There’s so much content available at all times and on so many different devices and platforms, that it’s no wonder the discourse around television focuses on shows pitched toward prestige and the zeitgeist. But while year-end lists almost invariably gravitate toward the HBO dramas and Netflix series everyone constantly tweets about, there’s a whole world of reality programming that people just plain watch. And right now there’s nothing better in the world of reality television than the explosion of culinary-themed shows and series.
Netflix, with originals like Chef’s Table, Salt Fat Acid Heat, and Ugly Delicious, has moved the dial toward respectability for the genre: A number of the service’s shows have scored critical acclaim. Meanwhile, the influence of celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay or the late Anthony Bourdain, whose work on the Travel Channel’s No Reservations and CNN’s Emmy-winning Parts Unknown set and then raised the bar substantially for this type of programming, cannot be overstated. But it’s the Food Network and its younger sister, the Cooking Channel, that have been doing the bulk of the heavy lifting for culinary-themed content for years now — and it’s time these networks get the respect they deserve for the countless hours of educational and entertaining food-centric programming they have been serving up every day.
When most people think about these channels, they probably think of traditional instructional cooking shows hosted by well-known celebrity chefs like Ina Garten, Emeril Lagasse, Giada De Laurentiis, Paula Deen, Bobby Flay, or even the home cook herself, Rachael Ray. Shows of this format are still around and remain quite popular among viewers, though they sometimes take on different themes (Brunch at Bobby’s) or are hosted by celebrities more famous for their careers outside the kitchen (like Trisha’s Southern Kitchen with Trisha Yearwood, Valerie’s Home Cooking starring Valerie Bertinelli, and The Real Girl’s Kitchen hosted by Haylie Duff, to name a few).
Ace of Cakes, which offered an inside look at what goes into running a small business while focusing on one of the most fascinating forms of food art: cake decorating. The employees of Charm City Cakes, led by Duff Goldman — who is now a famous culinary TV personality thanks to the popularity of the show — all had their roles to play, both within the functioning business and within the web of the reality show. The series, which ran until 2011, proved that there was much more to the topic of food than simply explaining how to make it and that the Food Network has the power to turn its subjects into stars.
In 2019, viewers are interested in more than just how-to cooking shows, and the Food Network and the Cooking Channel have responded with new programs. Their lineups include competition shows (like Chopped, Iron Chef America, Beat Bobby Flay, and Cupcake Wars), educational programs (like Food: Fact or Fiction, Foodography, and Alton Brown‘s Good Eats), and shows simply about watching people eat enormous amounts of food (Man v. Food). These shows all lend themselves perfectly to marathon viewing, making the Food Network and the Cooking Channel good go-to destinations for comfort television. But as food-centric programming becomes more popular than ever, it’s also become clear that the best genre of culinary TV is the food travel show.
Carnival Eats, for example, visits state and county fairs around the country to reveal some of the sweetest and weirdest concoctions imaginable. Other programs are richly educational, such as Andrew Zimmern‘s Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations, which highlights the iconic foods of various places around the world. And some simply take you to sample the cuisine of different coasts (Beach Bites with Katie Lee) or reveal the latest in the world of food and dining; for instance, as food trucks have become more and more popular around the U.S., so too have the programs that focus on the culinary creations produced within their mobile kitchens.
The best example of the influence of this type of show might be Guy Fieri‘s road trip-inspired seri