Since the Pleistocene era, Neanderthals have banked up a fire, stuck animal flesh on a stick and called it dinner — or kebab — or whatever they said in Neanderthal. But did they do so in teams working against the clock of the sun? No. Did they sample cuisines from other continents? Unlikely. Did they shame their fellow whose meat fell off the twig into the fire? Well, probably. And, so, we see the dawn of the cooking era but never in the history of man have we seen the variety and diversity of cooking shows, docuseries and contests available at the touch of a remote on Netflix. Here are the best.
Chef’s Table (2015 to present)
A deep dive into the kitchens and psyches of famous chefs around the world, the Emmy-nominated show has six seasons of insight into the lives, kitchens and signature dishes of well-known international chefs from Georgia’s Mashama Bailey to Bangkok’s Bo Songvisava. Expect a seventh and eighth season on the horizon, and graze on spin-offs Chef’s Table: France and Chef’s Table: BBQ.
Watch it: Chef's Table
The Chef Show (2019)
The 2014 film Chef brought Hollywood foodie Jon Favreau, 55, and Los Angeles-based chef Roy Choi, 51, together. Now, in this culinary travelogue, the amiable pair mix it up while exploring delicacies with celebrity pals (including Robert Downey Jr., 56; Tom Holland; and Wolfgang Puck, 72) and cuisine pros. Flavorful without being fussy.
Watch it: The Chef Show
Ugly Delicious (2018-present)
For some, fine dining is all about the presentation. Not for host and Momofuku restaurateur David Chang! Each documentary-style episode of this Emmy-nominated show focuses on a specific dish — pizza, tacos or fried chicken, for example — and then takes a deep dive into its history, culture and regional differences. Oscar winner Morgan Neville (Twenty Feet From Stardom), 54, executive produced.
Watch it: Ugly Delicious
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Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat (2018)
James Beard Award-winning author Samit Nosrat got her start in the world of cooking at Chez Panisse and writing at adjacent UC Berkeley. The Californian has a best-selling cookbook of the same name with the subheading: “Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking,” the fab four elements of the title. The unpretentious writer, chef, teacher and podcaster, famed for her buttermilk chicken among other down-to-earth dishes, moves her inside hacks to the small screen for a four-part miniseries. Mixing up how-to with travelogue, she shares her secrets and insights, including this essential: Fat is a magical element that needs to be harnessed for its flavor. Yes!
Watch it: Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat
High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America (2021)
Over four episodes, food writer, chef, sommelier, producer and docuseries host Stephen Satterfield chronicles the evolution of African American cuisine from its African roots to Texas variations. It’s a mouthwatering and revelatory Black food odyssey.
Nadiya’s Time to Eat! (2019)
Stress-free dining is the goal of Nadiya Hussain in this BBC-originated show that delivers recipes for relatively easy but often off-the-beaten-track home-cooking suggestions. Over six episodes, Chef Hussain (Nadiya Bakes) ranges from the “reliable regulars” like savory French toast and apple palm pies, to those dressed to impress like the one-dish meal peanut chicken tray-bake. And the recipes are easily accessible online.
Watch it: Nadiya's Time to Eat!
Crazy Delicious (2020)
Never settle for the ordinary in this flamboyant and fun competitive series hosted by Jayde Adams where the magical forest setting is edible (or drinkable), from the mushrooms to the meandering brook. Lighthearted and loaded with constructive criticism, it’s crazy wonderful but not for the whimsy averse.
Watch it: Crazy Delicious
Restaurants on the Edge (2019)
In the vein of Restaurant: Impossible, the hosts travel the world to help floundering, far-flung restaurants rediscover their mojo. Among the top-rated episodes are a trip to alpine Austria and the Arlberg Boutique Eatery, as well as a pit-stop in Turku, Finland, for a rebrand and a sausage-making tutorial along the way.
Watch it: Restaurants on the Edge
Prepare to squirm! Over two seasons, this 12-episode, documentary-style investigative series plumbs the global food chain, revealing corruption, waste, corporate greed and government malfeasance. For example, in “The Avocado War,” the show uncovers the dark side of guacamole, including the ways that cultivating this money crop can suck the water supply from local folks.
Watch it: Rotten
Taco Chronicles (2019-2020)
Pablo Cruz’s delicioso two-season docuseries investigates the roots and variety of one of our favorite Mexican foods, from carnitas to my go-to carne asada, and their cultural evolution. To quote the host while eating at a street stand: “Damn! What a taco!"
Watch it: Taco Chronicles
Street Food: Asia (2019)
If you crave a tasty morsel while you explore city streets, this show may satisfy that desire without risking your immune system. Hopping from Korea to Thailand to Japan to the Philippines, the series demonstrates that in the case of some great noodles, or dumplings, or snails, it’s not about the ambience or table cloths, it’s all about the taste and the characters responsible for it. From the producers of Chef’s Table, it also has a sister show, Street Food: Latin America.
Watch it: Street Food: Asia
Food Wars (2015 to 2020)
Barbecued squid tentacles and peanut butter? This isn’t your average food show — it’s a hugely popular Japanese anime based on a manga by Yuto Tsukuda, who also contributes recipes. Set largely in an elite, highly competitive Tokyo culinary school where students enter shokugeki, or food wars. It’s like Hogwarts for aspiring chefs.
Watch it: Food Wars
Thelma M. Adams, the former film critic for Us Weekly and the New York Post, is a novelist who writes on film for AARP, The New York Times, The Hollywood Reporter and Variety.