To quote myself, television is littered with lousy food shows. When I was writing a column about Anthony Bourdain and No Reservations, I decided to make a list of my favorite cooking and food shows of all time. Here it is:
1. The French Chef with Julia Child
As did many food lovers in my generation, I learned a different level, a different order of cooking, from Julia Child. These shows approached food with gusto, joy and seriousness. They transmit not just the love of food and cooking, but the technique. And technique matters. I still have some episodes downloaded on my iPhone through iTunes. And she’s still the greatest. More on me and Julia here.
2. The Complete Pépin
Jacques Pepin is a professional chef with an easy, clear approach to cooking. I devoured his two books, La Methode and La Technique, and combined with his shows, it’s a very accesibe culinary education. The ones he did with his daughter, if only because they allowed me to fantasize about marrying into the family.
3. Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home
This show was the best of both worls for me: Jacques’s expertise and ease in the kitchen with Julia’s sense of what people need and want to know. You can still get the book.
4. Rick Stein’s Taste of the Sea
Stein has a simple approach to the best seafood, and whoever produced this show was a pioneer in what it takes to create a beautiful, even sensuous and fast-paced cooking show. These shows were the first I’d seen that moved beyond rather stagnant shots of people cooking. Still, you learned a lot: as pretty as it was, it was pretty educational.
5. Baking with Julia
It’s not easy to teach the more exacting craft of baking and still make lively TV. Guess who did?
6. No Reservations
Julia took food seriously and herself not so much. She appreciated the role food plays in sustaining and ennobling culture. She ate heartily, swore happily, and drank mightily. Tony Bourdain, who doesn’t bother to teach you how to even scramble an egg, much less make Filet au Poivre or Paris Brest, is her rightful heir. Plus, he’s almost as tall as she was.
7. Mario Eats Italy
Of all the Mario Batali iterations, this one finds him at his most excitable and knowledgable. He shares his joy of the food and landscape and people of Italy and he cooks some uncommon, authentic dishes.
8. Iron Chef
It opened the floodgates to competition food shows, but it was a shocking wonderful spoof-able mess when it premiered, unstoppably watchable.
9. Top Chef
Less about cooking and food than it is about stilted reality show drama, but it does offer up insights into what it takes to be chef.
10. Kill It Cook It Eat It
I recently discovered this show on Current TV and I’ll be blogging more about it. Maybe it’s more a great idea for a show than a great show, but it does break ground.