Welcome to the first weekend of spring 2018, which, in many parts of the country, will likely feel a lot like winter. It’s a great time to hunker down and blast through some food TV. Here are three recommendations for what to watch this weekend, plus a roundup of the week’s entertainment news.
A beguiling “family” affair
Whether you’re looking for a new culinary competition to get sucked into, or simply searching for a pleasant, food-filled distraction to help you chill out this weekend, The Big Family Cooking Showdown is here to help. This UK show, which landed stateside a few months ago to little fanfare, feels like one of Netflix’s best-kept secrets.
As you might guess from the name and cozy-in-the-country vibe of the show, this is a sister program to The Great British Bake Off. Like that show, features sweet people cooking their hearts out, kind-but-firm judges critiquing their work, and upbeat hosts highlighting the human drama unfolding in front of the camera. But what sets this show apart from its predecessor is the way that it celebrates the art and experience of home cooking.
Each episode features two families competing against each other in three segments: a “£10 challenge,” a home kitchen round, and an “impress the neighbors” meal. Most of the families serve a mixture of time-tested dishes and recipes that veer just a little bit outside of their comfort zones. It’s clear that everyone loves cooking and pushing themselves to prepare something that will make their families proud: The greatest moments, by far, are watching the judges tell the teams that they may have made a few mistakes along the way, but their food is still totally delicious.
A large part of the Cooking Showdown’s success can be attributed to the charm of its cast. The show’s hosts, actress/radio personality Zoë Ball and Bake Off Season 6 winner Nadiya Hussain, interact with the competitors with the affable, easygoing spirit of old friends who are catching up over coffee. Judges Giorgio Locatelli and Rosemary Shrager — he’s a Michelin-recognized chef, and she’s a fixture of UK food shows — approach each dish with enthusiasm, and temper their criticism with equal amounts of praise for the effort displayed in the kitchen.
The Big Family Cooking Showdown may be the only culinary competition where heart and soul matter more than precision and ingenuity. All 12 episodes of Season 1 are now available to watch on Netflix.
Do you have an all-time favorite cooking competition show? Reply to this email or head over to the Eat, Drink, Watch Facebook group to discuss.
Streaming selections du jour
Theater of Life
Watch it on: Netflix
The gist: Massimo Bottura, the chef/proprietor of the acclaimed restaurant Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, has spent the last several years preaching the importance of repurposing food waste. His crusade eventually led to the opening of a handful of soup kitchens around the world that serve meals made from waste to local communities. Theater of Life chronicles the opening of the first “refettorio” in Milan back in 2015.
Bottura shares screentime with the people who rely on the restaurant not only for food, but also as a cultural hub and community center, of sorts. This doc can be tough to watch at times, particularly because of its gritty depiction of life on the streets and in the shelters of Milan, but it’s a trip worth taking for anyone who’s interested in how Bottura’s groundbreaking refettorio project came together.
Watch it on: Showtime
The gist: Brian Koppelman and David Levien’s thriller is full of quick-witted characters who trade pithy, imminently quotable lines with each other in fancy offices, mansions, and the occasional New York City restaurant.
In this episode from Season 2, world-conquering billionaire Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) takes one of his pals to Momofuku Ko, where David Chang (playing himself) tells the duo, “I’m going to carpet-bomb you guys with so much fucking food you’ll be reeling.” Later in the episode, U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) attempts a sting operation at Michael White’s swanky Italian restaurant Ai Fiori. When it proves to be a failure, Rhoades stuffs his face with smoked meat from Mile End.
And in other entertainment news…
- Earlier this week, Netflix revealed the trailer and cast of the upcoming four-part series Chef’s Table: Pastry. The social media reactions were a mix of excitement for the return of the high-gloss docuseries and utter frustration at the fact that only one woman — Christina Tosi — is included in the cast of four pastry chefs. Food & Wine contributor Naomi Tomky sums up the crux of the issue: “[F]or shows that propose to highlight the most thought-provoking, innovative ideas coming out of professional kitchens, food television tends to take look through a regressive lens.”
- In other Netflix news, the entertainment giant announced that comedian Amy Poehler is directing, producing, and starring in a comedy called Wine Country set in Napa Valley. Poehler will be joined on screen by her SNL pals Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch, Maya Rudolph, and Ana Gasteyer. No word yet on a release date.
- Nigerian-born chef/writer Tunde Wey couldn’t stomach the recent Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown episode about his homeland. In an op-ed for the SF Chronicle, Wey writes: “Mr. Bourdain’s real talent, captured in these sharply edited visuals, is the faithful reproduction of any representation of otherness that permits its consumption. At this work, he is a master, breaking sweet people down from complex to simple sugars, all the more digestible, all the more delicious. This is the modern conqueror.”
- Nicole Byer, the hilarious host of Netflix’s new cooking competition Nailed It, is going to star opposite Kat Dennings in the pilot of a new ABC workplace comedy based on the book How May We Hate You? The show will focus on “guest-services associates” at a high-end resort.
- Mind of a Chef and A Chef’s Life both got three daytime Emmy nominations this week.
- And finally, Sweetbitter, the Starz adaptation of Stephanie Danler’s novel about the NYC restaurant world, will have its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival next month.
Have a great weekend, and if you’re looking for something epic to cook, perhaps consider making Missy Robbins’s recipe for leg of lamb with orange, coriander, and honey from the book Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner... Life!