The only thing we love more than eating and cooking is watching others eat and cook. Whether it’s real-life kitchen masters or fictional hungry patrons, we cannot get enough of people preparing wonderful-looking food or dining on it. We sit from the comfort of our couch, bed, or theater seat and revel in the idea of enjoying such tasty treats, even if we must briefly live vicariously through those on the big or small screen. So let’s talk about our favorite food-themed movies and television shows.
In Jon Favreau's love letter to cooking and the DIY approach, Chef shows what it’s like for one man to bail on a popular L.A. restaurant to find his culinary truth in a food truck. He lovingly serves up Cuban sandwiches across the country with his best friend and son, rediscovering what made him fall in love with being a chef in the first place. Plus, there are so many close-ups and sound clips of food being cooked, that you can't get through the flick without eating.
With some legitimately gorgeous shots of Paris, Ratatouille tells the story of a seasoning expert, foodie rat teaming up with a young goofball in a highly touted restaurant’s kitchen. Remy the rat is mocked by his family for his love of flavor (although they come around) as Alfredo the human is mocked for his lack of skill (although he comes around, too). It’s a cute tale that focuses on what food-lovers will do in order to earn their keep in the culinary world.
A Cook’s Tour / No Reservations / The Layover / Parts Unknown
It seems like we could just watch Anthony Bourdain bounce around the globe and eat forever. He’s our favorite person to send out into the world to try, taste, and savor the cuisine we don’t have the luxury or luck to do ourselves. He’s respected by his peers and he seems like a guy who’s ready to have a beer with you. He can be all things, but, aside from his life as a chef, he’s best at being a guide.
When an exceptional chocolatier and daughter move to a French village filled with rather stiff religious traditionalists, they don’t exactly fit in. But the charming confectionary shop begins to turn the tide, transforming the stern locals into colorful enthusiasts one by one, all as the mayor rallies against such a nest of temptation. It’s hard not to treat your sweet tooth after watching Chocolat.
In The Trip, both a show and a movie, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play fictionalized versions of themselves on a restaurant tour in England. It's largely an effort for Coogan to impress his foodie girlfriend, despite being a pretty unhappy person. Throughout the adventure, the two men bicker like brothers and attempt to outdo each other, especially when it comes to impressions, always eating at fancy eateries. And then The Trip to Italy came a few years later.
Iron Chef / Iron Chef America
Iron Chef has been a fascinating staple of the culinary world since it began in mid-90s Japan. Its original incarnation only lasted until the turn of the century, but the cooking show’s since splintered off into individual country concepts, including Iron Chef America. It's a dramatic timed cook-off, with each episode focused on a specific secret ingredient. Given the hosts’ passionate delivery of each competition, a standard set by “Chairman Kaga” back in the day, it’s pretty dang memorable.
So much happens around a family's dining room table that we tend to forget its importance. It's so constant and true that it seems too obvious to be valued. But in this movie about a Chicago family that has Sunday dinners together every week, we're reminded of how much we engage each other sitting around and eating. While every event of our lives certainly doesn't happen in the dining room, we discuss, debate, and catch-up at the table, ideally over good, hearty food.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
In the fascinating documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, we behold Jiro Ono and his journey to serve his life goal of perfecting sushi. He’s no novice, though. When we meet him, he’s already the 85-year-old owner of a celebrated sushi restaurant in Tokyo known as Sukiyabashi Jiro and been a qualified sushi chef since 1951. Many consider him the most masterful sushi craftsman alive, with even former President Barack Obama once claiming that Ono's sushi is the best he's ever had in his life. It’s magical to behold a professional so dedicated to and passionate about his craft.
There are many programs like Top Chef, and even some spin-offs, but this has always been a favorite. Chefs compete against each other and try their best to impress a panel of celebrated figures from the food industry. It’s been around for more than a decade now, having brought in such big names as Wolfgang Puck, Emeril Lagasse, and Anthony Bourdain along the way.
Julie & Julia
Scrumptious food and the people behind it have a tremendous impact on us. Such was the case when Julie Powell tried to make all 524 recipes from Julia Child's bestselling book Mastering the Art of French Cooking (written alongside Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle). Powell kept tabs on her progress via a blog that later became this film adaptation, telling the story of Powell figuring out life in the process of her self-appointed cooking challenge as well as Child making her way through Paris and Le Cordon Bleu. It’s lovely.
On Good Eats, Alton Brown dove into the what lead to the final result of food. He was all about history, science, technique, and equipment. People compared him to the likes of Bill Nye and Mr. Wizard, if they only focused on food. Brown seemed to love what he did over the course of more than a dozen seasons. In fact, the show earned him both a Peabody Award and a James Beard Foundation award nomination for "Best T.V. Food Journalism.”
Stanley Tucci’s film about two Italian brothers trying to make it on the New Jersey restaurant scene in the 1950s is a masterpiece. Even Roger Ebert started off his glowing review by claiming that Big Night was "one of the great food movies." It’s not hard to see why. The film shows and talks of food as if it is the most powerful and wonderful force in the world. The process of cooking is as celebrated as it is honored, but always with the acknowledgement that you can’t satisfy every single eater.
The French Chef
Julia Child’s cooking show in the '60s and '70s celebrated the encouraging chef’s love for all things food. The French Chef was one of the first shows of its kind in the United States and it made the fanciest of French cuisine seem doable in the homes of American audiences. She was like the Mr. Rogers of the culinary world, and the show won her a Primetime Emmy as well as a Peabody Award.