6 foodie series on Netflix that you need to see
Netflix is a goldmine for some exceptional foodie viewing. Here's a rundown of some of the top series you need in your life
Ten years ago, if I told you that some of the best food series could be found on a service that exclusively streamed over the internet, you'd probably have scoffed at me. But here in 2020, presented to you in Ultra HD (if you pay for it) there are some absolute must-view series for passionate foodies. If you enjoyed James Howell-Jones' post about Netflix cookery shows a while back, you might like this one too.
Food series on Netflix fall into three broad categories:
- Food porn (lots of slow-mo shots and close-ups)
- People cooking things: (think 'Nailed It' and the competition-type shows)
- Other people showing you how to cook things: (for example, Salt Fat Acid Heat is more instructional)
My dirty little secret is that I enjoy cooking, but I'm not very good at it. I write about other people cooking, and what they're creating. So with my viewing, I'm more into the food porn side of things.
This list is a starting point. It's a gateway to other series that you will no doubt discover. Like most excellent television, you'll gorge yourself on some delicious visual offerings. Let me know in the comments if you think I've missed one that needs a special mention...
Somebody Feed Phil (Season 3 streaming 29 May)
Phil Rosenthal is the one of the creators behind classic sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond. Although much of his career has been behind the lens, Somebody Feed Phil is Phil's turn in front of the camera as he takes us on an international voyage around the world, eating food, smiling about it, and spreading a passion and love for all things edible that isn't easily matched elsewhere on Netflix.
The main difference between this and other foodie shows on Netflix is that Phil isn't a chef by trade. The other shows that I will mention feature chefs who are already at the top of their game. Phil's perspective comes from that of an avid diner; a gourmand who shares the experience of discovery as a lover of food, rather than a creator.
And it is this that gives it the appeal that draws me in. A highlight for me is his New York episode, which is really something special. As a native New Yorker, he knows all the best spots and gives the viewer his own perspective on eating out. In the early eighties, he managed a deli briefly before going to LA.
The series has a light-hearted, upbeat feeling, with a big dash of humour as well. Phil doesn't take himself too seriously, and has a humility that comes through each season – which, for me, adds to the appeal.
Watch it for: Phil's constant expressions of amazement and wonder.
Chef's Table showcases professional chefs, foodie pioneers and restaurateurs from all over the world. Creator David Gelb was responsible for Jiro Dreams of Sushi and has brought over the same style and timbre; as Netflix's first ever original documentary series, it has won multiple awards and has inspired many other series since it started streaming in 2014.
In an interview with Foodism, David Gelb said, "Our job is to channel the passion of the chef... We still make sure that we have what we need to make a film, but it kind of becomes a collaboration in that way, and that's the fun of documentaries.
As we do interviews, we discover stuff about the chef that maybe previous journalists may not have realised or thought was that important. And some of the things we think are interesting, the chefs don't necessarily think are important, because a chef will look at his own life story a little differently than we might."
Looking at food from the personal perspective of the creators who are striving to be the absolute best, each episode focuses on a different chef who reflects on his/her journey to being the best – including great chefs such as Massimo Bottura, Dan Barber and Magnus Nillson.
Some chefs you might have heard of, others will be new; but the standard of cooking is phenomenal. This documentary series is credited with redefining the way that cooking has been represented on the screen, giving a gravitas to the trade that hasn't been present in previous docs.
My only criticism of the show is that there is a distinct lack of British chefs included. Volume six is the latest season and it has only just included a British Indian chef – the great and wonderful Asma Khan – who runs Darjeeling Express in London. I am a big fan of Asma's, but there is a strong weighting towards American chefs, and although their stories and passion are no less valid, traditional British cuisine and our British food story feels, so far, overlooked by this series.
Watch for: slow-mo food porn accompanied by classical music.
The Chef Show
Jon Favreau is an actor, director, writer and a massive foodie. The film Chef (2014) is the main inspiration behind this series, given his partner-in-crime Chef Roy Choi taught and trained him in preparation for the film.
It is clear that both men are friends and get on well. Each episode takes viewers through different food and dishes that play a part in the film, and other recipes that feature in the lives of the guests or hosts. There is a ready supply of celebrities who join the pair each week – some of them annoying, others entertaining.
The Chef Show is back for its third season (or 'volume'), with more celebrity guests – including celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck and filmmaker Sam Raimi, who is currently creating the latest Doctor Strange film.
If you're a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you'll know that Jon is a key player in its creation – so of course, the second show of the first season features most of the Avengers cast, including Tom Holland and Robert Downey Jr. The food sometimes seems to take second place behind the celebrity guests.
Watch it for: accessible, lively foodie entertainment dripping with celebrities and food porn.
Salt Fat Acid Heat
My final go-to food show is Salt Fat Acid Heat, which is presented by chef and author Samin Nosrat. This limited series shares the title of her award winning cookbook, and takes a look at each element of cooking. The message of the show is that cooking is about balance, and if you can master each of these elements, you can easily become a master of taste in your own cooking.
In an interview with The Atlantic, Samin said, “At some point, I realized food was a tool for bringing people together, for telling stories about people, for telling stories about culture,” she said. “And that’s what I really care about. So it’s only natural that they would go together.”
This series, as far as 'how to cook' format shows go, is by far my favourite – mostly because it combines lots of story-telling elements, and adds a big dose of 'how-to-be-better'; throughout, there is no assumption that the viewer knows everything about food, and we are treated as equals in our love of cooking.
Watch for: cheerful instructions and heartwarming stories from across the world.
These are far from the only food shows on Netflix – there are countless others (why not visit James Howell-Jones's post for some more ideas, link at the top?). Also look out for these two:
David Chang is a James Beard award-winning chef who made waves across the New York restaurant scene with the opening of his influential restaurant Momofoku in 2004. He has authored cookbooks and appeared on various TV programmes.
Ugly Delicious is a no-nonsense look at food, being a travelogue of sorts in season 1. Season 2 came out this year, but has a very different feel to it; it's still very enjoyable (but only has four episodes as opposed to the longer first season).
I have only seen a few episodes, but this one is a right laugh. Amateur cooks try and create successful replicas of professionally created show cakes. It's not serious in the slightest; I could genuinely see myself on this show if I could actually bake a cake.
There is no paradigm for a show about food on Netflix (or anywhere else for that matter); each one is very different and will attract different people with different tastes for different reasons. It was sad to see the late, great 'Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown' taken off Netflix given he is a personal hero of mine, and one of my greatest inspirations when it comes to food writing.
There are other shows like 'Cooked' that I simply haven't seen (I know, I know) – and I am sure, and I am hoping, that there will be some extra ones in the comment section that I can get my teeth stuck into.