, it’s delved more into the personal stories of chefs like San Francisco’s Dominique Crenn and Chicago’s Grant Achatz. The short seasons (usually just four episodes) leave you wanting more, and the franchise has branched out into specials focused on themes such as French chefs and desserts. This month, Netflix released the latest edition focused on BBQ, featuring pitmasters not just from the United States but also Australia and Mexico.
Taco Chronicles (Netflix)
This fascinating series telling the stories of geographic differences in the almighty taco is perfect Tuesday night viewing, but it might have you binge-watching all week long. This month, Netflix released Season 2, so you get to delight in more tacos, from suadero to birria.
Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi (Hulu)
Unlike “Top Chef,” the series for which Lakshmi is best-known, “Taste the Nation” is not a competition show, but a dive into America’s food history through the lens of indigenous and immigrant communities. Lakshmi visits a different city in each episode, looking at how a particular culture’s cuisine was shaped by its diaspora (In episode 5, Lakshmi, with comedian Ali Wong, gets to know Chinese-American cuisine in San Francisco’s Chinatown). Lakshmi doesn’t just eat the food, but peels back the origins of dishes that have come to symbolize these often marginalized cuisines, and sometimes the political undertones can’t be avoided.
Other docuseries of note“A Woman’s Place” (Hulu) is a 30-minute documentary film from KitchenAid that highlights gender inequity in the restaurant business through the stories of three female chefs. “Salt Fat Acid Heat,” the two-year-old Netflix docuseries that made Samin Nosrat a household name follows the Berkeley-based cookbook writer as she looks at global ingredients that are fundamental to cooking. In the final episode, Nosrat returns to cook for her friends from her Berkeley home (she has since moved to Oakland), bringing all the elements from the series together.
The following series have already concluded and aired, so you may already know who ultimately wins them, but they are still worth watching if you didn’t see them the first time around.
Top Chef All Stars L.A. (Bravo)
The 17th season of this perennial favorite featured previous contestants from past seasons, including San Francisco’s Melissa King. The competition begins in Los Angeles but then moves to Tuscany, with frequent reminders about the flourishing food scene pre-COVID.
Crazy Delicious (Netflix)
If you love fantasy desserts or molecular gastronomy gone crazy, then you can enjoy the eye candy of “Crazy Delicious,” a British competition series that has home chefs making wild dishes for three food “gods” (notable London chef Heston Blumenthal and America’s Carla Hall).
Other competition shows of note
“The Great Food Truck Race” (Food Network) wrapped up its 12th season with host and Bay Area homie Tyler Florence. Something to look forward to: This week, Food Network announced it will produce the next six episodes for the 2020/2021 in San Francisco.
A favorite local series
Finally, if you’re missing your favorite restaurants, don’t forget to catch up on “Check, Please! Bay Area” (KQED). The latest season has been running this summer with a disclaimer of how all the episodes were taped before the pandemic. Sadly, some of these restaurants could be on their farewell tour or will look completely different when they reopen.