I’m a modest cook at best. Most days I’ll do soups, stir fry, oven bakes, or casseroles and call it good. If I’m feeling fancy, I may grab a veggie I don’t usually cook with—fennel, chard, beets, parsnips, artichoke—and go for it. If I’m feeling really fancy I go out to eat. There’s a limit to my culinary abilities. However, there is no limit to my love for food. You are reading Fernweh & Food, right? Half travel, half food, half whatever I want it to be because that’s how math works.
When it comes to cooking shows my eyes are much bigger than my stomach. I’ve watched everything. The classics—Julia Childs, Ina Garten (God bless our sweet, loving icon and her hand-churned butter!), Iron Chef, and Paula Deen before she was racist. The modernists—Chopped, Cutthroat Kitchen, Master Chef. And many many more. I consume cooking shows as if I need them for sustenance. So, if you need an hour (or year, or century) to kill and want to look at food in a whole new way, here are some of my favorites.
This is about as highbrow as I get when it comes to television. Take into account that (in a regrettable past) I have watched Duck Dynasty stuff a duck into a chicken into turkey and you can see exactly how campy I can get. This is the opposite of all that. Chef’s Table is about cinematography and class and prestige and excellence and, above all, food. If you haven’t yet heard about it from one of its cult-like followers, color me shocked.
Why You Should Watch: Each episode profiles a chef that is at the top of their game. Many of the chef’s profiled have restaurants in the top 50, if not top 10, in the world. Each has been awarded Michelin stars, James Beard awards, AA rosettes, and many other symbols of recognition for simply being so great at highlighting their local cuisine. The food is beautiful, but watching the rise of many of these chefs to greatness is incredible.
Find it on: Netflix
Favorite Episodes: Grant Achatz (Season 2, Episode 1), Alex Atala (Season 2, Episode 2), Enrique Olvera (Season 2, Episode 4), Ivan Orkin (Season 3, Episode 4), and Jordi Roca (Season 4, Episode 3)
Binging with Babish
I had to throw in a non-traditional cooking show here, and I freaking love Babish. What makes Andrew Rea, the voice and hands behind Binging with Babish, so great? #1) Sexy forearms with a badass chef tattoo, #2) relatable content, #3) deep voice, #4) food. It always comes back to the food.
Why You Should Watch: Rea has two channels he updates on a weekly basis. On the first, Binging, Rea walks through his version of a dish from popular entertainment—a Krabby Patty burger from SpongeBob, lots of edibles from Frasier, and the delicious food from the Greatest Culinary Movies of All Time™ Ratatouille and Chef. They’re tied, I can’t make a decision. The second channel, Basics with Babish, is a breakdown of how to make a simple ingredient really really well. His steak episode is a borderline sensual journey into how to properly cook different cuts of meat. Needless to say, I’m a fan of both sides of the Babish equation and devour each with equal intensity.
Find it on: Youtube
Favorite Episodes: Pasta Aglio e Olio from “Chef” (Season 1, Episode 4), Carbonara from “Master of None” (Season 1, Episode 29), Sauces from Basics (Season 1, Episode 2), Chicken Breasts that Don’t Suck from Basics (Season 1, Episode 5)
A Chef’s Life
Not having been to Vivian Howard’s restaurants is one of the biggest tragedies of me leaving North Carolina, just behind leaving behind all my family and friends. Seriously, going to her restaurant is the first thing on my NC bucket list. Tragically She is a culinary goddess and the way that she cooks in the show is insane. Let me break it down.
Why You Should Watch: The premise of the show is pretty simple—follow the not-so-quiet life of an award-winning chef in a very quiet place. Howard lives in deep-country Kinston, North Carolina and is chef and owner of The Chef and The Farmer, a restaurant well-known for just damn good food. She takes farm-to-table seriously and personally vets the local vendors whose produce, meat, and products she uses in her food. Mishaps ensue—one time an absolutely insane amount of blueberries are accidentally purchased, leading to Howard not only including blueberries in every single dish on her menu, but coming up with a blueberry barbecue sauce that was so well-received that they now sell it in stores. She’s inventive, industrious, and shows that celebrity chefs are also just people, despite their brilliance.
Find it on: Amazon Prime Video
Favorite Episodes: Blueberries and Boiling Over (Season 2, Episode 1), Don’t Tom Thumb Your Nose at Me! (Season 5, Episodes 4 & 5), Eggs a Dozen Ways (Season 2, Episode 13)
The Final Table
This, the newest TV show to release, has made waves due to its international approach to cooking—placing top American chefs against and alongside those from France, Mexico, India, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Jamaica, and more. It’s over-the-top drama, but free of the gimmicks that plague (or embellish, depending on your point-of-view) shows like Cutthroat Kitchen or Chopped.
Why You Should Watch: Twenty four of the top chefs in the world compete with and against each other in order to wow and impress not only celebrity judges but also celebrity food critics, actors, models, and singers in ten rounds of competition. In each episode, contestants must complete a dish from a given country and be judged. The teams who are deemed least worth go on to an elimination round judged by a renowned chef from that country—Grant Achatz from the US, Clare Smyth from the UK, Helena Rizzo from Brazil. In typical cooking competition style, only one chef will join the final table.
Find it on: Netflix
Favorite Episodes: I haven’t reached the finale yet, but I’ve really loved each episode. The standout thus far is Season 1, Episode 2, in which contestants made paella and later on faced off against Chef Andoni Aduriz, who was an animated and dynamic judge.
So there you have it. Feast your eyes, and less-so your stomachs, on some high quality food TV. XoXx, a very well-fed Fernweh