Welcome back to Friday afternoon, a time to dip your mozzarella sticks into as much marinara sauce as you like. We’re smack dab in the middle of a very exciting month for food TV. Here are some notes on things to watch this weekend, plus a roundup of the week’s entertainment news.
Samin’s global search for deliciousness
Netflix’s new food series Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat follows chef/author Samin Nosrat around the world as she explores the four main elements of good cooking. Nosrat is a charming host, and there’s a good chance that you’ll learn something in each episode. But the real reason to check out Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, especially if you’re a close watcher of food media trends, is to see how Samin and director Caroline Suh have cooked up a completely new style of culinary TV show.
Most food shows fit into one of five buckets: stand-and-stir (Pioneer Woman, Barefoot Contessa), game show (Chopped, Top Chef), chat show (The Kitchen, The Chew), profile series (Chef’s Table, Mind of a Chef), or travel show (Triple D, Parts Unknown). Although Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat has elements of some of these formats, the show approaches its subject matter — cooking — from a completely new angle. By using a mix of dish demonstrations, conversations with chefs and artisans, and montages that incorporate stock footage and food photography, the series aims to demystify the finer points of cooking so that anyone can take control of their kitchen.
The show’s closest sibling is Ugly Delicious, another Netflix food series that premiered earlier this year. But unlike that program, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is much less focused on famous people and dishes, and much more concerned with finding a common ground between all of the great food communities of the world.
Many of Salt, Fat Acid, Heat’s biggest ideas were first established in Nosrat’s James Beard Award-winning book of the same name. But the show also tosses in some new elements, notably scenes where Samin has on-camera experiences that help her further understand the four big pillars of cooking she outlined in her book. In the “fat” episode, you can sense the joy of discovery that the author feels when she sees a focaccia-maker apply finishing touches to his dough before putting it in the oven. And in the “salt” episode, you witness Nosrat having an “aha” moment while sampling a rich and supremely salty soy sauce made in an old-fashioned style using massive wooden barrels. The message, it seems, is that even if you’re a culinary expert, the quest for knowledge is never over.
In addition to having an innovative approach to its subject matter, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat also breaks new ground by featuring more female chefs and people of color on screen than any other food show on TV. The show also treats home cooks with the same level of respect as restaurant chefs. As Nosrat explained to me in a recent conversation, she made a conscious decision to include people who are not often featured on television, and she hopes to keep following this direction with future projects.
Beyond the conceptual innovations, I love the look and feel of this show. Suh recently told me that she and Samin drew inspiration from the movie 20th Century Women and the films of Alexander Payne while making Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. To my eyes at least, I see the connection, since there’s something very sunny and even Californian about the aesthetic and overall vibe of this show.
All four episodes of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat are now available to stream on Netflix.
Streaming recommendations du jour
I Feel Bad, “Pilot”
The gist: This new show about three generations of an Indian-American family living in San Francisco has shades of previous sitcom hits Modern Family, The Big Bang Theory, and Fresh Off the Boat. The best part, by far, is the relationship between protagonist Emet, played by comedian Saraya Blu, and her octogenarian mom Maya, played by cookbook legend/esteemed actress Madhur Jaffrey.
Early in the pilot, Maya tells her daughter, “I was a very good mother — it’s not possible for me to have made all those healthy, healthy snacks and still screw you up.” When Emet reminds her of the time that she threw a shoe at her daughter, Maya replies, “And you would duck like a tiger, because of all those healthy, healthy snacks.” Jaffrey crushes every one of her punchlines.
Like all pilots, this one crams a lot of business into its running time, but thankfully, the cast has good chemistry and there are a few genuinely funny jokes scattered throughout. It looks like, if given enough time to find its groove, I Feel Bad could become another sitcom winner for NBC.
Big Chicken Shaq, “Shaq’s Got Some Big News”
Watch it on: Facebook Watch
The gist: Shaquille O’Neal’s new reality show feels pretty half-baked at times, but it’s always at least marginally entertaining thanks to the former NBA star’s jovial sense of humor — he’ll do anything for an easy, G-rated laugh.
The show covers the opening of his Las Vegas chicken restaurant— called Big Chicken — and, in a somewhat novel twist, Shaq is letting Facebook users help influence his decisions at this new business venture. In the pilot, after sampling desserts that his chef/partners prepared, Shaq turns to the camera and asks viewers to vote on whether the restaurant should serve a banana pudding ice cream sandwich. He wasn’t a fan of the dish, but if enough people want to eat it, the dessert could land on the menu when the restaurant opens soon.
The stakes are pretty low — does anyone really care if his strip-mall fried chicken sandwich restaurant is a success or not? — but it will be interesting to see if the show’s viewer polling gimmick takes off. In the best case scenario, this could potentially lead to choose-your-own-adventure TV. Although, considering the general lack of buzz surrounding Facebook Watch, it seems unlikely that this trend will take off.
In other entertainment news…
- Top Chef contestant Fatima Ali wrote an essay for Bon Appetit this week detailing her terminal cancer diagnosis. Her former co-star Adrienne Cheatham set up a GoFundMe page to help cover her medical bills.
- Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe recently moonlighted as a fact-checker at the New Yorker, where his duties included calling a restaurant to make sure all the info in a review was correct.
- North Carolina chef/restaurateur/TV star Vivian Howard is selling grey “country as cornbread” t-shirts with proceeds going to benefit victims of Hurricane Florence. In other Howard news, the hour-long series finale of her PBS show A Chef’s Life is slated to air on October 22 at 9 p.m. on PBS.
- Anthony Bourdain’s editorial collaborator Laurie Woolever writes a touching essay about losing her writing partner and friend: “He’d often publicly expressed a sense of awe at his own good fortune, and was happy to use his own high profile and deep industry connections to help others get the recognition and opportunities he felt they deserved.”
- In other Bourdain news, the Indonesia episode of Parts Unknown is another dark entry in what is turning out to be an understandably heavy season.
- On a wildly different note, Snooki from Jersey Shore is getting a cooking show on YouTube.
- And finally, this week, Better Call Saul star Bob Odenkirk revealed that his Drunk History episode was the first time he actually got drunk in 30 years.
Have a great weekend everyone, and if you’re looking for a reason to fire up the grill, consider checking out this grilled salmon recipe from Ox in Portland.