Our 5 Favorite Food TV Shows of 2018
It’s nearly here: the most glorious TV-bingeing season of the year. For your sleepy post-gift-opening Christmas-day family bonding, your lengthy flights, your New Year’s Day after-brunch plans, there is a bushel of food-themed television from 2018 just waiting for you. It’s end-of-year list catch-up time, folks! Make some snacks. Throw on some pajamas. Dig in.
Food television in 2018 was electric. It embraced messes and home cooks, it played with visuals, and shone a light on topics that go way beyond a quick menu or a smile-plastered, moan-filled food tour of a far-off locale. Shows like the ones below cracked open some of the old food television paradigms. They took us to small towns and big, fed us big talk and small, threw us in kitchens, and told us jokes. They also made us absurdly hungry. Seriously, don’t jump into any of these seasons without some solid snack possibilities within reach.
Samin Nosrat makes home cooking look like this glorious, totally fun, completely doable adventure. And this is while she’s on actual adventures, gallivanting across the world and breaking down the basic elements of food with a series of experts. But while there are chefs and food writers in her crew, there are also home cooks who have perfected the same dishes in their kitchens after years of practice. In one episode she can swing from a stint at Chez Panisse to talking about Marshalls’ pans with her mom. Every shot is visually riveting, bursting with color and movement.
On Salt Fat Acid Heat, cooking feels alive. We get in the kitchen with Samin, we get our hands dirty, we pop ingredients in our mouths and pour tremendous glugs of olive oil. The experience of watching this show is sensuous and joyful and deeply satisfying.
What if a food competition was all about fun and trying and comedy? Nailed It! doesn’t offer the dulcet tones of The Great British Bake Off, or the burbling rage of your typical cooking competition. Competitors are true amateurs, turning out sloppy, flailing creations that you could easily make at home. It’s not aspirational, in the typical sense. But honestly, I aspire to try more stuff, to reach further, to let myself fail. That’s the beauty of baking! It’s an opportunity to do over-the-top projects and shake up your boundaries, expand your abilities, and laugh at your inherent flaws.
On Nailed It!, you watch people doing just that, paired with honestly the best competition host in the game. Nicole Byers is hilarious, charming, and kind. I wish she hosted everything. Give her more shows!
Chef’s Table has gotten (deserved) criticism on their prior seasons for featuring predominantly white, male chefs. In Season 5, their diverse slate of chefs shared stories about how food intersects with immigration, cultural traditions, and the environment. Every episode is fascinating, every story feels fresh and thrilling, especially when it’s paired with the signature heart-wrenchingly gorgeous Chef’s Table cinematography. This is the best season of Chef’s Table so far, and it’s exciting to see a beloved show continue to grow and improve with each iteration.
The Migrant Kitchen drops viewers into Los Angeles’ lauded and ever-expanding food scene, and uses area chefs and restaurants to dig into varied immigrant experiences. People are trying to keep traditions alive, they’re longing for a taste of home or the flavors and recipes of bygone generations. People are craving connection, community, and their next meal.
In Season 3, viewers go to Jewish delis and local sake breweries and Palestinian restaurants and encounter totally unique experiences with these huge universal themes. Food is this source of interconnectivity, and it’s served up with flawless storytelling and lingering shots of food that will make you raid your kitchen.
Season 12 of Parts Unknown is full of Bourdain’s signature quiet beauty. It uses food to bridge seemingly impossible gaps, it takes us to places we rarely see on TV, from Indonesia to Far West Texas. It feels like such a celebration of being alive, of being a part of something bigger than ourselves, of being hungry dust in a universe full of ever-more hungry dust and how we can connect over that. He shows us how we can feel more present and less alone and less afraid. He reveals how we can learn and grow and be right here with our feet on the ground and our mouths full. It shows how much he gave us, and how much he will be missed.