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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

What's on the menu? A guide to the best food shows on TV

Food series have long been a staple of TV programming, and their popularity shows no sign of flagging, as our trawl through what’s currently on the small screen illustrates

Fuchsia Dunlop, David Chang in Ugly Delicious. Courtesy Netflix
Fuchsia Dunlop, David Chang in Ugly Delicious. Courtesy Netflix

It matters not whether you’re a keen cook or really don’t care a jot about ever owning a KitchenAid, there’s something about food shows on TV that piques viewing appetites. Just like dishes on a menu, though, programmes vary according to taste: one person’s half-hour of viewing pleasure is the equivalent of another’s green-­vegetable nemesis in video form. With that in mind, we round up a selection of shows dedicated to all things food. From series about the pursuit of culinary perfection, to travelogues about eating, indulgent flights of fancy and epic baking fails, there’s plenty here to sink your teeth into.

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Ugly Delicious

Perfect for: an informative alternative to the usual food television schmaltz

The title of this Netflix show is a direct rebuffal of the elitist idea that, in our Instagram-obsessed world, it is only glossy, photo-shoot-ready food that deserves our attention. In actuality, Ugly Delicious, which is produced and presented by Momofuku chef and mastermind David Chang, is about far more than that. The show uses food and cooking – notably home ­cooking – as a medium for exploring cultural issues, ­history and appropriation, while encouraging those watching to re-evaluate their preconceived ideas about where that food came from and whom, if anyone, it belongs to. ­Crucially, though, it’s also hugely engrossing.

In each of the eight episodes, Chang travels to different parts of the world, and is joined by cooks and culinary experts as he takes an in-depth look at certain types of food – from pizza to fried chicken – and considers its history, authenticity and the way that food has travelled and developed. Ugly Delicious is concerned with food stories and the people behind them, rather than only cooking and eating, and is all the better for it.

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The Big Family Cooking Showdown

Perfect for: comforting family-friendly entertainment

Sometimes, when faced with a menu filled with new­fangled ideas, experimental ­ingredients and creative presentation, you end up craving something comforting, familiar and soothing for supper. And the same applies to television shows. For the TV equivalent of a piping hot, butter-filled jacket potato, look no further than The Big Family Cooking Showdown, currently streaming on Netflix.

As you may have gathered, this isn’t exactly groundbreaking, hard-­hitting television. It is, however, gentle viewing that’s suitable for all ages, and celebrates the importance of cooking and eating together. The premise is to find Britain’s best family of cooks, and each episode features two families represented by three team members (husbands who fancy themselves gourmands, no-cook wives, eccentric grandmothers, teenagers with more exciting places to be), competing in a bid to progress to the next round.

Fans of The Great British Bake Off will spot similarities aplenty, from the homely countryside vibe to the cheerful encouragement offered by the hosts (Zoë Ball, and Bake Off darling and 2015 winner Nadiya Hussain) and the three-challenge set-up. The judges are the effervescent but mild-­mannered Italian chef Giorgio Locatelli, and cookery teacher and matriarch figure Rosemary Shrager. In ­keeping with the general tone, the two are discerning enough to maintain their credibility, but favour constructive criticism over the scathing decimation of a dish. Similarly, while the relations may bicker with each other as the pressure rises during challenges, this is not the place for vitriolic bust-ups or reality-TV-style exposés. It might seem like a backhanded compliment to describe a television show as nice, but that’s exactly what The Big Family Cooking Showdown is – and sometimes nice is exactly what you need.

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Delicious

Perfect for: indulgent escapism with all the foodie trimmings

Set in the bucolic English county of Cornwall – think sandy beaches, rugged clifftops and little harbour towns – Delicious, which airs on Sky One, is a comedy-drama aimed at those who like a sliver of scandal thrown in with their scones and afternoon tea.

The first series is all about love, relationships and ­lavish-looking food, in which Dawn French and Emilia Fox are pitted against each other as the former wife and current wife of a swarthy, obsessive (so far, so cliche) acclaimed chef Leo Vincent, played by Scottish actor Iain Glen.

It’s no real spoiler to announce that Vincent dies in the opening episode, leaving behind a trail of infidelity and a head-chef role to fill at the Penrose Hotel restaurant. Though he continues to narrate from beyond the grave, the focus switches to the two women as they strive to make sense of his complex affairs – both financial and ­relationship-related – as well as run his restaurant. Yes, it’s all a bit fluffy and over the top, but the show is undemanding and entertaining, the food shots are ­hunger-inducing and the setting is as picturesque as it gets.

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Chef’s Table: Pastry

Perfect for: awe-inspiring dishes and chef insights

If you haven’t already devoured the first three seasons of this skilfully executed and intelligently made award-winning food documentary series, then some might say you’ve been doing your Netflix account a disservice.

Each hour-long episode focuses on one of the most influential and acclaimed chefs cooking around the world today. Headed by filmmaker and director David Gelb, the team behind Chef’s Table have a knack for penetrating the surface and gaining a real insight into the life stories of these oft-eccentric professionals, examining their backstory, temperament, ego, inspirations and obsessions. The result is always interesting, frequently thought-­provoking and undeniably different to all the other food-related ­programmes out there.

Perhaps the most alluring thing about the Chef’s Table ­series is the stylish presentation. There’s a beautiful, cinematic quality to the way that it is shot that really pushes the idea of food and cooking as a form of art; something not just to devour, but also to mull over.

The new four-part pastry-­orientated miniseries airs on Netflix on Friday, and features big-hitters of the dessert world: Christina Tosi, founder of the Milk Bar bakery empire and inventor of Cereal Milk Soft Serve ice cream; American chef Will Goldfarb, who now runs Room 4 Dessert, a pudding-only tasting-menu restaurant in Bali; Jordi Roca, the acclaimed pastry chef at the family-run three-­Michelin-star restaurant El Celler de Can Roca in Spain; and Corrado Assenza, a man famed for his Italian gelato and cannoli. The viewing promises to be scintillating and sumptuous.

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Other shows to sample

Hannibal

This dark NBC programme while not for the faint of heart, does, however, feature some truly classy ­cooking. As well as being a cannibalistic serial killer, Hannibal Lecter is a bit of a ­culinary master, preparing and presenting his elaborate, gory dishes with skill, finesse and obsessional attention to detail. So much was made of those elegant recipes that it inspired a cookbook by the show’s food stylist: Feeding Hannibal: A Connoisseur’s Cookbook.

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Anthony Bourdain

(various shows)

These days Bourdain is something of a veteran of the food and travel docuseries, many of which are streamed on Netflix. He is perhaps best known for exploring and eating his way around the globe with his multi-­seasoned show No Reservations, but A Cook’s Tour (which ­watches like an early prototype for No Reservations); The Layover (a guide to the best places to eat and drink in major cities on a pit stop); and Parts Unknown (where he samples local cuisines and explores lesser known eating spots), are all well worth digging out if food and travel are your thing.

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Nailed It!

This competitive baking show on Netflix doesn’t take itself or its contestants – who ­freely admit to being somewhat lacking in the cookery skills department – too seriously. It’s inspired by the trend for sharing images of baking mishaps on social media (#bakingfails #cakewrecks), and hapless bakers are tasked with recreating elaborate masterpieces made by professionals with really quite amusing results. Everything on Nailed It! – from the set dressing to the cake frosting – is bright, buzzy, a little bit loud and potentially headache-inducing, but it’s also good-natured and fun.

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