Food Matters: Best food shows streaming right now
“The Chef” at Aspen Shortsfest 2020 (19 min.)
At the 29th annual 2020 Aspen Shortsfest—which, for the first time, has gone virtual, screening via online access codes through April 5—is an untangling of tension that might arise if robots replace human labor in the culinary world. In Program 8’s “The Chef,” a Ken-doll-like humanoid joins an aging Chinese chef’s kitchen; while he excels at efficient execution, his calculated manner lacks cultural intuition.
Says Shortsfest director of programming Jason Anderson: “‘The Chef’ was a big favorite of the programmers for being thoughtful and (a) very unique combination of a near-future science-fiction tale about the impact of AI on our working lives that still includes some awesome cooking tips.” Purchase passes and access codes: aspenshowtix.com
When food first comes to the main character in the austere, abstract film “The Platform” — No. 5 on the Netflix Top Ten as of this writing — his appetite is MIA. And that might be partly the point of this Spanish riddle in which prisoners wait, Godot-style, in a cold, vertical prison for a picked-over smorgasbord to arrive from the floors above.
“It’s a miracle no one touched the snails,” our protagonist wonders aloud to his cellmate later, hungry at last. Eerie violin music punctuated by harsh metallic sounds sets the score.
While “The Platform” isn’t exactly what I envisioned while researching “new food movies,” it certainly intrigues the eye and twists the mind with strange feast montages and a heavy social message. Since we’re all sheltering in place during the coronavirus crisis until at least mid-April, what better time to snack upon streaming food media both freakish and fanciful?
Here are a few more — and far more pleasant, and educational — picks:
“Ugly Delicious” + “Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner”
Both hosted by David Chang, who brought us Momofuku, Lucky Peach magazine (RIP), and the first season of “The Mind of a Chef” in 2012, these shows feature his signature snappy style. While “Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner” (2019) is a cool escape, in which our intrepid guide samples food around the globe with celeb friends in tow, “Ugly Delicious” (2018, 2020) delves into the slightly more serious sociocultural aspects of specific foods. Ever curious, Chang intersperses field trips and expert interviews with mealtime discussions over beloved foods like barbecue, pizza, curry, and tacos. The first series, at just four parts, is easily inhaled. For the latter, begin with Season One Episode 7, “Fried Rice,” a comprehensive yet concise history on Chinese food in America. Netflix.com
“Sam the Cooking Guy”
Super accessible for a dude who boasts 1.62 million YouTube subscribers, “Sam the Cooking Guy” is a one-stop shop for folks who might be a bit freaked out about the prospect of feeding oneself all day, everyday, at home. Find concise how-to videos, including plenty that recreate fast-food favorites, and Q&A sessions that solve universal home-cooking quandaries. His latest videos focus on comfort food, as evidenced by the five-part (and counting) “Quarantine (Lockdown) Munchies.” YouTube.com
“The Chef Show”
Lively banter. Chef-personality guest stars. Stop-motion animation sequences that literally deconstruct each dish prepared. That’s the delicious comibation in this two-season Netflix docuseries by actor-director Jon Favreau and chef buddy Roy Choi, founder of L.A.-based Kogi empire and a Food & Wine Best New Chef. Together the duo sets out to make connections, cook food, and have fun—a combo the pair commenced while working on “Chef,” the 2014 feature film in which Favreau starred and directed and Choi advised. Netflix.com
Junk food fans who appreciate a DIY ethos will devour these bite-size videos filmed in the Bon Appétit Test Kitchen by food editor Claire Saffitz. Each childhood favorite is broken down step-by-step, and made with whole ingredients instead of unpronounceable fillers and preservatives. Pick your fix—Twix, Doritos, Twinkies, Gushers, Cheetos, Kit Kats, Skittles, Oreos, Twizzlers, Pringles, Cheez-Its, Girl Scout Cookies—and fall blissfully down a fudge-lined rabbit hole without the sugar crash. Bonappetit.com/video
“Explained: Why Diets Fail” (Season One) and “The Future of Meat” (Season Two)
This Netflix original series lives up to its name, showing viewers the whys and hows of topics most prevalent in modern society. While every 20-minute installment succeeds in debunking misconceptions and illustrating facts clearly, these two (of 30 total) are dedicated to eating. Bonus: “The Next Pandemic,” narrated by Bill Gates and released in November before coronavirus hit mainstream consciousness, is a must-watch PSA. Netflix.com
“Neat: The Story of Bourbon”
America’s only indigenous spirit enjoys a smooth-sipping documentary (2018) chronicling the history, people, and process of a wholly patriotic product. Undiluted, aged corn whiskey wasn’t always elegant, either. As the intro promises, “This is the story of grains, water, and wood. Of immigrants, farmers, businessmen, and criminals. Cold winters and hot summers. It’s the story of time.” Savor it. Hulu.com
“Restaurants on the Edge”
A fluffy combination of Kitchen Nightmares (sans brutal Gordon Ramsey badgering) and HGTV home makeover, this new Netflix reality transformation series visits the most frustrating of eateries: Those with a killer view paired with lackluster food and ambiance. En route to reviving these restaurants in peril and reigniting lost passion among owners, the chef-designer-restaurateur host trio unveil a universal recipe for success: authentic cultural tribute, comforting design, and local flavor, and offer nuts-and-bolts tips on how to, say, keep food costs down and drum up press. Admittedly, the genre can veer into cheeseball territory, but chapters here always wrap with a satisfying feel-good reveal. Netflix.com
“The Game Changers”
Fans of staying fit and athletes looking to gain a competitive edge will do well to watch this 2018 award-winning documentary produced by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan, and James Cameron, showcasing a tidy history of how veganism has risen to the top of the sporting food chain. Narrated by a former professional mixed martial artist and champion fighter who shares his personal journey, the film presents a mountain of evidence in support of a plant-based lifestyle. Netflix.com
Bravo’s long-running reality cooking competition is an oldie but goodie, in case you still haven’t explored it. All sixteen seasons (2006-2019) of the James Beard Award-winning “Top Chef” franchise are available on Hulu (free, during a 30-day trial). If you already miss the canceled 2020 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, head straight to Season 15, Episode 13, “A Little Place Called Aspen,” filmed outdoors on a bluebird June afternoon at T-Lazy-7 Ranch during the 2018 Classic. I’m there in the background! Hulu.com
“The Food That Built America”
Those who enjoy educational origin stories via easily digestible visuals will dig The History Channel’s “The Food that Built America,” available soon on Hulu (free with trial) or for purchase on Amazon Prime Video. Similar to the fascinating 2014 miniseries “The Men Who Built America,” this three-episode follow-up focuses on the innovations of food industry magnates boasting recognizable last names including Heinz, Hershey, Post, Kellogg, McDonald — “those who used brains, muscle, blood, sweat and tears to get to America’s heart through its stomach.” Rivalries — and delicious drama — ensue. The History Channel, Hulu.com, Amazon Prime
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Although some of life’s little luxuries, such as meeting friends to try out a new restaurant or bar, just don’t happen anymore, WineInk columnist Kelly Hayes has found that if you open a bottle of wine at home, and really focus on it, you can find a little luxury in a glass.