Martin Westlake/Netflix; Adam Rose/Netflix; Netflix
The Chef Show
When you’re Jon Favreau, director of Iron Man and The Lion King, you have your choice of famous collaborators. So Favreau, inspired by his experience making the 2014 film Chef, called on L.A. superstar chef Roy Choi to teach him what it takes to make it in a restaurant kitchen.
Favreau recruits plenty of familiar faces on the way — not only America’s best chefs, but also actors like Gwyneth Paltrow, Seth Rogen and Tom Holland, bridging the worlds of cooking and entertainment. Expect a mix of food porn, learning, and straight talk from chefs.
Momofuku’s David Chang transformed New York’s restaurant scene in the 2000s, so it’s no surprise he’s now doing the same for the cooking show. The episodes, which each focus on a single food or cuisine, take occasionally bizarre detours into history, pop culture and Chang’s own life. The first episode of the new season, for example, has him taste-testing baby food with an actual baby in preparation for his first child.
But Ugly Delicious isn’t afraid to go deep: past episodes have used food as a window into issues like the racially fraught history of soul food and the experience of Vietnamese immigrants in America.
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat
Chef and cookbook author Samin Nosrat takes viewers around the world exploring the four elements of flavor, but the ingredient that makes this four-episode docu-series work is Nosrat herself. With a beaming smile and an unselfconscious humility, Nosrat endears herself immediately to viewers and to everyone she talks to, from a pesto-making grandmother in Liguria to a soy sauce expert in Japan.
But she doesn’t just explore; she also cooks, and makes cooking look accessible and human, embracing mistakes in the kitchen. After watching the series, you’ll want to run out and buy Nosrat’s cookbook of the same name immediately.
When and how did humans start cooking food? What will the future of eating look like? And what is gluten, anyway? Mark Bittman, one of America’s most eminent food writers, answers these questions and many more in Cooked. This four-part miniseries weaves together history, culture, science, technology and cooking into a far-reaching philosophical exploration of food and what it means to make it and eat it. Each episode is themed around one of the four classical elements: fire, water, earth and air. Prepare to think about food in an entirely new way.
Somebody Feed Phil
Somebody Feed Phil is comfort food for anyone who’s dreamed of traveling the world and sampling its tastes. Phil Rosenthal isn’t a trained chef or restaurant critic — he’s a television producer, most famous for creating Everybody Loves Raymond. Endlessly curious and amiable, Rosenthal goes from Copenhagen to Cape Town making endearingly dad-jokey remarks and beaming straight at the camera as he gamely tries new foods. And while the food looks enviable enough, the real treat is Rosenthal himself, who makes a perfect vicarious travel companion.
If you’ve traveled the world, you probably know that a lot of the best food doesn’t come from pristine restaurant kitchens — it’s cooked right on the street by local vendors. Netflix’s Street Food wants you to know that each of those street vendors, from Delhi to Osaka, has their own story.
Some of the vendors profiled on Street Food work at stalls that have been in their families for generations; some have been able to lift their families out of poverty and send children to college thanks to the popularity of their dishes. Street food, the show tells us, is more than cheap and delicious: it’s the product of social and economic circumstances, defined by each city’s unique history.
What does it take to reach the level of the world’s top restaurants? Chef’s Table pairs beautiful shots of the world’s best food with life stories and advice from Michelin-starred chefs. Clearly, the show is doing something right: Netflix has already made six seasons, including one just focusing on pastry chefs. Standout episodes include Jeong Kwan, a practicing Buddhist nun who crafts highly coveted vegetarian cuisine, and Francis Mallman, who reinvents the traditional open-flame cooking style in Argentine Patagonia.
Restaurants on the Edge
One of Netflix’s newest offerings, Restaurants on the Edge is part travel, part design, and part cooking. The show exposes an all-too-common problem: sometimes, restaurants with the best real estate are slacking when it comes to food quality. Restaurants on the Edge brings in a team of experts — a chef, a restaurateur, and a designer — to revitalize failing restaurants in tourist hotspots and bring them and their food in touch with their local communities. Fans of Kitchen Nightmares or HGTV shows like House Hunters International will enjoy this show’s combination of uplifting stories and gorgeous views.
The Spanish-language Taco Chronicles answers a question you might not have thought to ask: what if tacos could speak? Each of the six episodes is narrated by a different type of taco; the al pastor claims to be “the only [taco] that will never let you down,” while barbacoa says, “I spend hours in the center of the earth, pondering life’s depths.” If you can get past the unconventional concept, there are hours of straight-up food porn for the taco enthusiast: the camera pans lovingly on gleaming towers of meat roasting on a spit and steam rising from fresh tortillas on a comal.
Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations
The late, great Anthony Bourdain’s shows left Netflix last year, but they have since found a new home on Hulu. Bourdain tragically passed in 2018, but with nine seasons of No Reservations, he left an extensive back catalogue that’s essential viewing for anyone passionate about food. Grab a cold beer and a bowl of pho, and pay tribute to the king.
If you’ve watched one too many feel-good episode of Somebody Feed Phil or Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, try a couple episodes of Rotten, a decidedly feel-bad docu-series that exposes the dark sides of global food production. Rotten shows you how your avocado toast might actually be lining the pockets of Mexican drug cartels and how the garlic you buy at the supermarket might have been processed by Chinese prisoners. A couple episodes might make you a more conscientious consumer, but you might want to refrain from talking about it at parties.
The past few years have seen a revolution in food TV, and Netflix is on the vanguard. The streaming service has taken the old models of cooking, travel and competition shows that were formerly the domain of Food Network and Cooking Channel and turned them on their heads, revitalizing the genre with big travel budgets, top-line celebrity chefs, and innovative formats.
The result? A new golden age of cooking and food shows to make viewers not only salivate, but also ponder what’s on their plate. With new seasons of The Chef Showand Ugly Delicious just out, it's clear Netflix has no intention of slowing down.