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FTRS Watches: Food Shows

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who doesn’t love food? weirdos, that’s who.

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DONKEY SAUCE

How’s it going y’all? Since we’re all locked inside for the time being, Stephen and I decided it would be nice to curate a list of some of our favorite streamable content: food shows. I personally love food shows; there’s always something new to learn, and cooking is one of the things that I always feel just on the verge of really getting into. So without further ado, here are some of our favorites.

Chef’s Table, from Chris

Synopsis: Each episode focuses on a single chef and chronicles their life and passions. These aren’t just any chefs though - these are the top chefs in the world, often presiding over the top ranked restaurants in the world.

Where to find: Netflix

Typically I don’t find biographical documentaries all that interesting but Chef’s Table manages to transcend the biography genre in so many different ways. For one, these aren’t just “I like to cook” people - these are the people in the absolute highest echelon of the cooking world. These are the people that drive the world’s best restaurants and are basically gods in the food scene. Top chefs are super interesting to me because they’re so single-minded about their craft. It’s not just a hobby or a passion or a job; it’s their very existence. They’re unbelievably creative and inventive, and their highly dedicated pursuit of culinary perfection can be incredibly inspiring. There’s a lot to learn from these people.

On top of the human aspect of it all, the food is absolutely stunning. Netflix does a fantastic job of showing the beauty and craft involved in the process and product; the dishes leap out of your TV and will blow you away.

If you don’t want to commit to the whole series (although I recommend it highly), here are a couple of my favorite episodes you should start with:

  • Volume 6 Episode 4: Sean Brock. Sean is such a likeable dude. He’s just a down-to-earth southern guy that happens to have an amazing culinary talent. He’s dedicated his career to locally sourcing southern ingredients and recipes and his ultimate goal of serving people true “home cooking” really resonates with me. Sean will have you believing that you too can make incredible delicious and local food. Stephen and I also ate at his restaurant Husk in Nashville once and it’s probably my favorite meal I’ve ever had, it was superb.
  • Volume 2 Episode 1: Grant Achatz. Grant is probably the weirdest guy in the chef world, and watching him work is fascinating. He pretty much refuses to make any kind of food you or I would consider “normal” and goes about it in such a scientific way. I’ll probably never go to his restaurant, but his episode definitely opened my eyes to what food can be.

Rating: 5/5

Watch this if you: want to get inspired by food and what it can be.

Ugly Delicious, from Stephen

Synopsis: Celebrity Chef David Chang explores various themes through what is arguably our most universal lens - cooking and traditions surrounding food.

Where to find: Netflix

This is going to sound extremely basic of me, but I love David Chang. Everything he puts out, I consume. I watched all of Ugly Delicious Season 2 the day it came out in one sitting. I subscribe to his podcast, I use his ssäm sauce on my omelettes in the morning. But of all the things he’s pushed out into the ether, this show is my favorite.

Each episode uses food to explore a theme in a creative way that leaves the viewer thinking in a much more deep way than they would if they were just watching DDD (no offense Guy). My favorite episode is probably the first in the show simply titled, “Pizza”. He explores the concept of authenticity throughout the episode and when I first watched it, I probably thought about pizza for the next 4 days. After that, my next favorite episodes are probably Steak, Shrimp & Crawfish, and Home Cooking.

The cinematic work in each episode is brillant. The show is funny without forcing the issue. Thought-provoking without insulting the audience. I can’t properly put into words how this show makes me feel, but the closest I can get is that I can taste the best meals of my life each time I watch an episode, which is how I know without a shred of doubt that they’re getting it right.

Rating: 5/5

Watch this if you: have a subscription or know anyone with a subscription to Netflix.

Note from Chris: Anyone wanna guess whether Stephen has a subscription to Netflix or simply knows someone? Asking for a friend. But really, I share Stephen’s affinity with David Chang. The guy is just so normal and accessible, and I eagerly consume everything he does.

The Final Table, from Chris

Synopsis: Top chefs from around the world compete in a series of cooking challenges where each episode tasks them with creating dishes from a particular country’s cuisine.

Where to find: Netflix

The Final Table is a show purely about cooking talent. There’s not much else here besides getting an intimate look at the process of cooking food. Each episode focuses on a different country’s cuisine, so the content is always fresh and the chefs are forced out of their comfort zone quite often. I would liken this show to watching professional sports. You will definitely not watch and think “yeah I can totally do that”; you’ll watch and be constantly amazed at the things that insanely talented people can do. Their knowledge of ingredients and techniques is beyond impressive. It’s a huge reminder that what you do in your kitchen isn’t even in the same realm as what they can do.

Rating: 3.7/5

Watch this if you: want a front row seat to some of the most talented chefs in the world cooking amazing and elevated food.

Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, from Both of Us

Synopsis: I dunno, just watch this maybe? Yeah, that’s about right.

Where to find: Food Network - on your *checks notes* cable box

Where to start… Guy Fieri is an internet icon. The Mayor of Flavortown.

Official website description: “Host Guy Fieri takes a cross-country road trip to visit some of America’s classic “greasy spoon” restaurants — diners, drive-ins and dives — that have been doing it right for decades.”

Stephen: The official pitch for my eventual cross-country college football and food book can just be taken verbatim from this, but add in tailgating as a whole 200 page odyssey side quest.

Triple D has 32 official seasons and over 400 episodes/specials, and you’ve likely never seen the same episode twice. I’ve spent more time than I want to admit watching Guy speed around in a convertible sampling bites of food prepared by America’s finest restaurateurs. Make no mistake, the people depicted in this show are the real heroes of American culinary tradition. It’s big. It’s often fried. It’s definitely not the recommended serving size. But damn if it isn’t good. Whenever I’m on a road trip or visiting a new city, if I don’t know somebody there, I know Guy does. DDD has its markings all over most every major city in America, so odds are you can eat somewhere that Guy has too.

Chris: Went home for the holidays and have nothing to do? DDD is probably on TV. Just got to the hotel on a business trip and need to kill a few hours before bed? DDD is probably on TV. On vacation with a group and need something to throw on in downtime? DDD is probably on TV. At every turn in your life and at every age, DDD is there. I say this with all seriousness: DDD is a total comfort zone for me. I genuinely feel peaceful sitting and watching it. I threw it on last weekend, ignored the people around me, and just sat for hours alternating between saying “ooooh”, “that looks good”, and “I’d eat that”. I’ve got “I’m Guy Fieri and we’re rollin’ out” seared into my brain.

It’s probably the most accessible food show on the planet; everyone has those amazing local places that they either grew up with, go to regularly now, or still remember from that trip that one time. Local restaurants are the life-blood of America and DDD is a triumphant opus of showing them off.

Stephen Rating: 4/5

Chris Rating: 4.5/5

Watch this if you: are falling asleep on the recliner in your parent’s house like a responsible adult.

The Great British Bake Off, from Chris

Synopsis: Home-bakers from around Britain compete in weekly baking challenges.

Where to find: Netflix

Look, if you haven’t heard of GBBO yet, I don’t know what rock you’ve been hiding under. This show has gained a ton of popularity in America recently and has sparked a ton of great meme content. To put it simply, this show is an absolute joy to watch. The contestants are delightfully british and the overall tone is usually goofy and playful. Sometimes you forget it’s a competition at all - everyone is so friendly and it can be very heartwarming to watch them help each other.

If you’ve ever baked something and thought “hey that’s pretty good”, this show will remind you that there’s 1000 sweet old british ladies that will bake circles around you. Still, the appeal for this show is more about the people than the food to me. The hosts and judges are phenomenal and the quirky jovial vibe is a nice change from the American style of “the people in competition shows must have tragic backstories that make you cry”. The facial reactions are also incredible and the camera crew does such a great job capturing them. I don’t really know what else to say: please watch this show.

Rating: 5/5

Watch this if you: love accents, tea, words like “scrummy”, and soggy bottoms.

Street Food Asia, from Stephen

Synopsis: A 9 part, easily digestible (read: 30min episodes), tour of Asian street cuisine, telling the story of each city through the stories of vendors in each city.

Where to find: Netflix

This Netflix original is definitely a different take on food shows, which is refreshing in a very real way. It doesn’t have the high cinematic qualities and starpower of shows like Chef’s Table or Ugly Delicious, but what Street Food does a good job of capturing is the reality of a place. By telling the story of a culture and city with the words of the chefs themselves rather than hearing it from a host, you get a certified authenticity built into the show that other shows often lack. The sheer determination and drive of these street vendors is incredible to hear again and again, and to see how they are able to create some of the most sought after food in their city never ceases to amaze me. Whenever the Stephen World Food Tour book gets its sponsorship, this is how I would want to tell the story.

Rating: 3/5

Watch this if you: Want to venture off the traditional “white guy goes abroad to taste “crazy” “new” food” cliche - *cough cough* Somebody Feed Phil *cough cough*. There’s a lot of voice dubbing because they’re directly interviewing the cooks, and the subtitles don’t always match the words, which is annoying, but I did enjoy the show.

Note from Chris: Gonna echo the Somebody Feed Phil bashing here, that show is just the worst.

Nailed It!, from Stephen

Synopsis: People that can’t really bake great are in an episode of Chopped.

Where to find: Netflix

I can’t stand this show. It’s grating to my ears and eyes, and I can’t in good conscience recommend this to anyone at all. I made it through about 15 minutes before I had to turn it off. I loved watching Chopped, I really did. But a forced to be funny spinoff of a cooking show classic was not needed. Give me Chopped Junior all day. Don’t waste your time here. Boom. Nailed It.

Rating: 0.5/5

Watch this if you: Have a polar opposite taste in television from myself and don’t have a single book in your possession. Or if you want to mindlessly pass time with something on the TV.

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Stephen: There are so many others that we didn’t touch on that I very much enjoyed. I could sit down and watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi (not on the list because I only thought of it in writing this outro) for the twentieth time right now if you wanted to. What the appeal of these shows is in my mind is that food is a visceral experience that you can appreciate without being in the actual moment itself. Sure, old concert videos of DMX from Woodstock ‘99 where he is performing for literally every person on the planet are great to watch (extremely NSFW because it’s DMX, but you knew that), but it literally can’t compare to the live event.

Food is different in that way because it is so accessible. You can’t make cornbread like Sean Brock, or pho like the little old lady in Street Food, but you can appreciate it and understand what they’re driving at. Food connects us in ways that very few things can, and if we could all collectively take the time to learn about other cultures through their food, maybe we’d be a little more tolerant as a society. So go walk through your neighborhood Korean foodmart, or be a patron of a local restaurant you wouldn’t normally consider stopping at, you just might learn something, and have a great meal while you’re at it.

Chris: I would like to also echo Stephen’s praise of Jiro Dreams of Sushi (it was actually made by the guys that do Chef’s Table) and place it in an “honorable mention” category. Stephen is also right that food is accessible. And by proxy, food shows are accessible. There’s no plot to learn; there’s no nuance or inside jokes to pick up on. Anyone can start watching at any time and immediately be connected to the subject material. And I think that’s pretty special. That’s all we’ve got for y’all today, thanks for reading, and stay safe!