Thanks to the brave new world of streaming video (not to mention countless old-school Iron Chef episodes uploaded to YouTube), food-related programming is more pervasive than ever. Once you’ve got the basics under your belt — like Anthony Bourdain’s must-see travelogue Parts Unknown and PBS’s cerebral docu-series The Mind of a Chef (currently airing its fourth season) — then it’s time to catch up on some of the year’s newest food-focused media, from documentaries to television shows to films.
All of the following — some truly pure gems — came out in 2015 and are currently available on Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu for your instant-viewing pleasure — grab a family member (or don’t) and queue these up right now:
Master of None (Netflix)
No, this isn’t really a "food show": The first-ever season of comedian Aziz Ansari’s Netflix comedy Master of None has a laser focus on identity, family, and the absurdity of modern life — deftly pointing out how all three are often linked for better or worse. But according to Eater at the Movies critic Joshua David Stein, peripherally, it’s "the best television show about food in recent memory," a rare example that places food in the "context of foodies" and actually gets it right. Who to watch it with: Your obsessive-Yelper cousin, who will undoubtedly have opinions as to which New York City taco is really the best.
Image credit: Courtesy Netflix
The Great British Baking Show (Netflix, Amazon Prime)
The Great British Bake-Off (renamed stateside to The Great British Baking Show thanks to a certain copyright ownership by Pillsbury) is unlike any American reality competition. The season currently streaming online is actually the fifth "series" of the show (the sixth aired on PBS earlier this year), but it can be credited with kick-starting the show’s current place in the pop-culture imagination. Writes Jess Zimmerman in Eater’s Highly Recommended column about the phenomenon: "The real brilliance of the show is the way it balances that nail-biting tension with an ability to make you feel that there is good in the world after all." That, and all the cheeky puns thrown around by co-hosts Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins. Who to watch it with: Your grandmother, who will appreciate judge Mary Berry's style choices and genteel civility toward the contestants. Though really, watch this with anyone because it’s physically impossible for anyone to dislike this show.
Image credit: Courtesy BBCOne
MasterChef Junior (Hulu Plus)
Also known as the reality show that your under-12-year-old nieces and nephews are obsessed with, Fox’s MasterChef Junior is halfway through its fourth season of chef Gordon Ramsay giving small children knives and making adults feel inadequate. Chat with your cousin’s eight-year-old about whether or not she’d ever put a foamy ingredient on fish, then relish comedian Alison Leiby’s recaps and share any of those barbs you saved in mixed company with your laptop screen. Who to watch it with: Children; comedian Alison Leiby.
Image credit: Courtesy FOX
Chef’s Table (Netflix)
Netflix’s ambitious six-part documentary series varies from episode to episode, but according to Stein, it does offer "impressionistic character sketches of the chefs in question," many of whom (Francis Mallmann, Magnus Nilsson) cook at far-flung locations out-of-reach to the average viewer. Want to skip right to the good stuff? The best installments are devoted to Mallmann, Italian provocateur Massimo Battura, and Los Angeles chef Niki Nakayama, whose episode Stein calls "by far the most compelling." Who to watch it with: Your uncle who "just can’t comprehend why kids today take so many photos of their food"; any friend or family member who takes so many photos of their food.
Image credit: Courtesy Netflix
The Search for General Tso (Netflix)
Can something as ubiquitous as General Tso’s chicken really have a traceable provenance — and a fascinating one at that? In his five-star review of the documentary, Stein writes that The Search for General Tso filmmaker Ian Cheney "niftily traces the immigration, exclusion, diaspora, and evolution of the Chinese experience in America" through a plate of food that most Chinese nationals would never recognize. Who to watch it with: Your friend who swears by Panda Express at the mall food court.
Image credit: Courtesy TSFGT
Runoff (Netflix, Amazon Prime)
If your family members lie on differing sides of the GMO debate, this scripted drama about the horrors of agribusiness seems like an aggressive "movie night" choice. But, as Stein writes in his five-star review, "the film isn’t shrill or shouty," instead painting a complex portrait of how modern life (not just among farmers, but anyone who’s faced difficult choices) contributes to strife. After all, what could be a better family discussion than asking each other: "What decisions do basically good people make when put under incredible financial and familial stress?" Who to watch it with: Politically minded family members with whom you actually enjoy debating.
Image credit: Courtesy White Whale Pictures
Top Chef (Hulu Plus)
Is there still joy to be found in Top Chef? Bravo’s reality-show workhorse entered its 13th season this fall with a "new road trip through California theme," and while everyone’s overly familiar with the formula by now, there’s something oddly comforting to be found in the rhythmic repetition of quickfire/chef argument/elimination challenge/more chef arguments/tears/pack-your-knives-and-go. Hulu Plus is airing the current season — as well as all 12 previous ones for good measure. Who to watch it with: This one’s best watched by yourself and in the background — while you’re cleaning your apartment, polishing off a bottle of wine, or completing other assorted, passive-viewing activities. In case you miss something crucial, Eater’s Top Chef recapper Alison Leiby has your back.
Image credit: Dale Berman/Bravo
Deli Man (Amazon Prime)
The Jewish deli is dying. Documentary filmmaker Erik Greenberg-Anjou captures the last of a sadly disappearing breed in his doc Deli Man, but as Stein says in his five-star review, this film is anything but a "melancholy eulogy." Instead, Greenberg-Anjou smartly focuses on the "joyous world" of the delicatessen, from its larger-than-life operators to the Old World signifiers of its food. Who to watch it with: Grandparents who will gladly reminisce or kvetch about the delis of their youth; corned beef and pastrami enthusiasts of all ages.
Image credit: Courtesy Cohen Media Group
More From Eater
Sign up for the Sign up for Eater's newsletter
The freshest news from the food world every day