Netflix hidden gems every foodie must watch

For all but the most hardcore lovers of all things cooking, Netflix is something of an untapped well when it comes to foodie entertainment. After all, with so many original series', classic movies and ongoing TV shows to choose from, how much time do you really have to be watching culinary documentaries and food-based shows? Why should you really care about some chef's journey around some far-off country when there's so much Daredevil and Arrested Development and Friends and GLOW to watch?

But don't discount this area of Netflix just yet. It may not exactly be at the top of your homepage, but that doesn't mean there isn't a veritable treasure trove of content to watch and enjoy. From the madcap travelogues to the bizarre tales; the nail-biting competitions to the heartwarming movies, these are some of the finest gastronomic gems you're likely to find on Netflix. Give them a shot.

Chef's Table

Chef's Table is a Netflix original, produced in-house by the company's own studios. Created by David Gelb, the director most well-known for his 2011 documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, it provides a fly-on-the-wall viewpoint into the histories and lives of some of the world's most talented and famous chefs. Each season consists of six episodes, each of which follows one chef in particular. Among the Chef's Table roster are such cooks as Niki Nakayama, Nancy Silverton, Dan Barber and Magnus Nilsson.

Love it or hate it, Chef's Table glorifies the concept of the chef as much as it does the chefs themselves, and constructs a sort of romanticized myth around the people who make your food. The results speak for themselves: the show has been nominated for a number of Emmys and won an IDA award. And with three seasons which span across the whole world — from Sweden to Peru to South Korea to Australia — it's a golden choice for victims of wanderlust, too.

Rotten

Where Chef's Table builds myths inside the world of food, Rotten tears them into pieces. It's a true crime series which investigates and exposes corruption, fraud and other criminal and unethical activities that are commonplace within the world's food supply system. This includes unsettling forays into the production of chicken, milk, honey, garlic and seafood, in an attempt to publicize the ways in which corporatism has sabotaged the natural food chain.

Each of the six episodes are one hour along, so it's a watch that's about as quick as it is easy, but the perspectives it offers, through interviews with farmers, scientists, doctors and others involved in the food production industry, are vital watching for anybody looking to be more ethically conscious in the 21st century — or really for anyone who buys food in the US. For fans of other true crime shows, like Making a Murderer or The Keepers, it's bound to keep you riveted. As a human being, it's likely to get you pretty down on the world. But sometimes, that's just what we need.

Cooked

Cooked is another Netflix original, adapted from Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, a 2013 book written by Michael Pollan. Produced by Alex Gibney — a name that should be familiar to lovers of documentaries — it follows Pollan himself as he learns how the four elements (that'll be fire, earth, air and water, element fans) have shaped food preparation throughout our history.

It's a four-part series which covers cooking all over the globe, with the prevalent message basically being that you ought to start cooking for yourself a little bit more — and, while it may not have been entirely critically acclaimed on its release, it does feature insights from food experts around the world and is likely to be among the most genuinely educational and useful cooking shows you'll find on Netflix. If you're after something cerebral and informative — a real slow burner — then Cooked is exactly what you want.

The Mind of a Chef

As far as food shows go, The Mind of a Chef is about as much of a big-hitter as you can possibly get. Produced and narrated by the late chef Anthony Bourdain, each season follows a different chef (or pair of chefs) and examines their philosophies, outlooks and beliefs when it comes to the world of cooking. There have been six seasons, with the show following such culinary icons as David Chang, Sean Brock, April Bloomfield, Edward Lee, Magnus Nilsson, Gabrielle Hamilton, David Kinch, Ludo Lefebvre and Danny Bowien.

Described by The New Republic as "the best show on television", The Mind of a Chef offers a fascinating insight into how some of the world's best chefs think, how they approach their jobs, and how their dishes (which are cooked and demonstrated on-screen, of course) have been influenced by events in the chef's lives. So it's basically a psychoanalytical cookery show. What's not to love?

Ugly Delicious

If all the haute culture, intellectual musing and finer-than-fine dining contained within these last few shows has been a little too much for you, Ugly Delicious might be just the remedy you're looking for. Each episode studies one dish in particular, be it pizza, tacos, Thanksgiving dinner, BBQ or fried chicken — real comfort food, basically — and how that dish is prepared, eaten and enjoyed in different places around the world.

The Guardian describes it as "big, bold and occasionally brash" (and just a bit too male-oriented, sadly), lauding its reassuring message — that simple, delicious and comfortable food can bring people together all over the world. At a time when food documentaries can often veer frustratingly into the territory of the self-important and the preachy, it really can be a relief to just kick back and watch a bunch of people all over the world cooking up some good old-fashioned calories.

The Wild Chef

Martin Picard is a Canadian chef and author who you perhaps might recognize from his appearance on Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations back in 2006. The Wild Chef is his first television series — more of an adventure show than a cooking show per se, it follows Picard and his sous-chef Hugue Lafour as they venture out into the Canadian wilderness to catch, forage and cook their own meals. Think things like moose, muskrats and lobsters, hunted down in the wild but prepared with all the skill and talent of one of Canada's best professional chefs.

And the whole show is very, very Canadian, both in concept and execution — meaning, if you can get over the gruesomeness of some of the recipes served up by Picard and Lafour (and Picard's deeply unfortunate obsession with foie gras), The Wild Chef could well be the slice of feral cookery that you never knew you needed.

Somebody Feed Phil

Somebody Feed Phil is another Netflix original series, this time documenting the culinary travels of Phil Rosenthal, the television writer and producer perhaps best known, weirdly enough, for creating Everybody Loves Raymond. Joined by various friends and members of his family, Rosenthal travels the world (to cities as far-ranging as Tel Aviv, Mexico City, New Orleans and Bangkok) to experience local food traditions and aspects of their cultures.

So far, so generic, right? Where Somebody Feed Phil excels itself, however, is in its oodles and oodles of charm. Described as "the sweetest, most joyful food show on TV", this is a show which benefits hugely from the simple, beguiling lovableness of its host. For Rosenthal, everything is new, exotic and amazing, and his motivation for producing the series — to transform people's lives through the magic of travel and food — genuinely shines through in the show itself. It's just lovely.

Today's Special

Another cinematic entry to the list, Today's Special is a 2009 indie comedy inspired by Sakina's Restaurant, a play by Daily Show correspondent and television writer Aasif Mandvi. Mandvi himself plays a sous chef at a fancy New York restaurant who quits to study cooking in France but, before he can, is forced to take over his family's Indian restaurant in Queens after his father becomes ill. It also stars Madhur Jaffrey, legendary Bollywood actor Naseeruddin Shah, Jess Weixley and Harish Patel.

Today's Special is an immensely feel-good, slightly Bollywood-esque celebration of Indian food and culture which tackles heritage, family and passion for cooking. According to The Hollywood Reporter, its cast offers performances as likable as the characters themselves, while the whole thing is underscored by a satisfying poignancy that all mixes together to give you a film that "leaves you wanting more." Knock up a masala, sit down with some naan and enjoy.

Nailed It

Nailed It's concept is completely sublime. It's a reality baking series in which contestants — who are amateurs, to say the least — are asked to compete in recreating "epic magical desserts." The prize: $10,000. The twist: they're all utterly terrible at baking. Hosted by Nicole Byer and judged by Jacques Torres (with a different guest judge featuring each episode), the bakers are judged on their skills and abilities in the kitchen. Things usually end up on fire.

But there's no cruelty to Nailed It — as Junkee explains, the contestants are genuine characters who recognize, and often embrace, their own failures. The show itself is "an imperfect production with cheap glossy sets, deliberately bumbled lines and ultimately hilarious guest hosts who play by their own rules on set." It's entirely chaotic, often bizarre to the extreme, and never not hilarious. If you need cheering up after a bad day, forget the sitcoms — this is the best thing on Netflix.

Eat Your Words

Eat Your Words is a show which turns the notion of food criticism on its head. The premise is that participants are challenged to recreate dishes which they didn't enjoy at a certain restaurant — essentially attempting to prove that they can do it better. If they succeed, as decided by a panel of judges, they're awarded with a gift certificate to a restaurant (presumably not the one they complained about). If they fail, they're forced to go back online and issue an apology to the restaurant they did complain about.

It's supposed to be an antidote to picky critics in the digital age; people who can deride and attack a chef or restaurant for not being quite good enough entirely from behind a screen, where their words have no consequences. Whether it succeeds in doing so, however, rather than just adding negativity to an already negative situation? Well, that's up to you to decide.

Ainsley Eats The Streets

If you're unaware (and we hope you're not), Ainsley Harriott is a legendary English chef and television personality known most for the BBC show Ready Steady Cook. Ainsley Eats the Streets is his own series which first aired on British television. It follows Harriott around the world as he delves into the street food traditions of different countries, trying out classic and unusual recipes along the way. Episodes in the first season feature Tapas in Tokyo, fried fish in Palermo, noodles in Tapei, seafood in Penang, and an episode which asks why street food doesn't exist in Madrid.

Harriott is something of an entertainment hero in the U.K., beloved for his effortless charm and iconic winning smile — and watching him present is a genuine treat. Throw in some great food, some truly exotic cities, and a real sense of passion behind the series, and you've got yourself one of the best food travelogues out there.

SOMM

The examination to be classified as a Master Sommelier is one of the toughest in the world. It requires an almost encyclopedic knowledge of wine making, the ability to discern between pretty much every grape variety and tannin, and even a firm understanding of geography and topography in the world's wine regions. SOMM is a 2013 documentary which follows four young sommeliers in the lead-up to the M.S. exam.

It's a film that, above all else, is about stress, pressure, success and failure, and, even though it's about a topic many of us are no experts in, the emotional ringer through which these sommeliers are placed will be familiar to anyone who's studied for an important exam, at any time in their life. Variety called SOMM a "stimulating intro course on wine appreciation", examined in a "crisp, quaffable if overlong fashion". If nothing else, it'll make you glad you never ruined wine for yourself by studying it.

Bugs

Like it or not, bugs might well be our future. As the population of the Earth rises and food becomes more scarce, scientists suggest that eating bugs (as apocalyptic as it sounds) could be a solution to starvation. This is the possibility which drives Bugs, a documentary film which asks a simple question: will eating insects save the world? The film joins a Danish food laboratory, consisting of chefs and researchers, as they travel the world to find out more about how the two billion people on Earth who do eat bugs actually make it happen. Director Andreas Johnsen follows the team as they forage, farm and cook insects across Europe, Australia, Mexico, Africa, Japan and beyond.

On the menu are such delicacies as maggots, locusts, termites and buffalo worms. Not exactly enticing, but as far as food docs go, it's nice to see one that looks to the future with a degree of optimism. No matter how gross it is.

Food, Inc.

Food, Inc. is a critically-acclaimed documentary film directed by Robert Kenner, who is otherwise best known for Command and Control, Merchants of Doubt and The Road to Memphis. It's an uneasy dive into the world of corporate farming and mass production, which demonstrates how corporate agriculture is unhealthy and damaging for both animals and humans.

The villains here are the FDA, the USDA and the handful of massive corporations who now control the entire food supply of the United States. The consequences are terrifying cirumstances such as E. coli, obesity epidemics, diabetes and animal cruelty. It's not a pleasant watch, but it's a damn good one — Food, Inc. was lauded by critics, and is described by Rotten Tomatoes as being "both fascinating and terrifying, and essential viewing for any health-conscious citizen." It'll do you well to see, as long as you don't watch it directly after watching Rotten. Nobody needs that much negativity in one blow.

The Birth of Sake

You know sake, don't you? It's Japanese rice wine — the national beverage in that country — and quite a big deal for lovers of Japanese culture. Well, The Birth of Sake is a documentary which takes place at the Tedorigawa Brewery, a 144-year old establishment in the Ishikawa Prefecture. The star of the show is the charismatic veteran brewmaster Yamamoto who, with his heir Yasuyuki, keeps the tradition (and the brewery) alive.

Directed by Erik Shirai, who worked on No Reservations with the late Anthony Bourdain, The Birth of Sake is a gorgeously-shot insight into one of Japan's finest customs, populated by a number of vibrant, fascinating characters. Variety described it as "richly immersive" and the A.V. Club counted it among 2016's best movies. And if you can get to the end without at least wanting to try a sip of sake — if not chug a whole bottle of it — then you're stronger than we are.

Kantaro: The Sweet Tooth Salaryman

Another import from Japan, here — Kantaro: The Sweet Tooth Salaryman is a relentlessly bizarre, utterly hilarious fictional series about an office-bound worker and "perverted masochist for sweets" who frequently takes time out of his day to visit dessert stores around town. There's a lot of musing about philosophy and life, a lot of food porn, and no short supply of hallucinatory Japanese weirdness.

Kantaro became something of an instant hit when it shipped over to the west, and, like the desserts it showcases, is best consumed in one go: this is a binge-watch, for sure. Oh, and the best thing of all? Every single one of the stores featured in the show are real, as are the desserts they showcase, meaning that, next time you're in Tokyo, you too can follow in Kantaro's footsteps and end up in some kind of strange, messed up, sweet-fueled fever dream. In fact, you'd be a fool not to.

Barbecue

You don't need to come from the southern states to really know just how seriously some people take barbecue food. That doesn't mean, however, you still can't be surprised by it. Enter Barbecue, a 2017 documentary film which debuted at SXSW in Austin in 2017. In it, Australian filmmaker Matthew Salleh and his partner Rose Tucker traverse the globe, learning about different cultures and their approaches to barbecued food along the way.

It analyzes the tradition and sense of community from which barbecue derives, offering the style up as a sort of great equalizer through which countless countries and peoples, from Sweden to Uruguay to Armenia to Japan to Syria, can find common ground. The film was critically acclaimed on its debut — Indiewire describing it as a "fascinating ethnographic perspective" on grilling that'll teach even the most hardened experts something new. And now it's on Netflix. Convenient, isn't it?