Notes on a new reality show, a travel series, and more television programs to check out this week
Happy Friday, may the spirit of Rebecca Black be with you. There’s a lot of good food TV to check out this weekend, including a new reality series, a travel program, and a late-night show from the vaults. Here are three recommendations for what to watch, plus a roundup of the week’s food-related entertainment news.
Culinary empire building 101
A new reality show from Netflix and the BBC Two mines drama from a part of the food industry that you don’t often see on TV: the relationship between upstart restaurateurs and potential investors.
Every episode of Million Pound Menu begins with a group of hot shot investors — including Meatliquor kingpin Scott Collins, chef/restaurateur Atul Kochhar, and luxury hotelier Lydia Forte — sitting around a big table reviewing business plans from prospective restaurateurs. Two groups are selected, and the investors pick which ones they are going to scope out that week. The restaurant teams are then given identical pop-up spaces where they cook private meals for the potential investors, a half-priced “soft opening” dinner, and a full service for anyone who wants to show up. After these three rounds have concluded, the would be-restaurateurs wait in their empty dining rooms hoping to see one of the investors walk in the door to make them an offer with their own cash. In the show, as in real life, there’s not always a happy ending to the investor saga.
Part of the appeal of this program, especially if you’re someone who obsesses over restaurants, is seeing how closely these businesses adhere to the dining trends of the day. The first season includes a vegan junk food shop (à la By Chloe), a sustainable seafood shack (like Seamore’s), a fast-casual Cuban operation (in the vein of Medianoche), a raw cookie dough shop (basically a version of Dō), and a gourmet burger bar (the list goes on and on and on). The majority of the chefs on Million Pound Menu are pitching just the sort of highly-scalable concepts that seem to be replacing little cafes and bistros in major cities around the world, and these are precisely the kinds of businesses that the investors dream of turning into monster franchises. If you’re like me, after watching the show, you will immediately Google the names of some of the businesses to see how they’re faring out there in the real world.
Following a tradition established by the The Great British Bake Off, the show has a lot of drama, but no proper villains. The program is also devoid of the shouting matches, kitchen meltdowns, and brutal culinary assessments that typify American culinary competition shows. It’s a rather civil affair, but the action is always absorbing and easy to follow.
Million Pound Menu proves that culinary deal-making can be just as exciting as watching food come together in the kitchen. All six episodes are now available to stream on Netflix.
Streaming recommendations du jour
Bizarre Foods, “The Underground Railroad”
The gist: For the season finale of his hit Travel Channel show, Andrew Zimmern heads to Kentucky and Ohio to retrace the route that slaves navigated on their flight to freedom.
The journey begins at the Locust Grove home and farm in Louisville, where James Beard Award-winning author/scholar Michael Twittyprepares some of the dishes that helped fuel the journey north, including hoecakes and pan-fried chicken. Later, Zimmern connects with Charles K. Campbell, the filmmaker behind the new movie All or Nothin’, about one family’s journey to freedom via the Underground Railroad. Campbell and the TV host clean chitterlings and partake in an epic Southern spread in one of the historic houses that was used in the film. The episode wraps up at the Six Acres Bed & Breakfast in Cincinnati, where the proprietors are keeping the abolitionist history of the building alive.
The Underground Railroad is an atypically heavy subject for Bizarre Foods to cover, but the episode works, largely because Zimmern has assembled such a knowledgeable crew of experts. Together, they engage in a series of thoughtful conversations about this chapter of American history.
After Hours with Daniel Boulud, “wd~50”
Watch it on: Hulu
The gist: Anyone looking for a serious early-2000s NYC nostalgia trip should take this breezy series for a spin. Each episode features chef Daniel Boulud throwing a late-night dinner party for his chef friends (and a few random media people) in the private dining rooms of hot Manhattan restaurants of the day. After Hours features glimpses inside the kitchens of several storied, but now-shuttered establishments, including Wylie Dufresne’s forward-thinking Lower East Side restaurant.
Before the late-night feast begins, Dufresne gives Boulud a tour of his high-tech kitchen and shows off a few new creations, including dulce de leche pebbles (coffee on the outside, milk on the inside), and a runny trompe-l’œil “fried egg” made of coconut and raw carrot juice. The guests for dinner include farm-to-table hero Bill Telepan and a baby-faced David Chang, as well as, regrettably, pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini, who was accused of sexual harassment in December 2017 (thankfully he’s not in it very much).
In terms of both production value and storytelling, food TV has come a long way since After Hours, but this episode is still worth watching if only for the tour of wd~50 and the scenes of Dufresne and Boulud cooking together in the kitchen.
In other entertainment news…
- On Big Food Truck Tip, a new show hitting Food Network this fall, Andrew Zimmern will shine the spotlight on great mobile restaurants across America.
- CNN is working on a feature-length documentary about the late, great Anthony Bourdain. It will likely hit the festival circuit next year.
- Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Kevin Hart, Todd Phillips, Steve Carell, and Will Ferrell all pursued the movie rights to the story of the great New England McDonald’s Monopoly scam before Ben Affleck and Matt Damon won the bid.
- Samantha Bee channeled both Guy Fieri and Top Chef in a recent Full Frontal segment about immigrants working in the restaurant industry. She’s also selling these rad t-shirts with all of the profits going to Giving Kitchen, an Atlanta-based non-profit that offers emergency grants to restaurant workers in need.
- The new Death Valley Girls music video is just four minutes of Iggy Pop eating a cheeseburger (it’s an homage to a similar stunt Andy Warhol did many years ago).
- Problematic funnyman Bill Murray reportedly dumped ice water all over a photographer who was trying to snap his photo at a Martha’s Vineyard restaurant recently.
- And finally, here’s what happens when Henry Winkler — aka “The Fonz” — learns how to make pizza at Brooklyn hot spot Lucali.
Have a great weekend everyone, and if you’re looking for something refreshing to sip, consider making the best damn piña colada ever.