The Fox series based on Anthony Bourdain’s first breakout bestseller wasn’t perfect, but it was significantly ahead of its time as a single-camera comedy, with a stellar cast (including Bradley Cooper, John Cho, Jaime King, and Nicholas Brennan) and a solid eye for the food being prepared by these chefs. The episode where guest star John Larroquette asks Jack (Cooper) to kill him with the most decadent meals imaginable is one you’re technically glad to enjoy vicariously. Some of those proposed meals do sound truly lethal but just as delicious.
“Master of None”
Whether it was Nashville’s white BBQ sauce in Season 1 or the delectable pasta rolled right in front of our eyes during the opening of Season 2, “Master of None” has caused quite a stir among the foodie community. Co-creators Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang bring their own cooking, eating, and dining obsessions into the fold over multiple episodes, often expanding into story arcs both high-brow (like Dev and Arnold’s Season 2 Italian expedition to Francescana) and low (like Dev’s gig on the ridiculous reality show, “Clash of the Cupcakes”). No matter how it’s utilized, however, the food itself is always respectable and delectable — foodies and average folk alike will be seeking it out for years to come.
“Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories”
Based on a manga of the same name, the series is set in the tiny eatery of Meshiya, referred to by its patrons as the Midnight Diner because it’s only open from midnight to 7 a.m. Late-night customers ranging from businessmen, taxi drivers and students sidle up to the bar to order from the Master, the taciturn proprietor who only has one item on the menu, a pork miso soup, but will make you whatever you want as long as he has the ingredients. Each episode is a vignette themed around one dish or drink, which relates to the story of one of the oddball patrons.
The Master isn’t the only one dishing up comfort food here. The series is as heartwarming as a bowl of noodles and just as nourishing. While the plots range from sweet romances to the bizarre relationship between a man and his mother’s ghost, the stories always come to a swift and satisfying conclusion with lessons learned and faith in humanity reaffirmed. And it doesn’t hurt that the show takes the time to watch The Master at work, prepping, cooking, and plating up his belly- and heart-warming dishes. In such a volatile world that we live in, this series is a meditative bit of kindness and tranquility in 23-minute bites.
“Portlandia: The Brunch Special”
“Portlandia” makes this list thanks to one very specific episode: the extended director’s cut of the Season 2 finale, known on Netflix as “Portlandia: The Brunch Special.” The main plot of the episode focuses on an insanely popular brunch restaurant known for its marionberry pancakes. But really, for the most hunger-inducing element, you can skip past Kyle MacLachlan’s classy introduction. Heck, you can leave out the actual episode itself (though it’s a delightful example of the “Portlandia” quirky sense of humor, and features a pretty hilarious cameo by Tim Robbins). Really, it’s all about the “making of” featurette that follows the episode — it’s a whole new story about director Jonathan Krisel (playing himself) seeking out the perfect marionberry pancake for the show. It’s an over-the-top journey that takes him from the marionberry fields to chef Bobby Flay’s Manhattan kitchen, but as silly as it might be… damn. Marionberry pancakes sound delicious.
Shot through the same gauzy lens as shows like “The Barefoot Contessa” in their heyday, this obscure BBC2 comedy is only widely available via YouTube bootleg, but it’s well worth tracking down. An incredibly dry satire, “Posh Nosh” features two stellar comedic performances from Richard E. Grant and Arabella Weir as the married hosts of a cooking show that represents every bit of upper-class excess you might imagine. But even when Minty is mispronouncing every ingredient name or Simon is describing his wine pick with terminology that your typical vintner might avoid (“dirt” comes up an awful lot) the food remains genuinely crave-worthy. (Need one more reason to watch? David Tennant appears in a few episodes!)
For a show titled “Pushing Daisies,” the closest flowers came to playing a central role were as a garnish for a delicious slice of pumpkin pie. Or an apple-Gruyere pie. Or a
five three-plum pie. Pie was the obsession of the pie-maker, Ned (Lee Pace), and became an obsession of the series as well. Every major character bonded over the unifying dessert, sitting down to settle disputes of the mind and heart with a fork in hand and a dollop of whipped cream at the ready. To count all the pies (even in a short-lived series) wouldn’t even capture the imagination that went into making them flourish. “Pushing Daisies” may be about life and death, but it’s also about pies and the delicious contributions they make to the living.