It makes little sense to feature Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations or The Great British Bake-Off on a list of forgotten cooking shows, considering they’ve been peak comfort TV for multiple generations. Much like these two long-running series, the best cookery shows have never been strictly about the food, but about the cook.
The post-Julia Child era of food television moved beyond the lone-chef-in-a-kitchen format. Besides the cook-off-based reality series (MasterChef, Top Chef etc.) and travelogue-style food shows, celebrity cookery also started gaining traction — with shows like Gordon’s Great Escape, Nigella Bites or Cook It Up With Tarla Dalal. This set the tone for the advent of YouTube chefs and personality-focused documentary series like David Chang’s Ugly Delicious or Samin Nusrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat.
And then came the star-fronted cookery shows where icons like Paris Hilton, Selena Gomez (and even Brooklyn Beckham) got a ritzy kitchen and simply learnt to cook as they went along.
While we’d love to watch a billionaire try their hand at making unicorn cannolis, some of the best food shows from the early noughties, or 2000s, managed to set the bar for culinary viewing. Here are the forgotten gems that have slipped through time and OTT platforms:
Madhur Jaffrey’s Flavours of India
Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cookery on BBC was widely deemed as a televised curry bible (Madhur Jaffrey's Ultimate Curry Bible is an actual hardcover that’s still in print) in the Eighties. Madhur Jaffrey's Flavours of India, however, is far more ambitious in its premise. The show, which was broadcast on BBC in mid-’90s, featured the actor-author travelling across India to highlight the cultural aspects of local cooking more keenly.
Jaffrey made a Nathan Coli Koota at a backwater site in Kerala and cooked Pork Vindaloo at the ruins of St. Augustine in Goa. She also had a pit-stop at Bengal where she broke down the recipe for authentic Country Captain Chicken. The idea was to connect the flavours with their heritage. A cookbook of the same name is available online, packed with 130 home-style recipes, from Kerala to Bengal, with 55 colour photos and alternatives to traditional Indian ingredients.
Two Fat Ladies
Clarissa Dickson Wright and Jennifer Paterson’s crackling and trivia-backed banter set new standards for what cookery shows could accomplish. Wright, a food historian, toured across the UK in a Triumph Thunderbird motorcycle-sidecar with Paterson, a food writer, as the duo explored food cultures across Great Britain. The show features very little stylistic intervention and is also scant on visual appeal. Broadly speaking, it’s the antithesis of the celebrity chef culture. But this is also what makes this show so bracing to modern viewers who are used to stylised, glossy farmer’s market haul vlogs or immaculately edited food styling Instagram reels.
The show ran for four seasons and each 40-minute episode would focus on slow, laborious English cooking along with a few hearty laughs and food-related anecdotes. Watching two gal pals make hot buttered crab and rhubarb barmbrack from scratch can be ridiculously comforting, even if you’re eating a day-old take-out dinner.
The jury’s out on whether the long-running Planet Food qualifies in the ‘forgotten’ category since it garnered major acclaim in the 2000s and cemented Padma Lakshmi’s place as a food personality. But for millennial audiences, who’ve grown up watching Padma host Top Chef, the travelogue-style show could be a great watch. Unlike most travel food shows, Planet Food took viewers inside the chef's kitchens (also wineries or farms), however big or small, be it in Spain or South India. The show was hugely engaging as it went beyond cookery to explore local lifestyles. Tune in to watch Padma Lakshmi get impromptu dance lessons at a Seville tapas bar or tour local markets with culinary experts.
Khata Rahe Mera Dil
Funnyman Gurpal Singh explored the most popular Indian khau gallis in this award-winning show. Though designed like a travel show, Singh managed to offer a good look at street-side kitchens and makeshift set-ups. It was an honest, pared-down look into what most Indians eat on a daily basis. Don’t miss out on the Kolkata segment of the show, where Singh samples Dacre’s Lane kachoris and sticky rice and momos at Tiretti Bazaar.
Holiday Entertaining with Martha Stewart
Anything Martha Stewart touches (with her silicone spatula) turns into rating gold. But before The Martha Stewart Show, came the four-part home improvement series titled Holiday Entertaining with Martha Stewart, where the lifestyle guru went herb-picking in her garden and cooked a whole Thanksgiving meal from scratch. By the late eighties, Stewart had already published successful lifestyle books including Martha Stewart's Quick Cook (1983), Martha Stewart's Hors d'Oeuvres (1984), Martha Stewart's Pies & Tarts (1985), Weddings (1987), but this 1986 PBS outing was Stewart’s breakout show.
Alton Brown was less of a chef and more of a culinary educator. In fact, he has often been referred to as food television’s Bill Nye. He introduced science, basic skills and technicalities to his methods. His earthy, wry humour also helped him connect with audiences. “We never fussed over the plating. I never concerned myself with selling the food, I was there for selling the idea of the food,” he once said. Good Eats managed to run for 14 seasons, between 1999 to 2012, before Brown quit to pursue other things.
“Quite frankly, as a filmmaker, I was getting bored. So I wanted to wait for technological changes. I wanted to see how the food landscape changed. I wanted to see how the media landscape changed,” he revealed. In 2017, Brown joined Iron Chef America as a host and series chairman.