Food TV

Ever since I received a Tivo as a birthday present from Julia in 2006, I became more loyal to watching television shows than I had ever been in my life. It is much easier to watch things when I have time to watch them and not glue myself to the TV every night at specific times. Before, all I watched religiously was sports. I found that the shows I now follow fall in to several categories: major network dramas/comedies, American Idol – and cooking shows, of course! I have watched nearly every cooking and food show that there is, but only choose to regularly watch the best. Sometimes they amuse me, sometimes they inspire me, sometimes they teach me and sometimes they are just appetizing and mouthwatering. Here’s my quick take on my favorite cooking-based shows.

Top 10 Cooking/Food/Culinary Shows

1. Top Chef (Bravo) – Head and shoulders above any other cooking show, this reality culinary competition is the single show I look forward to most every week (yes, even over Lost!) The level of talent of the chefs, the creativity of the challenges, its consistency season-to-season, the caliber of the guest chefs, the silver-tounged, no-mercy judges, the built-in drama, and of course, Padma, all combine to make this the most entertaining and worthwhile show that I watch.

2. Iron Chef America (Food Network) – Classic show, I used to watch and enjoy even the dated, English-dubbed Japanese original version. At one time, it was one of the more exciting shows that I watched and easily would have been in the top spot. But it has been slipping lately, as its boilerplate style only packs so much punch after a while. Then, when they build in repeated secret ingredients, too many sporadic re-runs and not enough appearances by Mario Batali, Masaharu Morimoto and Michael Symon, it is not a show that is must-see anymore. The opening five minutes of each episode is still unparalleled in excitement. If they worked on the next 55 minutes a little more, then it could be working its way back up my list. For now, it’s hard to not slip it down any further.

3. Jamie at Home (FN) – Pure, simple, rustic and unbelievably mouthwatering food is what British superstar chef Jamie Oliver gives in every, single episode of this underrated (or under-produced) Food Network show. Shot straight from his home in England, filled with his own produce and own British cockney charm, sayings and style, we cannot get enough of Jamie. I know it sounds corny, but no chef’s style and dishes have inspired my love of cooking or food more than Jamie’s show and books have.

4. Kitchen Nightmares (FOX) – My guilty pleasure. Watching my idol, Gordon Ramsey, nearly-literally have an aneurism toward the owners, managers and chefs of the absolute worst restaurants in America and then show compassion for them, inspire them to be better and use his genius and resources to makeover the restaurant and its people in a week is downright spellbinding. Before, I always thought Ramsey was a pompous jerk, but this show drastically changed my opinion of him and made Hell’s Kitchen not only watchable, but a great show as well.

5. Throwdown with Bobby Flay (FN) – Throwdown is a great Food Network show with a great chef. It has gotten a little boilerplate and repetitive and has subsequently jumped the shark a little recently with chefs actually challenging Bobby to throwdowns or anticipating his arrival. I guess that’s to be expected though, since I never understood how the Network’s cover ever fooled people into believing they were getting their own uber-specific FN show out of nowhere. Nonetheless, it is a show that always will interest me due to its focus on “amateur experts,” though their constantly-inflated egos will always have me rooting for Bobby.

6. Hell’s Kitchen (FOX) – Ramsey’s other show, this one is on its way up in my book. After being too grossed-out or turned-off by the contestants and Ramsey in other seasons, I learned to love the big Brit through Kitchen Nightmares and then read of how successful his restaurants and past winners have been. Who doesn’t want to see Ramsey tongue-lash, scream, berate and ultimately compassion his way into making a high-level executive chef out of the best of a group of misfit, undertrained line cooks and low-level chefs? It’s compelling television and also a guilty pleasure of course. There’s not enough drama or screaming in MY workplace, so I need to watch it in other peoples’, and Ramsey provides that in both of his shows.

7. Dinner Impossible with Michael Symon (FN) – I’m a big fan of the newest Iron Chef. He’s young, creative, daring and hilarious. He should have 10 shows on FN (which should ACTUALLY INCLUDE Iron Chef America more than twice a year). So, I was thrilled when fuddy-duddy Robert Irvine was removed from the Network and replaced on his signature show by Symon. The show instantly became not only watchable but terrific. But he is still incredibly underused so far, with only a handful of Dinner Impossible and Iron Chef America appearances airing in the year-and-a-half since he ascended to stardom. Still, if I could have any chef catering a huge (or even small) event for me, I can’t think of anyone I’d want it to be besides Symon. He was the perfect choice for that show and makes it one of FN’s best and most exciting.

8. Barefoot Contessa (FN) – Making a cake? You’ll need some butter. Ina Garten of the Barefoot Contessa will work a stick or two of butter even into that salad you’re making. The more underrated and understated of FN’s two butter girls, I actually appreciate what Garten brings to the Network – how to wow people with simple, well-executed food. Centered around her home life on the Hamptons and the various dinner parties and events she throws, Ina displays a menagerie of cooking and baking skill and creativity. So it’s a little heavy sometimes? She doesn’t seem to care. So why should we? The Network runs her old episodes daily, but finding new episodes is difficult and would make me enjoy her show all the more. (Plus, she worked at the same government agency that I currently do in her pre-cooking days. Will there be a career parallel?)

9. Chopped (FN) – The new kid on the block at Food Network, the Ted-Allen-hosted, mystery-basket-laden cooking show is kind of like a more interesting version of Iron Chef America but with less interesting contestants (unknown professional chefs). I still think it has major potential and could become more exciting with time if they let it evolve (instead of staying so rigid like many Food Network shows).

10. Next Food Network Star (FN) – FN’s version of Bravo’s Top Chef differs only in the caliber of its contestants (worse), the nature of its judges and guest stars (FN’s crew instead of the rest of the universe’s chefs) and the outcome (a non-guaranteed show on FN as opposed to the resources and notoriety to start the restaurant of their dreams). It is still pretty enjoyable to watch, but at times borders much more on the level of Hell’s Kitchen than Top Chef in what the chef’s are actually able to cook. It also airs in the worst time of year for television – June and July-ish – when most people, myself included, have better things to do. Still, the show has popped out a few stars (Guy Fieri, most notably), so I will give it another real chance when its next season comes around.

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