It’s been said that the rise of celebrity chefs and head-to-head cooking shows has coincided with our general inability in the kitchen. For some this may hold true: with a busy life and access to convenience food, watching other people make food is preferable to standing over the stove yourself. But perhaps now that we all seem to have nothing but time at home, there’s more scope to get into the kitchen – or just binge on your favourite comfort-cooking shows.
If ever there was a cook for our present predicament it’s Nigella Lawson. “I need to be alone with my sandwich now,” she says in the intro to At My Table (ABC iView). “Life can be complicated, cooking doesn’t have to be” is a throw away line that seems prescient. More than just a TV cook, with her looks to camera down pat, Lawson is foremost a food writer, and one of the best. It’s this wealth of knowledge, and knack for knowing what we want to eat beyond the fickle fashions of the restaurant world, that comes through in a show you can cook from without intimidation.
“It’s fucking schnitzel time”: Matty Matheson sounds intimidating on It’s Suppertime (SBS On Demand), but he drops as many practical hints as he does f-bombs. These 21-minute episodes are packed with how-tos on much needed comfort foods, from meatloaf, to ramen and banh mi, a 10-day-brined corned beef (we have the time) and yes, that “fucking schnitzel”.
For those that love to eat, travel, and travel to eat, we are in constrained times. In the post-Bourdain television landscape, Netflix is home to his most likely successor. The food travelogue space is crowded, but David Chang’s Ugly Delicious is required viewing, a mix of the Momofuku magnate’s bluntness and a line-up of modern culinary greats. His spin off, Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner is proof (perhaps) that Hollywood has a renewed appetite for our food programming. A stoner’s delight, the first episode sees actor, writer and producer Seth Rogen guide Chang around his native Vancouver. A whole different kind of bake-off ensues.
Movie polymath Jon Favreau teams up with LA chef and food truck legend Roy Choi for The Chef Show (Netflix), jumping from Goop HQ with Gwyneth Paltrow (Favreau’s Marvel franchise co-star), to a tribute episode to the late-great LA Times critic, Jonathan Gold, and Austin-based BBQ savant Aaron Franklin. You suspect Favreau – who has worked across the biggest cinematic franchises, including Marvel, Star Wars and Disney live-action remakes – is in it for the kick of cooking with Choi, who helped him train for his role in Chef (the 2014 film he also wrote, directed and produced).
Broken Bread (Amazon Prime) sees Choi take top billing. While he’s known for his roots in the food truck scene – his Kogi truck serving up his famed Korean Short Rib Taco – he’s gone on to build a small empire. Locol, his now shuttered fast food concept, looked to tackle food inequalities, first in Watts and then America wide. Broken Bread sees Choi explore the food politics afflicting his native Los Angeles, meeting gang members turned bakers, mayor Eric Garcetti, and those taking aim at the “food desert” of the inner city. “Food doesn’t just nourish us when we’re hungry, it can be a catalyst for change,” says Choi. It’s a show that’s full of redemption, and most importantly at the moment, hope.
Then there are the homegrown offerings. With a genuine zeal and curiosity, Adam Liaw has secured his spot as one of the most watchable hosts of the food travelogue genre that SBS has mined over the years. All seasons of Destination Flavour (SBS On Demand) are now streaming; a return to his Japanese odyssey should be on anyone’s viewing roster. Meanwhile, the journey of former food critic Matthew Evans to Tassie farmer and restaurateur, Gourmet Farmer (SBS On Demand), is a salve for the soul in these times. The thought of retreating to the Apple Isle for a bucolic tree change is surely on the minds of many right now – if border restrictions weren’t so tight.
When I last wrote on the Netflix revolution in food programming, some commenters felt I’d misjudged our homegrown talent as I’d labelled them predictable and lacking in creativity. I admit now that there are exceptions, but also that the predictable and familiar can offer needed comfort in uncertain times.