This past year, a food-based, fictional TV show hit fans hard. FX’s The Bear focuses on a young, internationally renowned fine dining chef’s efforts to keep his family’s Italian beef hole in the wall running. The show’s become a cultural phenomenon, instilling hope in line cooks in the greasiest spots in the country and turning “yes, chef” into one of the sexiest phrases of the year.
This one show has served to remind us just how good food TV can be. It’s inspired us to think about some of our other favorite food television series’, documentaries, and films.
Fair warning: you won’t see some of the standard food films and other media here. We’ve skipped some well known favorites like Babette’s Feast, Chocolat, Chef, and Big Night even though they’re classics. We’ve skipped things on the Food Network, A&E and YouTube. We didn’t even include classics like series from Julia Child, Jacque Pepin, the two of them together, and the iconic Iron Chef.
So, what did we pick? Without further ado, here are some of our favorite pieces of food media.
The Bear (2022) – If Anthony Bourdain and fellow FX critical darling Rescue Me procreated, the result would look something like The Bear. The show accurately portrays kitchen stress that goes on behind the swinging doors separating dining rooms from stoves, sinks and work areas. At the same time, it shows exactly how success can turn up the dials on this kind of stress. Each episode features both exhaustion and an unrelenting passion for food. In particular, a scene portraying a family cooking brachiola together reminds us of what a good meal is all about. Watch it on Hulu or FX.
Sriracha (2013) – Most people have sriracha somewhere in their house. We don’t think about it much, we just use it. But this summer, we had cause to take it a little less for granted as a shortage impacted production. People couldn’t find it,they missed it. While there were other hot sauces available, nothing quite compares when you’re craving sriracha..
Griffin Hammond’s amazing indie documentary talks about the success behind the brand. It addresses how they make the hot sauce, what it takes to build a food business, and exactly how it happens that a food business can become an icon with bottles on restaurant tables and t-shirts in Target. Watch it on Peacock or Amazon Prime.
Delicious (2022) – As we’ve mentioned, we love well-done, narrative, food films including Big Night, Chocolat, and Chef. That being said, Eric Bresnard’s Delicious, the fictionalized story of the first French restaurant, is our favorite. Boasting deeply nuanced performances, its beautifully realized characters and scenes that reveal an abiding love of food and cooking are framed by scenery inspired by 17-century paintings. These components meld together like good soup to create a powerful representation of the emergence of French cuisine. Watch it on Amazon Prime.
High on the Hog (2021) – Host Steven Satterfield’s series appears to aim at being the food-equivalent of the 1619 project, highlighting African-American influence on what we eat today. The series teaches us about recipes and food history while showing us beautiful, sometimes historic kitchens. It also explores the slave experiences in American founding father’s households including that Thomas Jefferson’s slave James Hemmings brought mac and cheese here, Martha Washington took credit for recipes from her slave Herclules, and that George Washington moved strategically between Philadelphia and Virginia so that he didn’t need to free his slaves. Season 2 is coming this fall and we can’t wait. Watch it on Netflix.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2012) – This documentary is enthralling and meditative as it chronicles 96-year old sushi master chef Jiro Ono working in Sukiyabashi Jiro, his 10-seat restaurant located in a Tokyo subway station. Known as one of the greatest living sushi craftsmen, Jiro Ono’s incredibly small restaurant has famously earned three Michelin stars and hosted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, David Beckham, and U.S. President Barack Obama. The film shows his methods and focuses on his two sons, also sushi chefs, one of whom is poised to take over the space when his father retires. Roger Ebert called it a “portrait of tunnel vision,” remarking on Jiro’s hyper-awareness of every aspect of and happening in his restaurant and, ultimately, his life.. Late French Chef Joel Robuschon said that the restaurant was one of his favorites and that sushi could be art. This movie shows why. Watch it on Hulu.