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Spend the Long Weekend With Alice Waters, Jacques Pépin, and James Beard

Five food TV recommendations, plus a roundup of the week’s food-entertainment news

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Alice Waters cooking in the early years of Chez Panisse
American Masters/Amazon Video

This post originally appeared on May 25, 2018, in “Eat, Drink, Watch” — the weekly newsletter for people who want to order takeout and watch TV. Browse the archives and subscribe now.

If you’re reading these words, it means that Memorial Day weekend has officially begun. Congratulations: You made it that time of year that’s full of picnics, backyard barbecues, and low-key luxurious afternoons when you can marathon-watch your favorite TV shows in the air-conditioned splendor of your living room. Here are some TV recommendations for the long weekend, as well as a roundup of the week’s food-related entertainment news.

Take a ‘chef’s flight’ through American cuisine

Julia Child and James Beard
American Masters/Amazon Video

If you’re looking for something fun, informative, and exceedingly chill to watch this weekend, the “Chef’s Flight” series of PBS’s American Masters is just what the doctor ordered. Each hour-long episode profiles a chef who changed the American culinary landscape, and taken together, these three documentaries offer a comprehensive look at the major trends that shaped the last 60 years of dining.

“James Beard: America’s First Foodie” chronicles the colorful life of the mama’s boy from Portland, Oregon who became the first TV chef and the ultimate authority on American gastronomy. This episode features a treasure trove of old photos and videos of the famous gourmand, as well as remembrances from food world luminaries such as Judith Jones, Barbara Kafka, Larry Forgione, and the late Marion Cunningham.

“Jacques Pépin: The Art of Craft” tells the story of the chef who might actually be the most interesting man in the world. After cooking his way around France as a young man, Pépin made a name for himself in New York, where he worked at storied power restaurant Le Pavillon. Pépin turned down a request from regulars John and Jackie Kennedy to be the White House chef and instead took a job developing recipes for Howard Johnson’s. After opening a hit soup restaurant in Manhattan, Pépin made the jump to the small screen, where he flourished for nearly four decades. Now in his early 80s, Pépin appears to be living the good life surrounded by friends, family, and the food he loves.

“Alice Waters and Her Delicious Revolution” is an intimate look at the career of one of California cuisine’s true pioneers. Instead of offering a chronological narrative of Waters’s life, the doc focuses on how she runs her celebrated Berkeley, California restaurant Chez Panisse and the Edible Schoolyard, a non-profit organization that teaches kids how to grow, cook, and eat healthy foods. This episode has a looser, less-polished style than the other two — possibly owing to the fact that it was filmed 15 years ago, while Jaques and James episodes were released last year — but Alice’s installment has the best food scenes of the bunch. “Delicious Revolution” also includes what might very well be the first on-screen appearance of Alice’s famed egg spoon.

Sadly, the fourth episode the series, focusing on Julia Child, is not available to stream anywhere right now, but the legendary chef is prominently featured in both the Jacques Pepin and James Beard documentaries. The three “Chef’s Flight” episode of American Masters are available on iTunes, and Google Play, but the easiest way to screen them all is to buy them as a bundle for eight bucks on Amazon Video.

Streaming selections du jour

Wyatt Cenac

Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas, “Food Problems, Rain Problems, Skid Row Problems”

Watch it on: HBO

The gist: This new weekly comedy show feels like an educational film from the 1970s fused with the Twitter feed of your favorite comedian. Cenac, who you might remember as a Daily Show correspondent during the Jon Stewart years, packs a lot of information into short, topical bits that often incorporate clever infographics.

The first part of this episode tackles the recent ICE raids of restaurants and farms across America. Riffing on the advent of “sanctuary restaurants” that create safe work environments for illegal immigrants, Cenac suggests that the same logic should be applied to farms. The comedian also posits that the food that’s harvested from these places could be designated by a sticker, much in the same way that certain varieties of imported coffee are labeled “fair-trade“ in the supermarket. “If farm workers in Brazil are sticker-worthy, then farm workers in California ought to be too,” Cenac remarks. “The question is: Who’s going to be making these stickers?”

If you’re a fan of the razor-sharp comedy of Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, Problem Areas is definitely worth a spin.


Watch it on: iTunes, Amazon Video, YouTube, Google Play

The gist: Like many great cult movies, this 2012 comedy about Manhattan yuppies who go live on a hippie commune/farm completely tanked at the box office. But Wanderlust has aged very well, thanks in part to inspired performances by a number of funny people, including Paul Rudd, Kathryn Hahn, Jordan Peele, Michaela Watkins, Joe Lo Truglio, and Alan Freakin’ Alda. This tidy little rom-com includes jokes about nude winemaking, psychedelic mushroom tea, and vegetarians who secretly house breakfast meats when nobody’s looking. It’s also the film where Justin Theroux and Jennifer Aniston met and fell in love (though sadly, this Wanderlust relationship did not last forever).

Oh, and by the way: Are you hip to Netflix’s food-filled Japanese language reality show Terrace House? The streaming titan just released a new batch of episodes, and Eater newsletter editor Jenny Zhang has a handy guide to everything you need to know about the series before diving in.

In other entertainment news…

Have a great weekend, and if you want to treat yourself to something delicious tomorrow morning, consider whipping up Vivian Howard’s buckwheat pancakes.

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