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The 10 Best Food TV Shows of 2018

A look back at the series that offered fresh perspectives on cooking and dining this year

A scene from Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat
Netflix

This post originally appeared on December 21, 2018, in “Eat, Drink, Watch” — the weekly newsletter for people who want to order takeout and watch TV. Browse the archives and subscribe now.

Happy Friday afternoon. I hope that you’re either on vacation as you read this, or ready to punch out and sail through the door. If you’ve got some downtime coming your way over the next two weeks, I highly recommend catching up on the amazing food TV episodes that were released over the last year. Here’s my list of the shows that were a cut above the rest.


Ash Heeger and Alex Haupt
Netflix/The Finale Table

10) The Final Table

Watch it on: Netflix
The gist: Netflix’s bombastic culinary competition — featuring 24 talented competitors from around the globe, and nine famous legends as the judges — didn’t quite deliver on its promise of reinventing the culinary showdown series, but it did prove to be an addictive spectacle to marathon watch, once you got through all those introductions in the first episode. With tighter storytelling and a more inclusive approach to casting, I think this show could really find its groove in Season 2 — that is, if the Netflix executives deem it worthy of second round. [Read more]


9) The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell

Watch it on: Netflix
The gist: In 2018, Netflix excelled at taking unique food personalities with cult followings and turning them into major TV stars. Model/actress/designer/baker Christine McConnell is arguably one of the biggest breakout talents of the year in that regard. Her scripted series is something like The Addams Family if Morticia was trying to be Martha Stewart. The titular curious creations are far too complicated to try at home, but it’s a lot of fun watching Christine walk through each meticulous step of these elaborate desserts. [Read more]


Nicole Byer and Jacques Torres
Courtesy of Netflix

8) Nailed It!

Watch it on: Netflix
The gist: Come for the hilarious cake fails, stay for the witty banter between hosts Nicole Byer and Jacques Torres. Netflix created a one-of-a-kind food show that has both a wicked sense of humor and a TV-PG rating, so it’s suitable for the whole family. The production design got a little more outlandish with each new season (three were released in 2018), and Byer and Torres became increasingly more fluid with their rapport. If you’re new to the Nailed It! phenomenon, consider checking out the Season 1 finale, where the bakers try to recreate a cake shaped like Donald Trump’s head. [Read more]


Amazon Prime/Eat. Race. Win.

7) Eat. Race. Win.

Watch it on: Amazon Prime
The gist: This Amazon Original is the most criminally-overlooked food show of 2018. The series follows Noma veteran Hannah Grant as she cooks the meals for the Orica-Scott racing team during the Tour de France. Grant’s philosophy is that the athletes should get not only the calories they need, but also a bit of cultural stimulation and local terroir with each course. The bizarre magic of this show is that it manages to effortlessly weave a sports narrative into the action in a way that’s broadly appealing, even if you don’t care about the Tour de France or cycling in general. [Read more]


Courtesy of Netfilx

6) Queer Eye

Watch it on: Netflix
The gist: The reboot of this early 2000s basic cable hit is both smarter and more heartfelt than the original, and it gave the world a new food star in Antoni Porowski, the healthy gourmand who really doesn’t care what you think about his avocado recipes. Showrunner David Collins and his team made the smart choice to broaden the scope of the show so that, unlike the original version, it’s not just about cis dudes getting magic makeovers: Some of the most powerful moments are in the episodes focusing on Sky (a trans man undergoing top surgery), AJ (a gay man coming out to his family), and Tammye (a mom who’s a cancer survivor). [Read more]


Cristina Martinez
Courtesy of Netflix

5) Chef’s Table, Season 5

Watch it on: Netflix
The gist: After listening to the feedback about how their series skewed too male and too white, filmmaker David Gelb and his crew delivered a much more diverse season of Chef’s Table that also happens to be the best in terms of both narrative depth and culinary appeal. The Bo Songvisava and Musa Dağdeviren episodes tell stories of chefs who found themselves by digging into the historical cuisines of their respective homelands, while the Albert Adria chapter focuses on how the Spanish innovator is stepping out of shadow of his brother, Ferran, and the legendary restaurant they ran together, El Bulli. But the episode about South Philly Barbacoa chef/owner Cristina Martinez is arguably the most moving installment of the entire series: An illegal immigrant and activist, Martinez found wild success in North America by reclaiming a dish that was once synonymous with the abusive relationship in Mexico that she fled from years ago. [Read more]


Sweetbitter/Starz

4) Sweetbitter

Watch it on: Starz, YouTube, Amazon Video, Google Play
The gist: Based on Stephanie Danler’s novel of the same name, Sweetbitter is a thoughtful coming-of-age story masquerading as a dishy soap opera. So many moments in this show ring true to the rhythms of life in a busy restaurant, where power dynamics shift quickly, sometimes for the better, often for the worse. The cast is uniformly excellent, but special praise goes to star Ella Purnell, who plays restaurant world ingenue Tess, and Caitlin Fitzgerald, who portrays her enigmatic quasi-mentor Simone. I’m still surprised that more people didn’t catch onto the sly charms of Sweetbitter this year, but I’m thrilled that Danler and showrunner Stu Zicherman are working on a new season for 2019. [Read More]


David Chang and David Choe
Netflix

3) Ugly Delicious

Watch it on: Netflix
The gist: With a kinetic visual style, eclectic group of experts, and omnivorous approach to the world of comfort food, this Netflix series from David Chang and Morgan Neville feels like the TV successor toLucky Peach, the dearly departed quarterly magazine from the Momofuku chef and esteemed cookbook author/editor Peter Meehan (who’s also featured throughout the show). It’s a blast to watch Chang and his crew hit up some of the world’s greatest culinary destinations, but the real heart of Ugly Delicious lies in the conversations that the chef and his friends — including Eater NY editor Serena Dai — have about who gets to cook, eat, and claim ownership over certain dishes. Chang and Neville will continue to explore the connection between food and identity during Season 2, which will likely land on Netflix next year. [Read more]


In a scene from this week’s Parts Unknown, Anthony Bourdain sits for a meal with guests including musician Serj Tankin at the guest house, Daravand, in Dilijan, Armenia. Josh Ferrell

2) Parts Unknown, Seasons 11 and 12

Watch it on: Amazon Video, iTunes, Google Play
The gist: Taken together, these two seasons — one of which aired right before Anthony Bourdain’s tragic death, and the other a few months after — are a testament to how much the Kitchen Confidential author changed the food TV landscape. The Armenia and Kenya installments manage to tell big, complicated stories within the culinary travel show format. The Hong Kong and Berlin chapters highlight Bourdain’s flair for making TV that felt like cinema. And the Lower East Side finale is essentially a showcase for the artists that inspired Bourdain as a young man — it’s a fitting farewell to a guy who always chased his curiosities on screen. [Read more]


Netflix

1) Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat

Watch it on: Netflix
The gist: 2018 was the year that Samin Nosrat, previously a darling of the cookbook world, became a full-fledged TV star. The Netflix show based on her book of the same name was seemingly the only thing everyone could agree on this year. Although the cooking lessons that end each episode of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat are useful, it’s the scenes where Samin cooks alongside aunties and grandmas in home kitchens that make this series such a delight. By demystifying the science behind popular kitchen techniques, while also celebrating the craft of cooking, Nosrat and director Caroline Suh are leading the charge for a new kind of food TV. Hopefully we’ll see more television in the vein of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat flying across the airwaves in 2019. [Read more]


Also of note: If you’re a fan of any of the shows on this list, you might want to also check out Eater’s TV collaboration with PBS, No Passport Required, which features Marcus Samuelsson visiting immigrant communities in six American cities. The whole thing is available to stream on Eater and PBS.org.

I hope you have a great rest of 2018. I look forward to sharing some new TV recommendations with you in January.