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32 shows and movies about food to watch when you need to escape the cold (or your family)

By Sharyn Jackson and Joy Summers, Sharyn Jackson and Joy Summers, Star Tribune
Published: January 2, 2023, 6:09am
6 Photos
Sarah Lancashire portrays famous chef Julia Child in the series "Julia." (HBO Max/TNS)
Sarah Lancashire portrays famous chef Julia Child in the series "Julia." (HBO Max/TNS) Photo Gallery

There comes a point when, after all the guests have left, the dishes are stacked and the glasses are drying, all we want to do is collapse and turn on the TV. Whether recharging the introvert battery, nursing consequences or trying to escape from visiting family or the bitter cold, this is a prime time for binge viewing.

Since we are a food-obsessed collective, even when we’re not cooking, eating or writing about cooking and eating, we’re still loving all the ways we can dive into movies, documentaries, series and shows that cover all the wonderful facets of the way we eat.

This year, there was plenty to watch in real time, like the inescapable ode to restaurant stress “The Bear,” or Stanley Tucci’s well-dressed adventures through the Italian countryside. But there’s also a wealth of old favorites we’re excited to revisit, including the perfect Chinese takeout pairing “In Search of General Tso,” or scoffing at Julia Roberts as a misguided restaurant critic in “My Best Friend’s Wedding.”

Go ahead. Dim the lights, put on your new slippers, grab another cookie, sink into your favorite chair and watch one of these food-centric movies or shows.

If you want to learn

“Love, Charlie: The Rise and Fall of Chef Charlie Trotter”: Even friends in the restaurant industry who knew the Chicago chef marveled at the scope of his story, told in this documentary about Trotter’s meteoric rise and dramatic fall before his untimely death at 54. Local food fans will appreciate seeing Salty Tart chef Michelle Gayer, who worked closely with Trotter and co-authored his dessert cookbook. Available to rent

“We Feed People”: Don’t be surprised if, after taking in this breathtaking documentary about José Andrés and his World Central Kitchen, you’re moved to donate or volunteer to fly into devastated places to help feed people. Watch the chef nearly perish in a flood and clear a storm-destroyed kitchen to act as home base while marveling at all the people needed to create an infrastructure after a natural (or manmade) disaster. Food is dignity and life. Disney+

“Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi”: Using her immigrant experience, extensive time as host of “Top Chef” and insatiable curiosity, Lakshmi is captivating in this docuseries exploring the political fault lines of food and the people who make it. It opens up conversations about borders, Indigenous foods, being “othered” in school lunchrooms and more. The holiday-centered episodes are especially timely. Hulu

“Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain”: This controversial documentary follows the life and final days before the chef died by suicide, featuring interviews with friends and ex-wives. For those who miss his rakish wit and want to learn more about the complexities of the man behind the game-changing works like “Kitchen Confidential” and “No Reservations,” it’s an enlightening and heartbreaking last look. HBO Max, also available to rent

“The Search for General Tso”: Go deep into the breaded, fried and spicy-sauced chicken that’s ubiquitous on Chinese-American menus. Who was General Tso and how did this dish, not common in China, become a mainstay at U.S. restaurants? The 2014 documentary is a fascinating look at the intersection of cultures, cultural appropriation, racism and ultimately love as told through one humble dish. Pluto TV

“Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon”: What’s a documentary about a Hollywood agent have to do with food? Well, the Food Network knows. When Gordon discovered his own interest in cuisine, he decided to make proper celebrities out of the chefs making these incredible meals. It’s how Emeril Lagasse went from the kitchen at Commander’s Palace to giving America a brand-new catchphrase. Bam! Available to rent

“Salt Fat Acid Heat”: This succinct series made chef and food writer Samin Nosrat into a household name. It’s a loving exploration of the elements of cooking, and a perfect companion to her James Beard Award-winning cookbook of the same name. Netflix

If you want channel your inner Child

“Julia”: Documentarians Betsy West and Julie Cohen, who won an Oscar for “RBG” in 2018, turn the lens on another seminal female figure. Their 2021 film traces Julia Child’s journey to becoming a bestselling cookbook author and all-around icon. HBO Max, Amazon Prime and available to rent

“Julia”: Sarah Lancashire is uncanny as the towering TV cook in this juicy series about the making of “The French Chef.” Though some of the behind-the-scenes interactions at the public television station can be a little goofy, the tender relationship between Child and her husband Paul, played by David Hyde Pierce, is reason enough to watch. HBO Max

“The French Chef”: The best way to get to know Child is from Child herself. And you can do that thanks to countless episodes of her long-running series “The French Chef” airing on several free streaming services. Pluto TV, Tubi, Roku Channel

“Julie & Julia”: In light of the recent passing of Julie Powell, the blogger and author whose book this Oscar-nominated Nora Ephron movie is based on, it’s a good time to revisit this lighthearted romp through “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” starring Meryl Streep as Child and Amy Adams as Powell. Hulu, available to rent

When you need something soothing

“Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy”: The longtime character actor leads viewers on a delightful tour of Italy with great culinary enthusiasm. Nothing about Tucci’s career is straightforward, from the star of a Levi’s commercial to the internet’s obsession with him making his wife a negroni. Tucci’s immense knowledge and deep appreciation for the food of Italy guides us through the country’s different regions. CNN, Discovery+

“The Great British Baking Show”: This bucolic baking series has become go-to comfort viewing for Americans. Everyone has a nice accent, there are only some soggy bottoms and the stakes are comfortably low. (Just skip the Mexico episode from this season — trust us.) Netflix

“Baking It”: Maya Rudolph and Amy Poehler host the new season of this musical baking competition with teams of home cooks and a judging panel of grannies. “Who knows what’s gonna impress the grandmas and what’s gonna explode?” is a line from the theme song, if that tells you anything about the vibe. Peacock

“Nailed It”: One of the funniest shows available is not a scripted comedy. Instead, this zany competition pits ghastly poor home bakers against one another as they attempt to re-create professional works of baking art — and win $10,000. The results are atrocious, and hilarious. Netflix

“Chopped”: This cooking showdown is at the end of Season 52, which equates to more episodes than you could possibly watch. It’s our favorite thing to stream in the background while we also fight the clock to get dinner on the table. Plus, look for occasional appearances by local chefs on the judges’ panel. Food Network/Discovery+

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“Nadiya Bakes”: Enter the stunning home of “Great British Baking Show” winner Nadiya Hussain as she whips up gorgeous dishes that seem totally doable for other home cooks. The host is so inviting and comforting as she lowers the stakes and even revels in the occasional mistakes that are a part of spending time in the kitchen. Netflix

“Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend”: Twin Cities star chef Yia Vang competes on one episode of this summer’s reboot of the classic cooking competition. But that’s not the only reason to tune into this nail-biter; there’s some beautiful food being crafted under intense pressure in Kitchen Stadium. Netflix

When food plays a starring role

“From Scratch”: Inspired by actress and author Tembi Locke’s memoir, this limited series is lush with Italian scenery and the splendors of its cuisine. It chronicles artist Amy’s (Zoe Saldaña) gelato-fueled meet-cute with chef Lino (Eugenio Mastrandrea), her eventual spouse. Laughter, great food and tears ensue. This isn’t a lighthearted watch, but it is a deep testament to love (and maybe pasta). Netflix

“Moonstruck”: All the great moments of this 1987 Academy Award-winning movie happen around the table: Danny Aiello wrecking his suit (that came with two pairs of pants), Olympia Dukakis nursing a predinner martini, Cher confessing she loves the other brother — even Nicolas Cage’s Ronny Cammareri bakes bread (and loses some fingers) at a family bakery. Family is at the center of this drama and family drama always centers around the table. Prime Video, Tubi, Pluto TV, Roku Channel

“Always Be My Maybe”: The somewhat tenuous connection here is that Ali Wong’s character is a high-powered chef, but this movie is also just a sweet and modern rom-com propelled by its hilarious stars and a cast that’s an embarrassment of talent riches. This is our official call for more Randall Park in 2023. Netflix

“The Godfather Part II”: If there was an Academy Award for best onscreen eating in a scene, hands-down Bruno Kirby would win for his turn in this 1974 classic. From pasta to an olive oil company to the legacy of family bonds (for better or worse), it’s the perfect movie to turn on while whipping up a giant familial feast. Available to rent

“Soul Food”: Do not miss Sunday dinner at Big Mama’s house. This family dramedy is steeped in late ‘90s nostalgia, but at its core is the love that ties this family together — and that’s still entirely relatable. An excellent movie for a time when family can be trying, but forgiveness, like the pot likker in a big batch of greens, should be shared liberally. HBO Max

“My Best Friend’s Wedding”: After 25 years, the antics of an adult woman trying to break up her friend’s relationship doesn’t hold up well. Nor does the supposition that Julia Roberts’ character is a restaurant critic. But, as film critic Janet Maslin wrote in 1997, the profession “is supposed to be a metaphor. She behaves as imperiously about men as she does about food. She tastes life but doesn’t truly digest it.” Also, the restaurant-set “I Say a Little Prayer” musical breakout remains a joy. Available to rent

For a look at restaurant life

“The Bear”: The undeniable hit of 2022 for restaurant industry folks, and those who love them, this drama series gave a searing behind-the-scenes look at what it takes just to get food on the plate when bold (and sexy) personalities are the main ingredient. Hulu

“The Menu”: If you thought “The Bear” was intense, “The Menu” takes everything you love about restaurants and sets it on fire. The over-the-top horror fantasy about an exclusive dinner gone awry gives Ralph Fiennes the super-creepy role of a lifetime as the revered/deranged chef. In theaters

“The Lost Kitchen”: Step inside Erin French’s nearly-impossible-to-get-into restaurant in tiny Freedom, Maine, in this docuseries, which just released a third season. The tiny dining room, with a kitchen powered by an all-female staff, brings hygge to the max. HBO Max

“Ratatouille”: It may be from a cartoon rat’s point of view, but this Pixar hit from 2007 succeeds at conveying the art of good cooking, and how for some chefs, it’s a calling that can’t be denied — no matter your species. Disney+

If you’re watching with kids

“Waffles + Mochi”: Michelle Obama is joined by adorable puppets that dive deep into different ingredients in each episode. There’s a holiday installment, too. Netflix

“Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory”: The original 1971 version may have taken some trippy liberties with Roald Dahl’s novel, but Gene Wilder’s zany performance still holds up among all-time greats. And watching it will make you crave everlasting gobstoppers, magic chewing gum and all the chocolate bars you can eat. HBO Max

“Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs”: Meatballs, machines, weather — the film and its sequel, based on the 1978 children’s book, come right out of a preschooler’s playbook. And they’re funny enough for adults to enjoy them, too. Netflix

“Bluey”: While this series is mostly about the Heeler family (they’re dogs), the kids spend a good amount of time exploring and discovering the world through food. Bingo helps mom make an omelet, Bluey runs a play restaurant and a sherbet reward is reason enough to win a race. Disney+