Food TV has a tendency to get stuck in the same holding patterns, where popular ideas just keep getting recycled over and over again. But good news for anyone who’s starting to feel fatigued by the glut of same-y cooking tutorials and mindless competitions: Over the next few months, several new shows will premiere, and some could completely change the food TV landscape forever.
Many of these series are being produced by Netflix, the streaming titan that’s seemingly hellbent on offering new shows to suit every taste. Some of them mix food with elements from other genres — comedy! horror! travel! — and a few feature fresh new faces in front of the camera. The rest of the fall pack is a mix of reliably enjoyable standbys, and new projects from food TV fixtures.
Here’s a guide to what to expect from the major food TV creators this fall, listed based on Eater Anticipation Levels:
Salt Fat Acid Heat
Major players: Samin Nosrat, Caroline Suh
Premiere: October 11
The gist: James Beard Award-winning author Samin Nosrat brings her bestselling book Salt Fat Acid Heat to the small screen in the form of a new Netflix docuseries. Each episode will tackle one of the main elements of cooking referenced in the title, in a format that mixes travel segments, Vox-style explainers, and kitchen demonstrations.
Nosrat and the show’s director, Caroline Suh, first worked together on the 2016 Michael Pollan Netflix miniseries Cooked. Even before Nosrat’s book came out, the filmmaker saw Samin’s star potential. “She has this infectious energy and joy, and everyone on the crew pretty much fell in love with her,” Suh says.
“The book is really about how you don’t even need a recipe to cook; that anyone should be able to cook as long as you understand these principals, which are universal,” Suh explains. “We decided to show that by traveling around the world and showing how different cuisines use salt or use acid.”
Samin will travel to Japan to learn about salt, Italy to understand fat, and Mexico to explore acid. The last episode, “Heat,” will feature scenes shot in the kitchen of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, where Nosrat first fell in love with cooking.
The Final Table
Major players: Enrique Olvera, Andoni Luis Aduriz, Clare Smyth, Helena Rizzo, Vineet Bhatia, Grant Achatz, Carlo Cracco, Yoshihiro Narisawa, Anne-Sophie Pic, and Andrew Knowlton
Premiere: TBA; likely October or November
The gist: This year, Netflix has dabbled in the cooking competition genre with the lighthearted series Nailed It! (about cake fails), Sugar Rush (about cupcakes and other whimsical treats), and Cooking on High (it’s the show about stoner food). And now the entertainment titan is launching a grand culinary challenge that will be overseen by a dream team of acclaimed chefs, including London superstar Clare Smyth, French legend Anne-Sophie Pic, and Tokyo trailblazer Yoshihiro Narisawa.
In the first nine episodes of The Final Table, the famous chefs will preside over challenges based on the cuisines of their home countries. Twelve teams of two cooks each will compete in these rounds, and by the end of the show, one competitor will join the legends at the titular table. Bon Appetit’s former restaurant editor Andrew Knowlton is the master of ceremonies.
Expect a spectacle in the vein of Iron Chef, but with an emphasis on the fancy fine dining fare found in a show like Chef’s Table. If The Final Table is a hit, it could make cooking-competition standby like MasterChef and Top Chef seem totally irrelevant.
Parts Unknown Season 12
Major players: Anthony Bourdain; Zero Point Zero Production
Premiere: Late September or early October
The gist: The twelfth and final season of Anthony Bourdain’s hit CNN travel show will cover trips that the Kitchen Confidential author filmed in Kenya, Texas, Spain, Indonesia, and the Lower East Side of Manhattan before his death by suicide earlier this year.
Bourdain completed the narration of the Kenya odyssey before his passing, but the rest of the episodes will feature audio pieced together from pre-recorded interviews. CNN’s executive VP of talent and content Amy Entelis recently promised that these episodes will “have the full presence of Tony because you’ll see him, you’ll hear him, you’ll watch him.” The season will wind down with a special episode full of remembrances from the cast and crew of the show, and a series finale with notes from friends and fans about “how Tony affected the world.”
The Lower East Side episode, with cameos by punk rock and hip-hop luminaries such as Debbie Harry and Fab 5 Freddy, promises to be one of the Season 12 highlights.
Chef’s Table Season 5
Major player: David Gelb
Premiere: September 28
The gist: Netflix’s game-changing chef documentary series returns with four new hour-long profiles of culinary heavyweights around the world.
Earlier this year, director David Gelb and his team released a pastry-themed mini-season of the show focusing on Christina Tosi, Corrado Assenza, Will Goldfarb, and Jordi Roca. Although the episodes themselves were compelling and keeping with the high cinematic standards that Gelb has established over the years, the show drew criticism from several publications (including this one) for its male-centric casting and general lack of diversity. Hopefully, this season will buck the trend.
Big Food Truck Tip
Major player: Andrew Zimmern
Premiere date: September 19
The gist: After a decade of exploring world cuisines on his various Travel Channel programs, Andrew Zimmern is headed to the Food Network for a show celebrating the work of mobile chefs and restaurateurs across America. Each episode of Big Food Truck Tip will feature Zimmern visiting a great American city and sampling the food at three celebrated trucks. The host will offer a $10,000 “tip” to his favorite roving kitchen crew each week.
“Our modern-day food world is blessed to have the extreme ambition, fun attitude, and glorious culinary output of today’s truckers,” Zimmern recently remarked. “Micro businesses on wheels, serving up love by the sandwichful, makes looking at this community and telling these stories a real privilege.” In the first batch of episodes, Zimmern will visit Charleston, Salt Lake City, Memphis, Huntington Beach, California, and Birmingham, as well as his hometown of Minneapolis.
And, in other Zimmern news, the culinary expert’s half-hour travel show Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations returned for a new season last week. Each episode profiles a few of Zimmern’s top restaurant picks in major food cities around the globe, with original narration from the host. Delicious Destinations is such a hit the Travel Channel recently ordered 52 new episodes of the Bizarre Foods spinoff.
The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell
Main players: Christine McConnell, Henson Alternative
Premiere: TBA; likely October
The gist: This Netflix baking show is shaping up to be one of the most unusual new food programs of the fall. Christine McConnell is an Instagram-famous baker/artist/cookbook author who makes pastries that are both adorable and terrifying in equal measure. On her new show, McConnell will whip up spooky new desserts with an assist from her “colorful collection of creatures.” The team has not revealed much info about what these creatures might look like, or in what capacity they will assist McConnell. But Henson Alternative, the wing of the Jim Henson Company that makes entertainment for “grown ups,” is co-producing this series, so expect some kooky and perhaps eerily-lifelike critters to appear alongside the baker.
Good Eats Reloaded
Main player: Alton Brown
Premiere: October or November
The gist: As a warm-up act, of sorts, before his big reboot of Good Eats, Alton Brown is reworking 13 classic episodes of the Food Network show that made him a star. “I’m going back in and changing the things that I wish I had done differently,” Brown recently told Time. “Let’s face it, some of those shows are 18 years old, and I look at some of them now and I’m like, Oh crap, I really wish I had done this instead of this. I’m going back and making those repairs.”
Brown is something of a perfectionist, so it’ll be interesting to see just how much he tweaks the old episodes. No matter what, Good Eats Reloaded promises to be a great crash course in Brown’s unique brand of science-tinged kitchen experimentation, and a nice primer for Return of the Eats, which is slated to launch next year.
Brown hasn’t revealed which episodes he’s remixing yet, but expect at least one cameo from his friends the yeast puppets.
Nailed It! Season 3
Main players: Nicole Byer, Jacques Torres
The gist: Netflix’s feel-good celebration of cake disasters is returning for a special seven-episode holiday-themed season in December. No word yet on what desserts will be part of the challenges, but these episodes will surely feature ornate Christmas-y spectacles, salty wisecracks from host Nicole Byer, sage words from esteemed pastry chef Jacques Torres, and amusing technical flubs from Wes, the hapless stagehand.
One of 2018’s biggest TV surprises, Nailed It! helped Netflix expand its food programming beyond the glossy culinary profiles of Chef’s Table. In addition to being the first of three new cooking competitions, the series (along with Queer Eye) also helped set the tone for Netflix’s new breed of personality-driven, lifestyle-oriented shows. Bring on the yuletide cake fails.
Top Chef Season 16
Main players: Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi, Graham Elliot
The gist: The latest season of Bravo’s long-running culinary competition was filmed in Kentucky earlier this year, with challenges reportedly set in Louisville, Lexington, and Lake Cumberland.
One thing to watch out for this season is whether Top Chef — a show that’s always featured harsh culinary critiques and helped establish the “bad boy chef” archetype — will make any changes to the formula in light of the #MeToo movement. Last fall, the producers scrubbed John Besh from two episodes after more than two dozen of his current and former employees reported experiencing sexual harassment and/or assault in his kitchens. The Top Chef team also retroactively edited an off-color sexual harassment joke from a contestant after the episode aired on TV.
Shows like the Great British Bake Off, Sugar Rush, and Million Pound Menu have proved that you can create a compelling kitchen drama without all of the negativity and macho posturing that’s been rampant in culinary competitions for far too long. Host/producers Tom Colicchio and Padma Lakshmi are both vocal advocates of the #MeToo movement, so perhaps we’ll see a slightly different side of Top Chef this time around.
Also of note: Vivian Howard will conclude her five-year-old PBS series A Chef’s Life with an hour-long “harvest special” on Monday, October 22. The new, Mary Berry-less iteration of The Great British Baking Show will premiere on Netflix this Friday, August 31 (this season aired last year in the UK), and a holiday special is also planned for the end of the year. Gordon Ramsay’s shout-a-thon Hell’s Kitchen is returning to Fox on Friday, September 28 with a season that will pit newcomers against veteran competitors. Early next month, the Food Network will debut a pastry-themed travel series starring comedian Tom Papa called Baked, as well as new Tyler Florence-hosted competition show called Bite Club. And the holiday-themed cooking challenges Halloween Baking Championship and Halloween Wars will return to Food Network at the end of September.
Lead image credits: Bourdain, Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images; Zimmern, Aaron Davidson/Getty Images; Nosrat courtesy Netflix
Greg Morabito is Eater’s pop culture editor. Andrea D’Aquino is a New York-based illustrator and author.