Tis the season for binge-watching Netflix and spending most of your waking hours on the sofa, but what to watch when you’re done with Chef’s Table? Sure, there are plenty of brilliant food programmes out there. Food Inc. and Michael Pollan’s Cooked to name a couple (but you’ve probably seen all those). For the food documentaries on Netflix that will make you fall in love with food all over again, these are the ones to watch. Hugh Thomas breaks it down.
1. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat
Based on Samin Nosrat’s James Beard Award-winning book of the same name, the show – also fronted by Samin – is not like any other. Part home-cooking manual, part culinary travelogue, each episode focusses on one of the four cornerstones of good cooking; salt, fat, acid or heat. From the perspective of, refreshingly, a woman, Samin holds up her love for instinct-led cooking like a cone of freshly scooped gelato. If food has ever had a profound effect on your life, I think you’ll like Samin.
2. Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Jiro Ono, 93, is (arguably) the best sushi chef in the world. And yet, having dedicated most of his life to his craft, his restaurant is found in a Tokyo subway station. Still, it’s the kind of place where octopus is massaged for an hour before serving, hundreds of would-be guests wait months (sometimes years) for a spot at its ten covers, and dinner costs £210. Within this docu-film lies a bigger message; one that deals with the threat of overfishing and its impact on our oceans. But really, it’s about a guy who flipping loves making sushi.
3. Ugly Delicious
What’s better? The Neapolitan wood-fired pizza lovingly made by the Italian family over the road, or a Domino’s Meat Feast with chilli cheese-stuffed crust? On Ugly Delicious, often the answer is both. Chef and restaurateur, David Chang and former critic and Lucky Peach editor, Peter Meehan provide a friendly discussion over what iterations of some of the world’s favourite dishes taste best to them. With snobbery left at the door, it serves as a reminder that perhaps, yes, there is a time and a place for everything. And, better still, it won’t leave you feeling guilty for that Boxing Day turkey/mince pie filling/gravy/roast potato sandwich you’re chomping on.
4. Mind of a Chef
Each of Mind of a Chef’s six seasons are hosted by a different acclaimed cook or cooks, from Ludo Lefebvre to Magnus Nilsson. As well as Brits, like Fergus Henderson, April Bloomfield and Tom Adams. Unlike Chef’s Table and others of its ilk, it’s less about the chef’s ego and more about the food they cook and how they make it theirs; the components not of their ‘ascension to greatness’ but their lives and their ideas complete with all the foibles. Like Bourdain’s other productions, it doesn’t shy away from the punkish, roguish, and often brushed-under-the-carpet aspects of chef culture.
5. Somebody Feed Phil
Not everybody loves Everybody Loves Raymond. But to those who do, Phil Rosenthal may be a familiar name. In this programme, the comedy series creator of the late 90s goes off to expand his horizons – and palate – in a dozen cities, from Cape Town and Mexico City, to Tel Aviv and Copenhagen. Most of the time Phil’s wide-eyed at his surroundings, like a toddler in Ikea who’s lost his parents. The unique thing here is Phil doesn’t take anything for granted. His reaction, in fact, is much like yours or mine when first confronted with Asian soup macarons, or a hundred-year egg, or sounds from the forest live-streamed to a speaker on your plate. And if the food’s not actually to his liking, he’ll tell you.
Looking for something a bit meatier? Here are 5 serious food documentaries that will change the way you eat.