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Spring 2015 TV Preview: Bourdain, BBQ With Franklin, and More

The food TV to catch this spring.

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Courtesy CNN

This preview originally ran March 23, 2015; it's been updated as of April 23.

After a solid winter of television premieres — most notably, ABC's groundbreaking sitcom Fresh Off the Boat, which has (still!) yet to be renewed as of this writing — late spring brings even more options to television screens. As previously reported, chef/host Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown returns for its fifth season on CNN in late April, with the ever-quotable host visiting far-flung locations like Lebanon, Madagascar, and South Korea. Meanwhile, Food Network's popular brand Chopped will roll out its fourth All-Stars installment, while Andrew Zimmern has already checked in for his 15th season of eating offal on Bizarre Foods.

New to the spring television line-up: Pitboss Aaron Franklin brings his popular YouTube series BBQ With Franklin (featuring many meat-driven road trips) to PBS stations, and CNBC's dramatic Consumed: The Real Restaurant Business promises to pull back the curtain on NYC's competitive food scene. And for your streaming pleasure, Netflix will drop all six episodes of its Jiro-like documentary series Chef's Table, promising an in-depth look at six of the world's most acclaimed chefs. Here's where to tune in this spring:

APRIL

Man Finds Food
Travel Channel, premiered April 1

Photo: Courtesy Travel Channel

Man Finds Food's spring 2015 debut represents a reprieve of sorts for television host Adam Richman (Man v. Food): The Travel Channel originally shelved the show back in summer 2014 after an Instagram tirade landed Richman in the center of controversy. Man Finds Food has already aired its entire first season on the Australian network 7mate, but now, the show is back on the Travel Channel line-up, promising episodes in which Richman seeks out "off-menu" dishes at "off-the-grid" restaurants in cities from Austin to Nashville to Philadelphia.

Best Bars in America & Brew Dogs
Esquire Network, premiered April 1

Photo: Brew Dogs/Facebook

The second season of Esquire Network's Best Bars in America — a tie-in to the print magazine's now-annual list — will once again feature hosts/comedians Jay Larson and Sean Patto traveling the country to drink kinda-responsibly. This season, the duo stop into bars in Louisville, Chicago, and Washington DC (among other cities), and special themed episodes throughout the season will seek out superlatives like the "best bar food" and "best bar games" in America (there are shot-skis). Meanwhile, the third season of Brew Dogs also made its debut on April 1, following Best Bars. This year, hosts James Watt and Martin Dickie add international distinctions to their itinerary, visiting breweries in Scotland, Berlin, Belgium, Mexico, and Vancouver in addition to five others stateside. At each stop, they work with brewers to create a unique beer; according to a season-three promo, Watt and Dickie also work in time to milk cows, go zip-lining, and race trucks on a track.

Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern
Travel Channel, premiered April 13

Photo: Courtesy Travel Channel

Intrepid host Andrew Zimmern returns for his 15th (!) season of eating weird stuff under the Bizarre umbrella (it's the eighth for the Bizarre Foods mothership, not counting spin-offs Bizarre Foods AmericaBizarre World, and the most recent incarnation, Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations, which featured comparatively normal food). The eighth season premiere of Bizarre Foods saw Zimmern traveling to Kazakhstan in order to feast upon sheep brains, fermented camel milk, and smoked horse sausage.

Parts Unknown
CNN, premieres Sunday, April 26

Photo: Courtesy CNN

Anthony Bourdain's anticipated travelogue returns for its fifth season on CNN, and in this eight-episode set, the ever-quotable host will visit five different countries (with three stops within the US: Hawaii, Miami, and New Jersey). The season premiere will follow Bourdain during his soju-filled weeklong trip to South Korea, and future episodes promise visits to Scotland, Beirut, Budapest, and Madagascar. The latter trip will feature an extended cameo by The Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky (who serves as Bourdain's traveling companion), while the Beirut season finale sees activist Joumana Haddad and CNN correspondent Nick Paton Walsh acting as guides.

Chef's Table
Netflix streaming, premieres Sunday, April 26

Netflix's ambitious six-episode documentary series — created by Jiro Dreams of Sushi filmmaker David Gelb — will drop all episodes, in true Netflix style, just after midnight on April 26. Each episode follows a different chef Gelb deems one of the "world's most ambitious," and his cameras land on six chefs spanning four continents: Massimo Bottura (Osteria Francescana) and Magnus Nilsson (Faviken) in Europe, Dan Barber (Blue Hill at Stone Barns) and Niki Nakayama (N/Naka) in the U.S., Francis Mallmann (El Restaurante Patagonia Sur) in South America, and Ben Shewry (Attica) in Australia. "When I'm plating a dish, there's a song that goes on in my head," Nakayama says in the series' beautiful trailer. "I don't know how to get rid of it." Expect similarly artistic remarks throughout Chef's Table, the streaming platform's first foray into reality/docu-series.

Spring Baking Championship
Food Network, premieres Sunday, April 26

Photo: Courtesy Food Network

Not to be confused with Food Network's Holiday Baking Championship or Kids Baking Championship (and definitely not to be confused with PBS's Great British Baking Show), this six-episode competitive series features eight professional bakers participating in challenges like making "flower-inspired cupcakes" and a patriotic Memorial Day cake. As in previously Baking Championships, Paula Deen's son Bobby has been tapped to host, while food television personalities Duff Goldman, Lorraine Pascale, and Nancy Fuller act as judges.

Chopped All-Stars
Food Network, premieres Tuesday, April 28

Chopped host Ted Allen. Photo: Facebook

Food Network will unleash the fourth All-Stars edition of its popular competition Chopped, and sadly, there's no celebrity episode this time around (so don't hold your breath for repeat appearances by Johnny Weir and Lou Diamond Phillips). Instead, Food Network is featuring professional chefs in its tournament of 16, with Mary Sue Milliken, Dale Talde, Michael Psilakis, and Art Smith among those competing. After the four-episode tournament, the finale will pit the four first-round winners against each other to compete for a $75,000 prize, to be donated to a charity of his or her choice.

May

Murder She Baked
Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, premieres Saturday, May 2

Alison Sweeney on the set of The Biggest Loser. Photo: Trae Patton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

This one-off made-for-TV movie is literally called Murder She Baked: A Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder Mystery, and sadly, there's no Angela Lansbury in sight. The film, starring soap stars Alison Sweeney and Cameron Mathison, is based on Joanne Fluke's best-selling novel Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder, one in a series following amateur detective/bakery owner Hannah Swensen (other titles from Fluke's series include Strawberry Shortcake Murder and Double Fudge Brownie Murder). Could a culinary mystery miniseries follow? Fingers crossed.

Consumed: The Real Restaurant Business
CNBC, premieres Wednesday, May 13

Screengrab: CNBC

Originally developed by the cable news network as Restaurant Confidential: New York, CNBC's dramatic documentary series Consumed: The Real Restaurant Business finally has a premiere date — not to mention its line-up of participating NYC restaurants. The eight-episode series will follow five restaurants in varying stages of their growth/decline: the multi-million-dollar brand Meatball Shop, the "neighborhood restaurant with national ambition" Melba's, "fading mom-and-pop" Ann & Tony's, the still-to-open Seamore's, and Eater NY shitshow hall-of-famer Vermilion. Unlike many other "behind-the-scenes" looks at restaurant life, Consumed reveals the nitty-gritty financial reality of these restaurants, giving viewers a look at the hard numbers behind NYC's "eat or be eaten" industry.

MasterChef
FOX, premieres Wednesday, May 20

Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

After judge Joe Bastianich’s departure last fall, Momofuku Milk Bar pastry queen Christina Tosi joins the judging panel of MasterChef, the cooking competition that also features Gordon Ramsay and Graham Elliot as the judge/mentors. (She's also signed on to judge its more charming pint-sized spin-off MasterChef Jr., with that season debuting later this year.) As in previous seasons, the fourth iteration of MasterChef features amateur cooks competing against each other for a cookbook deal and cash prize. Will Tosi come up with a better go-to compliment than Bastinaich's repetitive "I’d put this on my menu"? Time will tell.

BBQ With Franklin
PBS, premieres Thursday, May 21 in Austin (check local listings)

Screengrab: PBS

After a successful Indiegogo fundraising campaign, acclaimed pit master Aaron Franklin — of Austin's ever-line-inducing Franklin Barbecue — brings his YouTube series BBQ With Franklin to the (more traditional) small screen. The 10-episode series follows Franklin as he tours barbecue joints across Texas, focusing on specific topics like "Direct Heat & Mesquite," "Whole Hog," "Pickin’ Beef," and more. (In one episode, Franklin builds a smoker from a 250-gallon propane tank.) Check your local PBS station for specific air dates.

American Diner Revival
Food Network, premieres Friday, May 22

Chefs have been reviving old-school diner spaces en masse of late, so naturally, Food Network will bring cameras into the equation with its new show American Diner Revival. Host Ty Pennington (best known his work on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition) and chef/Chopped chopper Amanda Freitag (who revived NYC’s classic Empire Diner last year) will serve as hosts/helpers during the six-episode run, promising "physical" and menu makeovers to struggling diner owners. The duo will tackle diner makeovers in New York, Oklahoma, Michigan, and Virginia.

What the Fung?!
FYI Network, premieres Saturday, May 23

Comedians/rappers/brothers David and Andrew Fung — the duo behind YouTube channel FungBrosComedy and the viral video "Asians Eat Weird Things" — have landed their first-ever television show on the FYI Network. In the mold of Rachael Ray's mid-aughts Food Network show $40 a Day, What the Fung?! concentrates on cheap eats, challenging the high-energy brothers to feed themselves in an American city for just $50 a day. According to a press release, the Fungs will visit spots like New Orleans, Asheville, and Tampa, eating many tacos, taking many selfies, and dropping many social media-ready catchphrases.

Coming in June

· Southern Uncovered (Ovation): Acclaimed cookbook authors Matt and Ted Lee — better known collectively as the Lee Brothers — now have their own television series. Southern Uncovered will debut June 12, with each episode featuring the brothers' trip to a different Southern city, from Atlanta to Charleston to Dallas.

· Craziest Restaurants in America (Food Network): In the vein of Esquire Network's series like Best Bars in America, Food Network's Craziest Restaurants promises to take viewers into the most "outrageous, outstanding, and bizarre" food concepts throughout the country.

· Top Five Restaurants (Food Network): The producers behind Best Thing I Ever Ate and Knife Fight will bring Top Five Restaurants to Food Network this summer: Each episode will highlight — you guessed it — five spots that serve an exemplary version of the episode's theme (whether it's best burger restaurants, steakhouses, etc).

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