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Food, heretofore a dependable source of joy and comfort, is attended by far too much worry these days. Going to the market has taken on the dimensions of provisioning for a wilderness trek. Ordering groceries online requires the split-second timing of a bank heist. Cooking has its usual drawbacks — no one else to blame if it doesn’t come out well, dirty pots, pans and dishes — plus the added creative challenge of relying on a pantry that, increasingly, looks like a “Chopped” basket.
There’s takeout, of course — but that’s a whole other headache. If you want pure, unadulterated culinary comfort, there’s only one place to get it: on the flat screen. Here are 10 cooking shows guaranteed to satisfy and delight.
The Great British British Baking Show
Netflix / 80 episodes
There may be no show on television right now that is more uplifting and restorative than “The Great British Baking Show.” In truth the cakes, pastries and breads made by the contestants tend toward the overelaborate: you will be moved to duplicate very few of them in your own kitchen. But what the show has in spades is … well, love. Love of baking, yes, but also the love that grows among the charming-to-a-fault competitors, and between them and their judges and program hosts. Blue-eyed silver fox Paul Hollywood is a constant presence but, in Season 5, judge Mary Berry and hosts Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins were replaced by Prue Leith, Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig; amazingly the show barely missed a beat.
Salt Fat Acid Heat
Netflix / 4 episodes
This companion series to Samin Nosrat’s award-winning book of the same name follows its author / host to Japan, Italy, Mexico and Berkeley, California (her home) as she explores the four most important elements of cooking. The former Chez Panisse cook (and Michael Pollan's personal cooking teacher) harvests olives, molds balls of handmade miso, tours a Yucatán citrus market and, in her own kitchen, makes Persian-style rice under the critical eye of her own mother. Her openhearted personality coupled with her deep knowledge and boundless inquisitiveness makes her an endearing guide.
Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home
Amazon Prime / 22 episodes
Julia Child’s original television show, "The French Chef" (1963 to 1973), is available for streaming on Amazon Prime but only for PBS members. In fact, it’s of more historical interest than gustatory pleasure because of the crude production and black-and-white cinematography. Instead, curl up with this 1999 series, which has the added benefit of Jacques Pepin and his amazing knife skills. While some of the dishes look a bit dated, the skills imparted are timeless as is the pleasure of seeing these two dear friends chatter while they chop.
Gordon Ramsay’s Ultimate Cookery Course
Amazon Prime / 10 episodes
If the only Gordon Ramsay you know is the profane screamer seen on "Hell’s Kitchen," prepare yourself for something entirely new. In his "Ultimate Cookery Course," Ramsay shares the recipes, tips and, most of all, philosophy of cooking that made him a Michelin-starred chef before he became a television star. Rather than scream, Ramsay murmurs intimately through these episodes, cooing at ingredients, exulting over technique. It’s beautifully shot, and full of valuable information.
Jamie Oliver’s Food Escapes
Amazon Prime / 6 episodes
Back in 2001, Jamie Oliver was a tousle-haired lad whose scruffy appearance and Essex accent made him an extremely unlikely candidate for worldwide culinary celebrity. His laddish charm and cooking chops are both on display in this series wherein he visits Italy, France, Greece, Spain, Sweden and Morocco, mingles with locals on boar hunts and fishing boats and in restaurants, shops, homes and one womens’ prison. As often as he is cooking in a kitchen, he is squatting over a wood fire in a field, using a pocket knife to chop onions. Travel, food, human interest, humor — these show hits all the right notes.
Making Perfect: Pizza
Amazon Prime / 4 episodes
If you thought "Cooks Illustrated" was the ne plus ultra of obsessive recipe development, watch this inside look at the test kitchen of "Bon Appétit". Each episode of this series follows a test-kitchen cook investigating an element of pizza — dough, sauce, toppings, cooking — said investigation entailing expert interviews and exhaustive recipe testing (how long to proof the dough, what type of mozzarella to use), the results of which are presented, tournament-bracket style. Most of the “losers” look pretty good, and the winners can practically be tasted through the screen. What saves the show from self-seriousness is the easygoing camaraderie among the earnest, young cooks.
The Barefoot Contessa: Cook Like a Pro
Food Network / Seasons 25 and 26 now On Demand
No matter what happens in the real world, Ina Garten is eternally in her gorgeous East Hampton kitchen, measuring ingredients with gleaming, seemingly never-been used cups and spoons, slipping pristine sheet pans into and out of her Viking range, arranging vegetables on huge, white platters. I’m not sure what is the significance of the series title, "Cook Like a Pro" because the episodes cycle through the usual Barefoot themes — Italian, holiday, make-ahead themes — with the usual straightforward recipes. In a timely twist, each episode now ends with a cocktail.
Food Network / Seasons 15 and 16 now On Demand
I’m not usually a fan of cooking reality shows, but I can’t take my eyes off "Restaurant Impossible." Yes, host Robert Irvine has a questionable resume. Yes, it's impossible is to turn around a kitchen by teaching it three new recipes. Yes, the contestants are selected for their loserdom. But watching Irvine make these yutzes cop to their own cluelessness is always satisfying. And, by the time the owners are led into their new restaurant and relieved of their blindfolds, I often have tears in my eyes.
Food Network / Season 15 now On Demand
It’s been decades since The Food Network focused on home cooking — it’s all cupcake battles and supermarket games now. But you can still catch host Alton Brown up to his old tricks on his original series, "Good Eats," which ran from 1999 to 2011 and resumed in 2019. Brown, a singular blend of brainiac science geek and exhibitionist theater geek, drills down on one topic per episode, whether animal, vegetable or mineral (salt). Alton Brown geeks can also watch 13 episodes of “Good Eats: Reloaded,” wherein present-day Brown edits himself into episodes of Season 1, back when production values were rough and the host had hair.
YouTube / 260 episodes
The name says it all: This series travels all over Italy to visit grandmothers in their kitchens as they prepare regional specialties, mostly pasta. The episodes are short — about 5 minutes — but that’s plenty of time to get the measure of these accomplished home cooks. And if your own pasta repertoire begins with penne alla vodka and ends with spaghetti with meatballs, prepare yourself for tajarin con porcini (tagliarini with wild mushrooms) from Piedmont, strozzapreti with seafood from the coast of Romagna, chestnut trofie with parsley pesto from Liguria and, a completely new one on me, taccuna (short, wide ribbons) with fresh tuna and artichokes from Sicily.
Two Fat Ladies
YouTube / 25 episodes
I was over the moon when I discovered that every episode of Two Fat Ladies was available to stream on YouTube. If you’ve never seen the show, now more than 20 years old, you may not believe the premise: Two, ahem, mature women, Jennifer Paterson and Clarissa Dickson Wright, exceedingly articulate but aggressively plain, tool around the English countryside in a Triumph Thunderbird motorcycle (Paterson drives, Dickson Wright sits in a sidecar), showing up at restaurants and great houses, embassies and cricket matches, where they cook up a meal of classic British specialties, all the while engaging in highly erudite banter. I daresay there have never been a pair of less-likely television stars than Paterson and Dickson Wright, who died in 1999 and 2014, respectively.