When dedicated businessman Takeshi Kasumi finally retires, he’s unsure of what to do or how to enjoy himself without feeling guilty that he’s not working. When he stumbles into a restaurant and has his first-ever midday beer, it’s an epiphany. Retirement isn’t the end of an era but the beginning of a new one, full or gastronomical delights that he can partake in day after day. His inner samurai — depicted in fantastical period sequences — gives him the courage to pursue any delectable delight his heart desires.
This show epitomizes the obsession of the everyday foodie who relishes every part of the eating experience, not just the gourmet or trendy aspects. The amount of time that Kasumi spends in the first episode even considering the beer, fantasizing about a samurai who day-drinks, pouring, drinking and gazing upon the brew would even bring a tear to Homer Simpson’s eye. The series presents the meals using swooping camerawork and all the proper Instagram-worthy angles before Kasumi inevitably consumes the food with rapture exuding from every pore. Don’t watch this show while hungry.
“Somebody Feed Phil”
This is basically Netflix’s bigger-budget version of PBS’ “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having,” which the streaming service also acquired. Both are friendly, food-tastic takes on the traditional travelogue series. The only real difference we can see is that the opening credits are vaguely sitcom-ish, complete with a theme song with cheesy lyrics. (If ever there were a reason to skip credits, this might be it, except we can’t seem to look away.)
The series features “Everybody Loves Raymond” creator Phil Rosenthal as a softer, gentler, and less-sophisticated Anthony Bourdain. That accessibility is his appeal, and there’s nothing more charming than when he reports back to his elderly parents via video call and gets their incredulous take on his latest meal. Ranging from the ultimate bowl of pho in Saigon and a spicy shakshuka in Tel Aviv, to the more domestic Cajun offerings in New Orleans, the series doesn’t stray too often or too far from down-home eats, regardless of geographical location. Add to that the requisite gorgeous close-up photography and Phil’s unfeigned elation with every mouthful, and you can very well imagine going the distance for these dishes.
The greatest film trilogy of this decade is actually a television show, airing on BBC Two and Sky Atlantic as a series before being exported in film form elsewhere. Many casual viewers may know the Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon series of travelogues from the duo’s dueling Michael Caine impressions, but beyond the funny voices and name-dropping is a devastatingly funny and heartbreaking look at what it means to balance being a funny man and a family man. Taken on their own, the cuisine of England, Italy, and Spain all jump off the screen, especially when the two men melt in their chairs with each new delicious bite. But when taken as an overall series, watching the changes in Brydon and Coogan’s characters and the way they swap back and forth in their varying life circumstances becomes a satisfying dish all in itself.
Now on its 15th season, there are times when the Bravo reality series gets a little consumed by personal drama, but first and foremost it’s about the food. While sometimes there are moments where we can only gauge the tastiness of the prepared dishes by judges’ critiques, the emphasis on the action inside the kitchen generally means we understand just why a certain morsel might not make the cut. Other reality competition series (::cough cough:: “Project Runway”) have succumbed over the years to emphasizing internal conflict at the expense of celebrating talented artists creating something you might desire. But “Top Chef” is never a show you should plan to watch on an empty stomach.
Post-Hurricane Katrina, creators David Simon and Eric Overmeyer captured the spirit of The Big Easy with such authenticity that even New Orleanians approved. The producers knew that attention to detail was key, which is probably why Simon wrote a letter to the people of New Orleans that acted as a mea culpa/explanation for why a certain fruit pie that shouldn’t have existed in the show’s timeline, made an important appearance in the pilot.
“Treme’s” biggest strengths are how it actually captures the flavor of the city’s main cultural touchstones: music and food. While the former is easy to convey with ardent and infectious performances, the latter is handled so naturally that the viewer feels like they’ve walked into a real restaurant: the bustle of the pass, the barked expediting, and the food plated vertically just so. That’s because New Orleans chef Susan Spicer consulted on the series and served as inspiration of the character Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens). Anthony Bourdain got a story credit on a handful of episodes, too. Even better, the everyday use of food on the show feels like a genuine part of the flow of the scene, whether it’s a bag of Zapp’s chips laid on the bar or Khandi Alexander chomping on a drumstick as she takes in a band. Food is life in New Orleans, and the show never treats it as just a tasty lagniappe.
While chef and restaurateur David Chang uses the term “ugly delicious” to refer to comfort foods that may not qualify as white tablecloth fare, quite honestly, everything that’s featured on the show looks pretty damn amazing. This is Netflix, the home of “Chef’s Table.” They’re not going to let some unappetizing schlock pass under their cameras if it’s meant to be consumed.
Order in or dish up some grub to eat along with the viewing experience. Watching the pizza episode is an exercise in gastronomic self-denial as every browned crust, every stretch of buffalo mozzarella leaps off the screen, begging to be consumed. And don’t get us started on the perfectly corrugated crusts on display in the fried chicken episode. Beyond satisfying culinary appetites, the show also poses questions about food’s role in our culture. It’s a show that’s nourishing on many levels, as long as you plan ahead on the food front.
Netflix and fill your belly and mind.
“The Wine Show”
Matthew Rhys and Matthew Goode travel around drinking wine. What else is there really to talk about? Proof that mouth-watering TV doesn’t have to just come from food on the plate, watching these two actors and a collection of guest stars drink their way through the finest vintages across Europe is a real treat. A co-venture of Hulu and Channel 5 in the UK, there’s an added bonus to the series that these explorations aren’t coming from experts, but from someone in the act of discovery. Toss in an extra dose of James Purefoy among the tannins and you have a delightful, tasteful romp through wine country that never overstays its welcome.