The 15 Best Food TV Shows and Documentaries on Netflix

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The 15 Best Food TV Shows and Documentaries on Netflix

Good food is a universal human comfort, and TV about good food is nearly as popular. As food culture and foodie-ism blossomed in the U.S., an influx of every possible type of food programming came with it. The streaming world proved to be an almost infinite avenue for this kind of programming, especially as it became more niche—could you really get multiple seasons of a show that is nothing more than profiles of different types of tacos onto broadcast TV? On Netflix, though, that type of show—it’s literally called Taco Chronicles—feels right at home. If anything, this type of show feels like the reason why streaming services exist in the first place.

In recent years, Netflix has assembled quite a few of these types of colorful food programming, ditching reruns of old Food Network series and increasingly turning to original series and documentaries instead. They truly run the gamut, from chintzy, broadcast-style reality cooking competitions like Sugar Rush, to gorgeously shot documentaries like Chef’s Table or sobering docu-series like High on the Hog. Fair warning, though, as almost all of these shows are dangerous to watch while hungry.

And as an added bonus, Netflix’s Iron Chef reboot has finally arrived as well!

15. Drink Masters

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Watch on Netflix

A cocktail/mixology competition show that evokes the likes of Masterchef is an idea that seems obvious enough in hindsight that we rather wonder why it hasn’t already been done before—perhaps the more sinful association of hard liquor is a harder sell than watching contestants sear a filet for the 10,000th time. That novelty helps make Drink Masters a bit more fresh and unusual than other, similarly structured shows—we just haven’t seen many pieces of media like this, where creatives are competing over the best negroni or New York Sour. The drinks are legitimately impressive, though they run toward the fanciful—the fact that contestants are given an hour to prepare a cocktail means that time is inevitably spent on absurdly complex preparations and cookery that the home cocktail enthusiast will likely never try to replicate, meaning that Drink Masters doesn’t supply a lot of practical inspiration for home cocktails. At the same time, the judging can be a bit on the obnoxious side, but the visually resplendent cocktails were the real stars here, anyway. —Jim Vorel


14. Somebody Feed Phil

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Watch on Netflix

You’d be hard-pressed to find a better or funnier travel documentary series about food and culture than Somebody Feed Phil, which is a successor of sorts to I’ll Have What Phil’s Having,” which aired on PBS. In the show, Everybody Loves Raymond creator Phil Rosenthal travels around the world, tasting and experiencing the local delicacies of various cities and countries. You’ll learn a lot about different cultures, and you’ll laugh a lot along the way, because Rosenthal’s charm and sense of humor are infused in every moment of what might also be one of the most comforting shows on Netflix. His childlike wonderment and optimistic outlook can make Somebody Feed Phil a little toothless in comparison with the Bourdain-style travel shows of the world, but the food looks just as delicious. —Kaitlin Thomas


13. Salt Fat Acid Heat

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Watch on Netflix

Culinary-themed programs often make for some of the best travel shows because they take viewers around the world to explore the cuisines of various cultures. Salt Fat Acid Heat, which is hosted by chef and author Samin Nosrat and based on her book of the same name, stands out because of the way it explores the four elements of the series’ title and why they’re the key to great cooking. Although the series is just four episodes, it takes viewers from the olive orchards of Italy to the shores of Japan as Nosrat attempts to learn all she can about the use of salts, fats, acids, and heat in the kitchen. By the end of the show, you’ll have traveled the world and hopefully learned a little bit more about the food you eat—and how to be a better cook as well. —Kaitlin Thomas


12. Million Pound Menu

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As someone who lived in England at a time when “destination dining” wasn’t exactly the first thing you thought of in connection with it, I’m bemused (and pleasantly surprised) to see how many interesting food programs are coming out of the UK right now. And Million Pound Menu gives you a great inside look at how novel food concepts get from a chef’s imagination onto the High Street. Two chefs with big dreams get treated to pop-up spaces to test their ideas with investors who might be able to bring their concepts to life. The contestants don’t compete against each other (which is refreshing); one or both or neither might be made an offer. Or two offers, in which case the venture capitalists are the ones competing. This is the business side of the restaurant world in a format anyone can understand, and the concepts range from down-home grub to ultra-chic farm-to-table haute cuisine. Seeing what it takes to actually open a restaurant will give you a lot of respect for the folks who pull it off, and this show’s format is sleek, easy to follow, and well-crafted. —Amy Glynn


11. Nadiya’s Time to Eat

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Whether you’re watching this series, or the almost identical Nadiya Bakes, it’s easy to simply get lost in the warmth, radiance and sheer approachability of Nadiya Hussain. It’s incredible to think that this unassuming woman would perhaps be entirely unknown to U.K. television viewers and global cooking enthusiasts if not for her decision to first appear on The Great British Bake Off, ultimately winning the 2015 competition en route to a burgeoning media empire. Go back and watch those early Bake Off episodes and it’s hard to believe the Nadiya who appears there—shy, unassuming, lacking confidence—could blossom into one of the country’s most widely beloved and successful TV hosts. Her personal transformation and the joy she seems to have felt in it are infused straight into her family friendly recipes, which are largely presented with the practicality of a working mother simply preparing dishes for her busy family. Simultaneously, Hussain uses her background to subtly introduce more vivid flavors to what are perhaps more reserved palates, ultimately providing a genial cooking show that is exemplified by its closing moments, in which the cast and crew all sit down and simply enjoy Nadiya’s food together. —Jim Vorel


10. Taco Chronicles

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Taco Chronicles is effectively no more and no less than the title implies—a mouthwatering deep dive into specific taco styles and what makes them so great and beloved. All the classics have been lovingly assembled, from episodes on carnitas and asada to interesting diversions into the popular beef birria or fish tacos from the Mexican Pacific. Cultural exploration and conflict is of significantly less importance in these 30-minute episodes, which instead tend to revolve around restaurateurs and street chefs who are acknowledged masters of crafting specific taco styles. Taco Chronicles is simple and effective, and it’s also guaranteed to make you hungry as hell. —Jim Vorel


9. Street Food

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As you can probably tell from its title, Netflix’s docuseries Street Food takes viewers on a global journey, but it does it with an intimacy rarely seen in travel series. The first season focuses specifically on the Asian continent, digging into the influential dishes of different countries like Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, and Indonesia. Through deeply revealing interviews with well known chefs specializing in street food, many of whom have dedicated their whole lives to the art of cooking, the show is able to tell not just their stories but the stories of their cities and countries as well. The second season does the same thing for the people and cultural dishes of Latin America. You’ll be able to visit places like Mexico, Peru, Argentina, and Bolivia. If you’re looking for a travel series that takes storytelling to the next level, this is it. And if you just want to keep close to home, the recently released third collection of Street Food focuses on delicacies from the U.S., in cities such as L.A., New Orleans and Miami, while telling the intimate stories of the people who fill our bellies. —Kaitlin Thomas


8. Ugly Delicious

The Virginia-born child of Korean parents, renowned chef David Chang is deeply interested in how foodways travel, intersect, and melt together. What begins to hit you once his new docuseries finds its groove—the second episode, for me; your mileage may vary—is that this is legitimately something beyond the super-trope established by Tony Bourdain all those years ago (Chef Seeks Wisdom in Travel and Eating the World). Chang is not a Bourdanian. He’s after something else: the notion that real authenticity isn’t about purity. On the contrary, it’s about recognizing diversity of contribution, making connections, and not being a damn snob. He doesn’t need you to be dazzled. He wants people to be open to one another. And, as one Vietnamese Houstonian notes in the series’ shrimp debate: “Food is the bridge.” —Amy Glynn


7. The Chef Show

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The most refreshing thing about The Chef Show is that although the series is often tackling relatively uncomplicated comfort foods in its kitchens, it could scarcely be doing so in a way more fundamentally different from the likes of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Rather than a bombastic host who simply travels from kitchen to kitchen doing brief introductions and gushing about “righteous” nachos, The Chef Show unfolds at an extremely leisurely and more detailed pace—they seem to want the viewer to actually consider making these foods themselves. Each episode sees creators Jon Favreau (film director and Marvel staple) and chef Ryan Choi simply chatting as they prepare a wide array of dishes, sometimes with guests and often simply on their own. Notably, they never speak to the camera—this is not a conversation with the audience where they’re telling you what’s great about cuisine, it’s a conversation between friends and peers that we’re allowed to look in on as a fly on the wall. The Chef Show is simply about watching chefs do the things they love, on their own time, in the company of people who inspire them. —Jim Vorel


6. Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend

Netflix was wise to not tinker all that much with the formula for Iron Chef when they chose to reboot the series as Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend. It’s not as if the format present for more than 200 episodes of Iron Chef America (2005-2018) was broken—one might argue the show had run out of steam somewhat from its glory days, but a quick refresh was really all the brand needed to be thoroughly delightful once again. This new Iron Chef is still finding its feet in some ways, as the Iron Chefs themselves in particular need time for their specialities and capabilities to become established. With that said, there are some major standouts here, particularly Iron Chef Dominique Crenn, the French cuisine master whose food looks like it comes from an entirely other plane of existence. The overarching, season-long competition to find an “Iron Legend” is a good one, though, as is the show’s willingness to potentially not crown such a legend after its first season. The longer it takes some contestant to finally pull off that feat, the bigger an accomplishment it will be when it happens, and we hope Quest for an Iron Legend gets at least a handful of additional seasons to really grow into its own. —Jim Vorel
https://www.pastemagazine.com/tv/netflix/iron-chef-netflix-review-quest-for-iron-legend/


5. Rotten

Our food supply system is broken, corrupt, dirty, inhumane, and riddled with fraud. If you are not aware of this, you need to be. If you are, chances are good that Netflix’s new true crime series, Rotten, will contain at least some stories you’re familiar with, and probably a few things you didn’t know. Either way, I’m designating it mandatory viewing for people who buy food in the United States. Produced by Zero Point Zero, the company behind many of Anthony Bourdain’s ventures, Rotten offers a true-crime take on a series of food-industry hijinks, looking at, among other things, the production and consumption of chicken, milk, honey, garlic and seafood. Exposing food frauds ranging from the confusing to the flat-out lethal, the episodes investigate various ways in which the literal food chain is screwed up by the corporate food chain, and the ramifications for people who farm, and people who eat. Which I’m pretty sure includes all of us. Not every episode is wall-to-wall brilliant, but the subject is simply too important to ignore. —Amy Glynn


4. Cooked

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Michael Pollan is not a chef, he’s a journalist. And Cooked, based on his book Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, is a lovely deep-dive into the most fundamental elements of food and our relationship with it. Pollan is a pretty cerebral guy, but his fascination with sensory experience is the real deal—and it comes through loud and clear in the four episodes of this show. Each beautifully filmed installment is based on one of the four elements (air, fire, earth, water) and uses that lens to peer at different aspects of food and cooking, and by extension, culture, politics, anthropology, history and psychology as Pollan tries his own unpractised hand at cooking. I’ve seen an awful lot of snark about “Pollanology” or “Pollanization” (ha ha) or “food-shaming” about pretty much all of his programs and books. Maybe it’s because I’m a Bay Area native, but I honestly don’t get it. He tracks innovations like “applying fire to food” and “vessels that allow cooking in liquid” and how over the arc of history these things have created the diverse and beautiful range of traditional human foodways. Does it get political? Yeah, it arguably does. Does it leave some things unaddressed, like how affluence or poverty play into how we interact with food? In some ways, I suppose he does, but I think we can all assume Michael Pollan is clear on why someone cannot be a hedge fund manager and also spend seven hours a day hand harvesting and milling his own heirloom wheat if he wants bread. I don’t see this show as food-shaming at all. If anything, it’s a bit wistful about the dissonances between wealth and lack and all the other forces that drive people away from truly close connection with the food they eat. And it speculates on whether it’s possible to take any steps back toward a better connection. Personally, I think if you feel shamed by that suggestion, you especially need to watch this show. And for the rest of us? A very well-directed and thoughtful document of food history. —Amy Glynn


3. The Great British Baking Show

The Great British Baking Show (or, The Great British Bake-Off in its native UK) is a charming antidote to the competition-cookery style of, say, Food Network. It’s civilized. It’s good-natured. It radiates optimism and positivity. It is… sweet. Twelve home bakers compete over the course of ten weeks until the group is whittled down to a winner. The collegiality of this show is so refreshing and creates an atmosphere in which you’re probably going to be happy for whoever wins. The season-long competition format gives time for the reality show equivalent of a character arc: You’ll get emotionally invested in these people in a way you can’t with shows that start and end in an hour. It’s homey and comforting and you come to feel that you know these people and are on this pastry-quest with them. And that they come to know each other, which is unique and extremely refreshing. No snark. No egomania. Just people who love to bake experiencing the joy and pain of success and failure. —Amy Glynn

Note: Netflix has also recently released a new season of the spin-off Junior Bake Off, which more or less faithfully translates the typical Baking Show experience into a setting with young kids, in the style of MasterChef Junior. This does result in a rather lower standard of baking, and the completed foodstuffs typically aren’t nearly so impressive to look at, but that’s more than made up for by the general cuteness of the precocious kids.


2. High on the Hog

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Author and restaurateur Stephen Satterfield’s High on the Hog is a sobering, soulful journey into the history of Black American cuisine, one that is steeped in historical atrocities, modern systemic racism and the triumph of Black people against all odds in creating a celebrated cuisine from ingredients that no one else often wanted. Much more than just a paean to the idea of “soul food,” Satterfield journeys to the very roots of what we now so often think of as “Southern” cuisine as he journeys to Africa to learn about the roots of African cuisine before tracing those influences back to the food that so many of us eat in the U.S. every day. Along the way, we get an inkling of the impact that Black Americans have had on our nation’s food culture since the time they were enslaved, rarely more profoundly than in the examination of Hercules and James Hemings, enslaved African chefs who cooked for U.S. Presidents Washington and Jefferson, respectively. As superstar chefs of their era, preparing meals for foreign dignitaries and ambassadors, it’s difficult to conceive that these supremely talented people were simultaneously considered personal property by the white Americans our culture upholds with reverence as our Founding Fathers. Every episode of High on the Hog contains these moments of tear-jerking catharsis, such as the dinner Satterfield attends with cultural preservationist Gabrielle Eitienne, which is interrupted partway through by the arrival of her uncle, bearing a jug of homemade strawberry wine. As he departs, Eitienne begins to tear up, revealing that her uncle is being forced out of his longtime home via the federal government via eminent domain, his memories and life considered insignificant to the bureaucracy next to the planned expansion of a highway. Such are the challenges that Black Amerians still disproportionately face in our country, and High on the Hog never shies away from confronting them head on. —Jim Vorel


1. Chef’s Table

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This show is flat-out beautiful. Each episode is a gorgeously filmed, extremely thoughtful look at one chef, probably but not always at the helm of a hotshot restaurant, and how and why he or she got there. It follows a very standard documentary model: Chef in natural habitat, succulent close-ups of ridiculously pretty food, chef talking about childhood or mentors or philosophy, spliced-in commentary by some kind of expert or family member or cohort. The photography is absolutely beautiful, and the scope is decidedly global and hugely diverse, and it’s intimate, which food should always be. Any one episode is interesting and a joy to look at. One chef builds ecosystems on his plates, for example concocting dishes to evoke the sea that not only use marine ingredients but are presented to look like a rock that someone pulled out of a tidepool. (They are spectacular.) Another manages to evoke the power of humility and compassion simply by arranging a lotus blossom to float in a bowl of tea. One wants to challenge and provoke; one’s happiest making grilled cheese sandwiches for a clutch of happy regulars on the other side of the bar. All unique. All remarkable. —Amy Glynn