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Food and Cooking Shows that Feed Our Souls

The Great British Baking Show might be the television equivalent of comfort food. Maybe it’s the pastel-hued set on the grounds of a bucolic English estate. Maybe it’s the pastoral scenery of the English countryside – a babbling brook, sheep grazing in the field, a bee landing on a flower at peak bloom. Or maybe it’s the comradery between the contestants. Although it’s a competition, they offer each other hugs and words of support.

Cooking shows can offer a similarly soothing distraction. Series such as Salt Fat Acid Heat, where each episode is devoted to one of these essential ingredients, and Julia & Jacques: Cooking at Home, a PBS classic featuring Julia Childs, all deliver feel-good entertainment free of complicated storylines.

Amid distressing 24-hour news cycles and stay-at-home orders that have gone from novel to anxiety-inducing, it’s perhaps no surprise that cooking and baking shows have become more popular. The Food Network reported that April 2020 was its highest-rated month in seven years. Overall viewership has increased 20 to 30 percent on any given day, and certain daytime programming is up by as much as 70 percent.

“Social isolation and loneliness can have an adverse impact on mental health and overall wellbeing,” says Navya Singh, a psychologist and researcher at Columbia University. “So be sure to take time off between work and household tasks to relax.” 

For some people, relaxation means getting lost in a program where the biggest challenge anyone faces is how to get their dough to rise or what side dish goes best with braised lamb shanks. 

Cooking Shows as Learning Tools

As people spend more time at home, they’re also cooking for themselves more often. Watching food and baking shows are not only a great way to unwind but can also provide tips and inspiration for first-time cooks or those hoping to expand their repertoire. 

The Food Network seems to have anticipated this trend and introduced programming that speaks to the current moment. The new show Amy Schumer Learns to Cook features the comedian making delicious meals with husband and chef Chris Fischer. And during an episode of veteran show The Kitchen, the hosts created recipes using only the ingredients they had on-hand in their pantries at home.

Food Programming for Wanderlust

Shows centered around cooking and baking can also satisfy cravings unrelated to food. As ongoing travel restrictions keep us in our comfort zones, some programs tap into our desire to experience exotic locales and far-flung places. 

Phil Rosenthal, the creator of Everybody Loves Raymond, isn’t a famous chef, but his passion for food rivals that of a professional. In his show Somebody Feed Phil, he travels to food-centric cities such as New Orleans, Tel-Aviv and Bangkok in search of the best local culinary creations. 

Award-winning chef David Chang, the founder of Momofuku Restaurant Group, travels around the world tasting delicious yet intimidating food in his series Ugly Delicious. Chang uses food as a means of cultural exploration and investigates the wide variations in food preparation from place to place. 

Baking & Cooking: The New Competitive Sports

Food Network president Courtney White points to the lack of live sports as another reason people are tuning in to certain cooking and baking shows.

“What we found is once sports went dark, viewers who are just hungry for the competition came to us and they weren’t our regular food viewers,” White said. “Seeing the battles play out on Food Network scratched an itch there.”

If you’re looking for shows with high stakes or a competitive edge, Restaurant Impossible on The Food Network may be a good place to start. Chef Robert Irvine meets unsuspecting restaurant owners to help them save their failing culinary business. 

Sugar Rush, on Netflix, also delivers on the competition front. Four teams of bakers are given a set of timed challenges and must rush to complete confections under pressure. 

Here are all the shows mentioned above, where to find them and who should tune in.

The Great British Baking Show

Where to watch: Netflix

Best for: Baking tips, passive viewing

Salt Fat Acid Heat

Where to watch: Netflix

Best for: First-time cooks eager to learn but intimidated

Julia & Jacques: Cooking at Home

Where to watch: PBS

Best for: Fans of Julia Child and French food

Amy Schumer Learns to Cook

Where to watch: Food Network

Best for: Amateur cooks who appreciate a side of humor

The Kitchen

Where to watch: Food Network

Best for: Seasoned home cooks looking for inspiration

Somebody Feed Phil 

Where to watch: Netflix

Best for: Armchair travelers

Ugly Delicious

Where to watch: Netflix

Best for: Fans of food, travel and cross-cultural exchange

Restaurant Impossible

Where to watch: Food Network

Best for: High-stakes viewing

Sugar Rush

Where to watch: Netflix

Best for: Competitive baking aficionados

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