We live in a golden age of food programming. For many years, there were just a handful of food and cooking shows on TV. Great chefs like Julia Child, Martin Yan, and Jacques Pepin set the stage for the wealth of food shows that hit the airwaves over the past 30 years.
There’s no shame in admitting it—many foodies and expert culinarians first fell in love with cooking by watching it on television!
We asked some of the professional chefs at Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts to share some of their favorite cooking shows. Read on, then fire up Netflix or YouTube to get inspired!
Netflix knows what people like. So when they decided to make their first-ever documentary series, they chose to focus on food with the award-winning Chef’s Table.
The show brings you behind-the-scenes into the lives and kitchens of world-renowned chefs to get their stories and see how they work. Each episode focuses on one particular chef, with famous American names like Grant Achatz (of Alinea) and Christina Tosi (of Milk Bar), plus other brilliant chefs from all over the world.
As Escoffier Pastry Arts Instructor Denise Spooner explains, Chef’s Table is great because it “really hones in on one restaurant, baker, or chef each episode…[so we see] what is going on in various aspects of our industry and new exciting techniques that are happening.”
Chef Instructors Billie Sutton and Christopher Moore agree, including the show among their favorites as well. “Their passion and focus on the craft truly shines through,” says Moore.
Side note: Chef’s Table was created by David Gelb, who also directed the beautiful documentary film Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Watch it if you haven’t yet!
“It’s important to see and know amazing chefs around the world and keep learning from them.”
Escoffier Pastry Arts Instructor Denise Spooner
Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown
Long before he was a household name, the late Anthony Bourdain was a New York City chef. He started to gain national notice through his writing, where he pulled back the curtain on the Wild West of the kitchen in books like Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly.
After achieving some success and notoriety as a writer, he turned to hosting travel and food shows. He had several successful programs under his belt, including No Reservations and The Layover on The Travel Channel. His last program was called Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown on CNN. The show follows Bourdain on his travels through places as diverse as Myanmar, Colombia, Libya, Congo, South Africa, Japan, and more.
Part of the show’s appeal is that Bourdain generally eschews fine dining and upscale restaurants in favor of seeing how the locals eat. Roadside food stands, small neighborhood joints, and people’s homes are open to him, which lets the viewer get an unfiltered look at both the culture and Bourdain’s magnetic personality.
“Every episode was real, and like life, there were no retakes. Anthony Bourdain traveled the world, explored local cuisine, and opened my eyes and heart to world topics and other political views I never would have even thought about.”
Michelle Hall, Escoffier Chef Instructor, Baking & Pastry Arts
As far as cooking competitions, Bravo’s Top Chef takes the cake.
After 18 seasons, it’s still one of the most popular cooking competitions on television. It has spawned eight spin-offs, and propelled the careers of competitors like Kristen Kish and Sam Talbot.
Each season is filmed in a different city, usually in the U.S. The challenges and cuisines on the show are often influenced by the filming city—deep dish pizza in Chicago, or a picnic for Capitol Hill interns in Washington, DC. Episodes include two challenges—a Quickfire Challenge and an Elimination Challenge. The Quickfire is a fast-paced task, usually completed in an hour or less. The Elimination Challenges are more involved and complex, often including several courses. This meal is tested by the judges and critiqued, with one (or more) chefs being crowned the challenge winner, and one (or more) being eliminated from the show. The last chef standing at the end of the season is the Top Chef.
Chef Denise Spooner likes it for the sense of community it creates among various chefs from around the country. Both the participants and the viewers get exposed to techniques and dishes they may not have encountered before, even after years in the industry.
“The chefs get to really learn about the current location of the season, the local foods, customs, restaurants and history. We also get to follow along with their journey and growth as a chef throughout the season. The culinary industry is hard and seeing even professionals with years of experience make mistakes or struggle then overcome it and succeed makes it so much more relatable.”
Escoffier Pastry Arts Instructor Denise Spooner
James Beard Award-winning chef David Chang hosts this rollicking trip around the world to explore local cuisines—regardless of their presentation.
Ugly Delicious has a similar premise to Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. But Chang himself is a very unique host, so the show has a feel all its own. Part of that is helped by the many comedic guest stars that travel and eat with Chang, like Nick Kroll, Jimmy Kimmel, Kate McKinnon, and Ali Wong. These travel companions give Chang the ability to joke around as they sample foods around the world together.
“The viewer should pay particular attention to what is asked and said by the chefs in the shows. Their passion and focus on the craft truly shines through.”
Escoffier Chef Instructor Christopher Moore
French Food at Home
What about a good old-fashioned cooking show in the tradition of Julia Child? This particular classic format includes just a chef, a home kitchen, and some delicious recipes.
Online Pastry Chef Instructor Steve Konopelski likes the early 2010s show French Food at Home, hosted by James Beard Award winner Laura Calder. Laura walks viewers through everyday French dishes like coq au vin and tarte tatin, with ease and enthusiasm. The recipes make French cuisine approachable, instead of intimidating, for the home chef.
The show won its James Beard Award for Best Cooking Show in a Fixed Location. It only ran for three seasons, but with Calder’s unassuming style, cute kitchen, and French-music background, it’s a soothing foil to today’s fast-paced cooking competitions and travel shows.
By the way, you can check out Chef Steve’s own cooking show, The Sweet Life of Steve, on his YouTube channel!
“The success of Hello Fresh and the like should be showing us that there is a desire for people to cook something that requires more than just 5 ingredients. I think people really want to cook and bake.”
Escoffier Online Pastry Chef Instructor Steve Konopelski
While these shows are entertaining, they can also be a great source of education and inspiration for cooks and chefs!
Maybe frequent global travel is out of reach right now, but if you follow the journeys of David Chang or Anthony Bourdain, you can still be introduced to new world cuisines. Watch the Top Chef contestants race around to get a masterclass in efficiency and staying calm under pressure. Meet the experts on Chef’s Table to absorb their lessons and be inspired. And cook along with Laura Calder to practice French technique and reconnect with the joy of cooking French food.
There’s always more to learn in the exciting world of culinary arts.
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