11 of the best food TV shows to binge-watch right now

Samin Nosrat, star of Salt Fat Acid Heat, makes a refreshingly joyful host who learns along with us.
Samin Nosrat, star of Salt Fat Acid Heat, makes a refreshingly joyful host who learns along with us. Photo: CON POULOS

There's never been a better (and less judgmental) time to stare at a screen all day. Here are the favourite food shows that are keeping us inspired, informed and forever hungry during lockdown.

MasterChef Australia Back to Win - with all new hosts and all old contestants.

MasterChef Australia Back to Win - with all new hosts and all old contestants. Photo: NETWORK 10

MasterChef Australia

Channel 10

Australia's most popular cooking competition came back on screens right when we needed it the most: when we all have literally nothing better to do. This series, "Back to Win", sees former contestants return to the competition to try to score the trophy they weren't able to claim in their own previous season. Season one runner up Poh is back causing as much chaos and anxiety as she was 10 years ago; we're all on the edge of our seats waiting for Ben Ungermann to mysteriously disappear; and, yes, even Chris Badenoch's' fedora has made a comeback.

Why should I watch it? The new judges – food writer Melissa Leong, chef Jock Zonfrillo and former series four winner Andy Allen – are a breath of fresh (though hibachi smoke-filled) air after last year's changing of the guard. And if you can't deal with all the ads and frantic music, catch up via our recaps.

English actress Ella Purnell stars as Tess in the six-part series SweetBitter on Stan.

English actress Ella Purnell stars as naive waitress Tess on Stan. Photo: Macall Polay

Sweetbitter

Stan

Anyone who has ever worked a floor of a restaurant will be able to relate to this hospo drama, as 20-something small-town girl Tess starts her first waitressing job at a top New York City fine-diner. The crazy customers! The no-BS managers! The catty somm! The flirty bartenders! All the restaurant stereotypes are here. Based on the semi-autobiographical book of the same name by Stephanie Danler, the two-season series is loosely based on Danler's own experiences working at Danny Meyer's Union Square Cafe in Manhattan. Vice calls it Gossip Girl set in the kitchen, which is a genre I never knew I needed.

Why should I watch it? Finally a show that celebrates the service staff of the hospitality crowd – chefs are not the rockstars of this show, but the often forgotten waiters, hosts and sommeliers are.

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UGLY DELICIOUS Season 02 David Chang in Ugly Delicious Season 2

David Chang gets into a pickle in Turkey. Photo: Courtesy of Netfix

Ugly Delicious

Netflix

The second series of David Chang's global food exploration dropped last year, and surprisingly offers a more personal angle as Chang enters a whole new chapter of his life: parenthood. The first episode is all about kids' menus, and introduces his baby boy Hugo to the world. The rest of the season gets back to normal Chang content, with him chatting to his food industry friends about curry, "Middle Eastern" food and steak (including a visit to Sydney with Momofuku Seiobo executive chef Paul Carmichael and restaurant manager Kylie Javier-Ashton at the Bondi outpost of Macelleria), and whether ordering yours well done means you are a psychopath (sorry, we don't make the rules).

Why should I watch it? Go deeper into your favourite cuisines and dishes and experience wanderlust from your lounge chair (and at the moment, who doesn't want that?).

Servant

Apple TV+

Yeah, okay, M. Night Shyamalan's intense new thriller series is not technically about food, (actually it's about a creepy nanny who is invited to babysit a couple's fake baby, but that's another story), but the food does play an important part in heightening the tension in scenes. As the main character (a prominent restaurant consultant) cooks for his new house guest, sharp knives slice through fillets, flames engulf sizzling pans, close-up shots show mouthfuls of food being tentatively swallowed and animal skulls offer a fun little symbol of death. Not convinced? Shyamalan even had award-winning Philadelphia chef Marc Vetri on set to consult each scene to make sure the food was perfectly portrayed.

Why should I watch it? If you're looking to add some thrills to your stay-at-home schedule, this one mixes horror with pleasure.

STREET FOOD ASIA Netflix series Street Food Asia for Good Food article May 2020

Street Food celebrates the cooks outside the restaurant. Photo: Martin Westlake/Netflix

Street Food Asia

Netflix

This one comes from the makers of Chefs' Table, so expect the same gratuitous slow-mo shots and heartfelt emotion of the protagonist's stories as Street Food champions a selection of humble yet revered roadside cooks throughout Asia. The first episode is set in Bangkok, and visits the city's only Michelin-starred chef as she wok-fries her famous crab omelette complete with her signature ski goggles. Other episodes head to Osaka, Singapore, Yogyakarta, Delhi and beyond.

Why should I watch it? Eating great food isn't all about expensive set menus and fancy interiors – this series celebrates the everyday cooking heroes that have as much passion and skill as the fine-dining chefs.

Come Dine With Me UK

SBS and Foxtel

More drab fab than ab fab, five strangers take it in turns to throw a dinner party, and are secretly scored by the other guests with the highest scorer winning a grand. It's a straightforward concept that's been going for 15 years strong with a parade of seemingly endless eccentric participants who think they can cook but really really can't. Whacky, frequently tacky and bound to make you never want self isolation to end should you have to deal with people like this IRL some day, the real star of the show is voiceover guy Dave Lamb who has the knack of saying exactly what you're thinking except way funnier. SBS has a new season starting May 18.

Why should I watch it? It'll make you feel better about your cooking, there's no way it could be as bad, or as beige, as this. And following the ups and downs of the hosts as they bond - or clash - as the week unfolds is fly-on-the-wall fascinating.
 

SALT FAT ACID HEAT Salt Fat Acid Heat

Samin Nosrat hosts Salt Fat Acid Heat. Photo: Neteflix Adam Rose

Salt Fat Acid Heat

Netflix

Iranian American chef Samin Nosrat's game-changing cookbook spells out all you need to know about the fundamentals of cooking in the title, but her Netflix series goes deeper into each category with some meditative wanderlust along the way. She explores fat in the olive groves of Italy; salt on the seas of Japan; acid with raw honey and citrus in Mexico; and heat at her home in California.

Why should I watch it? James Beard award-winning Nosrat makes a refreshingly joyful host who learns along with us, and the people she interviews are everyday cooks and makers, avoiding much of the smug food-industry crowd.

Destination Flavour

SBS On Demand

Our favourite Good Food columnist takes our readers on his travels and with new recipes every week, but the inspiration for many of these dishes comes from his years of filming his Destination Flavour series. The travel adventures took him from exploring the delicacies of Japan to the vast regions of China to meeting the food revolutionaries in Scandinavia and even the food communities Down Under. Each episode teaches us new recipes inspired by the place he is in, and though the series is a few years old now, Liaw's gentle, warm and never-superior nature is timeless, easy entertainment.

Why should I watch it? Liaw always goes beyond the obvious and tells the stories of quirky producers, passionate artisans and ancient traditions in each episode.

Cooked

Netflix

Michael Pollan's four-part docuseries went somewhat under the radar when it was released in 2016, but it's worth going back to. A great analytical thinker and philosophical writer who has mastered a variety of topics from gardening to microdosing on LSD, Pollan looks into the basics of cooking through the elements: fire, water, earth and air. Each episode explores the evolution of an elemental food: the air episode looks at baking bread through scientific, evolutionary and traditional lenses, and is a particularly great one to share with your non-coeliac "gluten-free" friends if you get what I mean.

Why should I watch it? If you are a food nerd who likes to know the "why?" behind certain recipe steps, you'll devour it all while taking notes.

Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories

Netflix

Based on the Japanese film of the same name, each episode in this anthology drama series tells a different narrative of a regular customer at a small late-night Tokyo diner. As the guests release their anxieties on the stoic but wise chef and other misfit guests in the restaurant, we learn more about their particular story, all while watching them eat classic Japanese dishes from ramen to omelette rice to hot pot. It's a beautiful and quirky snapshot of Tokyo life, and will no doubt inspire a flight to the Japanese capital when this is all over.

Why should I watch it? The Midnight Diner is a place of calm in Tokyo's busiest junction, Shinjuku, and the show is an equally meditative outlet to help quieten busy minds.

The Final Table 

Netflix

If you want to see how the big boys play, this global cooking competition pits the world's top chefs against each other in cuisine specific episodes, from Mexican to Japanese to French. Hosted by Bon Appetit editor-at-large, Andrew Knowlton, the series sometimes feels OTT American, with high-drama lighting, fast-paced edits, a strange outer space set design and a hidden (but always clapping) studio audience. Aussie contenders include Mark Best, Shane Osborn and Alex Knaupt, while other players include two-Michelin-starred Shin Takagi and science-inspired, former Oxford resident chef Charles Michel.

Why should I watch it? It's fun to watch these high-end chefs sweat it out, but you can also gain some real cooking tips. Enrique Olvera of award-winning Mexico City restaurant Pujol, for example, says using coriander stems offer way more flavor than the leaves.Why should I watch: It's fun to watch these high-end chefs sweat it out, but you can also gain some real cooking tips. Enrique Olvera of award-winning Mexico City restaurant Pujol, for example, says using coriander stems offer way more flavour than the leaves.

Can't commit to a series? These YouTube videos offer fast foodie fun.