Culture

Food shows offer all of the fun, none of the cleanup

There is something comforting about watching people cook delicious food on TV. You can relax under a blanket on the couch, with no dishes to deal with, as scenes of steaming plates stir pleasant memories. You can almost taste that homemade pasta with slow-simmered tomato sauce. You can imagine how that basil smells as it’s sliced into ribbons beneath a sharp knife. If it’s been a while since you enjoyed food TV, here are a few new options to indulge in. 

The soon-to-debut Magnolia Network, driven by Chip and Joanna Gaines of “Fixer Upper” fame, features several new food-centered shows that can be found for now on Discovery+. The Lost Kitchen stars Erin French and her all-female-staffed restaurant in Freedom, Maine. Ms. French is a self-taught chef who draws on recipes from her family to elevate seasonal local foods in a homey renovated mill. In a charming quirk, The Lost Kitchen only takes reservations by postcard. In season one, the pandemic and its effects on the small trendy restaurant unfold in real time as Ms. French grapples with how to safely open. Will The Lost Kitchen survive? Does a plan for building private dining cabins with wood-burning stoves come together? Across six 45-minute episodes, bucolic scenes of Maine’s harbors and farm stands combine with the rustic aesthetic of dining under the stars. It all has a relaxing effect on the viewer even as Ms. French and her crew hustle to think, cook, and innovate on their feet.

Also from the Magnolia Network is Family Dinner, hosted by celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern. The affable Mr. Zimmern drops in on typical American families as they cook and eat together, collectively sharing their varied stories and evolving culinary traditions. Each family is unique in the types of people who arrive at the table, whether it is family and friends dishing up a Mexican dinner in New York, or the von Trapp family – yes, the von Trapp family – in Stowe, Vermont, serving Austrian classics alongside Chinese dumplings. Mr. Zimmern can work a crowd with the same dexterity that he wields a kitchen knife, drawing warmth and jokes from strangers. The six 24-minute episodes in season one will leave a lump in your throat and a hope that one day soon your own dinner table will be crowded with loved ones. 

Why We Wrote This

New cooking shows employ everything from talking puppets to the charming Stanley Tucci to show how food can entertain, educate, and inspire.

For kids and the young at heart there is a lot to adore about Waffles + Mochi, available on Netflix. This make-believe adventure centers on the puppets Waffles and Mochi, who escape the land of frozen food to fulfill their dream of learning how to cook with “real live fresh food.” They find a job working for a supermarket in the produce section, which they know nothing about. Fortunately for this pair, the store’s owner is the warm Michelle Obama, who along with her bee assistant, Busy, works in the rooftop garden. But there is so much to learn! Is a tomato a fruit or vegetable? How do you make a pickle? The duo whiz around the world in a MagiCart to meet multicultural chefs and farmers. The scenes with people and puppets are interspersed with fun musical animations. Season one, with its 10 episodes that are each well paced over about 30 minutes, will charm even those with the shortest attention spans. 

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For those yearning to travel again, Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy is a love letter to the actor’s ancestral home that you won’t want to miss. Mr. Tucci explores all corners of the slow-food homeland, sampling dishes and discussing the finer points of Italian cooking such as why a Sicilian doesn’t cook like a Tuscan. Even if you can’t get out to have an authentic Italian meal at the moment, at least you can watch Mr. Tucci saunter his way around sun-soaked farmlands and busy restaurant kitchens. Season one – and its six 45-minute episodes – is available on demand on various streaming platforms.

If intense competition is more your pace, Top Chef on Bravo kicked off season 18 on April 1 by leaping into the twin fires of a pandemic and social unrest. Filmed in Portland, Oregon, 15 “cheftestants” from around the United States compete to be the last one standing even as they deal with furloughing their staffs back home. In a historic twist, the show has invited former winners, finalists, and favorites to serve as a rotating panel of judges alongside host Padma Lakshmi and regular judges Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons. The aim: bring diverse perspectives to the seats of authority. 

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