Happy Labor Day Weekend. If you are someone who loves “fun in the sun,” I hope you’ve got some outdoorsy plans for the next few days. And if you’re someone like myself, who prefers to spend the summer months holed up indoors, basking in the glow of the television screen, then you have opened the right newsletter, because I’ve got TV recommendations galore. Below, find a list of my five favorite TV episodes from the last four months — a summertime special, if you will — plus a roundup of the week’s entertainment news.
Food TV highlights from summer 2019
Taco Chronicles, “Canasta”
Watch it on: Netflix
The gist: Unlike one of its obvious inspirations, Chef’s Table, this excellent Spanish-language documentary series doesn’t usually linger too long on any one chef or restaurateur, opting instead to cover the culture surrounding different taco styles. But this episode is arguably the best of the bunch for devoting approximately a third of its running time to a mini-portrait of Marven — better known as Mexico City’s “basket taco lady” — who became a viral star thanks to her sharp sartorial style and distinctive call of “Tacos! Basket tacos, tacos!” In addition to learning how she got into the street vending game, we also see how Marven — who identifies as a member of Mexico’s third gender— and her family prepare their signature tacos, which are stacked in rows in a giant basket and peddled to a nearby marketplace where she sets up shop. As always, the food looks great, but it’s the shots of Marven energetically plying her trade on the streets of Mexico City that stand out as some of the most memorable moments of the series.
The Good, the Bad, the Hungry
The gist: This documentary from ESPN’s 30 for 30 series tells the fascinating story of how Japanese hot dog eating champ Takeru Kobayashi laid the groundwork for the competitive eating scene in America — only to have the sport turn its back on him during a pivotal moment in his career. The story is framed around the rivalry between Kobayashi and Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, who squared off against each other during the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest for several years in a row. While the scenes of their furious frankfurter consumption can be hard to watch at times, the documentary does a good job of laying out what’s at stake for each athlete. If you’re someone, like me, who’s always been baffled by the enduring popularity of this event, The Good, the Bad, the Hungry will likely make you see the contest, and its competitors, in a completely different light.
Watch it on: Starz
The gist: Stephanie Danler and Stu Zicherman’s Starz drama does a great job of depicting the rivalries that exist between front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house employees at restaurants, particularly during service. And this episode from Season 2 focuses on a staff conflict that nearly throws the restaurant completely off the rails: Following a change to the tip pool protocol, where bussers (but not line cooks) get a cut of the nightly gratuity, food mysteriously stops coming out of the kitchen, even though the chefs are clearly cooking up a storm. The episode is framed as a quasi-mystery over just who, exactly, is throttling service in response to the tip-out rules. “Entropy” is a good example of how Danler and Zicherman expertly juggle a lot of characters in one setting, while keeping the action brisk.
Gods of Food, “The Food Scientist”
Watch it on: Dropout
The gist: During its best moments, the new Chef’s Table parody series Gods of Food, created by Rekha Shankar, reminds me of one of the Zucker/Abrams/Zucker comedies from the ’70s and ’80s (Airplane! Top Secret!) where silliness is the guiding principle. In this episode — clearly a riff on the Grant Achatz chapter of Netflix’s hit docuseries — a molecular gastronomy guru named Blyn (played by Kimia Behpoornia) makes preposterous dishes like “infinite spaghetti” and “sentient banana” for gourmands who are equally delighted and terrified by her food. “Cooking is a harmony between science and impressing people,” she says at one point. Blyn’s most notorious creation is a special course where the diner switches bodies with an apple, permanently, prompting one critic to write, “Blyn is a visionary and I am an apple.” This type of humor might not be for everyone, but I found myself laughing throughout this new comedy.
Good Eats: The Return, “American Classics X: Chicken Parm”
Watch it on: YouTube, Food Network
The gist: Alton Brown’s punched-up versions of old Good Eats episodes were fun, but they were really just the warm-up for the main event: 13 brand new installments of the iconic Food Network show. It’s clear from the first new episode, devoted to chicken parm, that Alton wants to use everything in his cinematic arsenal to tell the story of this Italian-American favorite. Every minute, it seems, he’s employing a new angle, set piece, or special effect to explain the origins of the dish and why his technique is actually the best preparation. And, perhaps most importantly, his recipe — which atypically uses crushed-up salt and vinegar potato chips, and a thick, paste-like sauce — looks like a real keeper.
In other entertainment news…
Have a great weekend everyone, and if you’re looking for a summery side dish to bring to a party, consider this recipe for fresh fruit with cheese and nuts from Carla Lalli Music’s book Where Cooking Begins.