The Best On-Screen Performances From Television Chefs

January 10, 2024

From fictional sitcoms to YouTube channels to documentary-style television shows, chefs and food enthusiasts can approach storytelling from multiple angles. In the always-evolving and dynamic food media industry, chefs are not only mastering television through traditional platforms but also embracing the digital age with engaging streaming content on social media platforms. The result is a rich landscape of original content for hungry audiences to explore.

The Best On-Screen Performances From Television Chefs (Real and Fictional)

The ever-expanding possibilities in food media provide chefs with a canvas to experiment and redefine the narrative, fostering a deeper connection with audiences worldwide. Here are some of the best on-screen performances from television chefs across platforms.

Chef’s Table (2015-2018)

An original Netflix documentary series that profiles renowned chefs worldwide, exploring their culinary philosophies, inspirations, and careers. The best part about this series is the authenticity of the chef journeys, captured by expert documentary filmmakers. The audience meets renowned chefs, including Dan Barber of Blue Hill restaurant in New York City, Magnus Nilsson of Järpen in Sweden, Enrique Olvera of Pujol in Mexico City, and Gaggan Anand of Gaggan in Bangkok, Thailand. 

One noteworthy example is the Argentine chef and author Francis Mallmann, who appeared in season one of the show. In his episode, Mallman pays homage to his unconventional, open-fire cooking style as he traverses from secluded Patagonian islands to prestigious French Michelin three-star restaurants. The episode demonstrates how, sometimes, the best people to cast in a series aren’t fictional characters.

Image via IMDB.

The Great British Bake Off (2010-)

The Great British Bake Off is a beloved baking competition that brings amateur bakers together to showcase their skills. The show is known for its no-drama approach, uncommon in reality television, as chefs and judges connect and honor the art of competition in a friendly and entertaining environment. During series six, in an episode of Bread Week, Chef Paul Jagger made Cecil the Bread Lion, a dish still lovingly referenced by fans and competitors. 

From baking expert Mary Berry and artisan baker Paul Hollywood serving as judges to memorable contestants and winners, including Edd Kimber, Joanne Wheatley, Frances Quinn, and Nadiya Hussain, the cast of GBBO is a significant reason why many consider it to be the ultimate comfort show.

The Bear (2022-)

The television series The Bear has quickly become a fan favorite, with a loveable cast of characters portraying a close-knit kitchen family. Starring Golden Globe-winning Jeremy Allen White and Ayo Edebiri, critics have applauded the show’s writers for creating a realistic look inside the inner workings of a kitchen. 

The final episode of season one, for example, shared one of the most heartwarming moments, as the main characters gathered around a restaurant table, savoring the family spaghetti together. After enduring both interpersonal and personal conflicts, the episode was a refreshing contrast to the standout intense moments of the season.

Image via Slash Film.

Binging with Babish 

This wildly popular YouTube series took a simple concept – food inspired by film and television shows – and made it into consumable content (no pun intended.) The mostly off-screen host, Andrew Rea, is an American cook, author, and cinephile who has expanded his initial series into the Babish Culinary Universe. The series has over 10 million followers.

One of the best episodes of the show was the recreation of the infamous trifle from Friends. The trifle, which was accidentally combined with a recipe for a meat-based dish, has been a long-running joke among fans. Babish experimented with the recipe to see if it could be edible, providing an interesting and captivating episode.

MasterChef (US and various international editions)

This competitive cooking show features amateur chefs competing in various challenges to win the title of MasterChef. The show highlights the personalities of both the judges, including Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot, Joe Bastianich, Christina Tosi, and Aarón Sánchez, as well as contestants and winners such as Christina Ha, Dorian Hunter, Jennifer Behm, and Claudia Sandoval. 

The show has become a well-respected competition and launching pad for chefs looking to break into the food media industry. In season three of the show, a blind contestant, Christine Huyen Tran Hà, provided a brief reprise from the heat of the competition. Chef Gordon Ramsey, known for his hard-headed attitude, praised her on her apple pie, encouraging her to be confident in her craft.

Image via Rare Disease Advisor.

Chef! (1993-1997)

This British sitcom follows the misadventures of Gareth Blackstock, a talented but temperamental chef who runs the kitchen of the upscale Le Château Anglais restaurant. Played by Lenny Henry, the chef character is inspired by Chef Aldo Zilli. The fast-paced show is a beloved show by fans, with many citing Henry’s performance as their favorite aspect of the program. 

In episode two of season one, Henry shows his comedic abilities after berating a customer who requests salt. He demands to know if the picky customer would also want “a nice packet of cheese-and-onion flavored crisps to sprinkle over your salmon and monkfish gratin.”

Chinese Cooking Demystified

Chris Thomas and Stephanie Li, a Shenzhen-based foodie couple, share informative yet accessible videos that guide viewers through crafting traditional Chinese recipes. Each video showcases the richness of China’s diverse regional culinary landscape and delves into the contextual background and stories behind the dishes they expertly prepare. The popular YouTube channel currently has nearly 900k subscribers.

A recent episode, “How to cook homestyle Cantonese food [Cantonese Edition],” featured co-host Steph providing the recipe in Cantonese. “We decided to try something new, had fun filming it and glad you like it as well,” Steph explained in the comments, providing a link to the English version as well. 

Claire Saffitz x Dessert Person

Speaking of desserts, Claire Saffitz, former Bon Appetit employee and chef in the BA Test Kitchen, created a personal brand surrounding her love of all things sweet. With over a million YouTube subscribers, Saffitz brings viewers through the process of seemingly complicated desserts, including grape tarts, crème brûlée, macarons, and much more.

Claire also makes easier and well-known dishes, such as an Apple Pie. Hosted from her cabin kitchen in Upstate New York, Saffitz says, “I love an elaborate dessert on occasion, but after lots of trial and error, I’ve learned over time that when it comes to apple pie, simplest is always preferable.”

Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown (2013-2018)

The late chef Anthony Bourdain is a food icon known for his various television shows and books that explore different cultures and cuisines around the world. In the travel and food documentary series Parts Unknown, Bourdain is more of a cultural anthropologist than chef, letting others take center stage to play host as he approaches each conversation as a respectful and grateful visitor. While every episode is memorable, one of the standouts is his visit to the Congo, a difficult and arduous episode due to the “ treacherous trip down the Congo River, where the power repeatedly fails as Bourdain desperately tries to cook for the boat’s starving crew.”

Bourdain, the proclaimed “rockstar” of the culinary world, was beloved for his adventurous outlook on the world, quoted as saying, “If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody.”

Image via The Conversation.

The Mind of a Chef (2012-2017)

Narrated by the late Anthony Bourdain, the PBS series The Mind of a Chef has alternating hosts, including David Chang, Sean Brock, April Bloomfield, and more. The show combines travel, cooking, and storytelling, and similar to Chef’s Table, it follows chefs exploring their culinary techniques and creative processes. Each host brings their own special style, recipes, and favorite dishes to the show, with Chang bringing viewers to Spain and Japan, as well as Bloomfield across France. 

In season two, episode one, Chef Sean Brock visits various Southern states in the US, highlighting Southern vegetables, hot chicken, fried crabs, and more. The insight into one of the United States’ most delicious and historical cuisines offers priceless context for foodies.

Wishbone Kitchen 

Chef Meredith Hayden is the brains and cooking behind Wishbone Kitchen, a YouTube channel and website dedicated to her journey as a chef. Hayden was one of the top TikTok channels following her day-to-day life as a private chef to a family living in the Hamptons, creating first-hand experiences on serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, restocking the kitchen, and even following her getting ready in the morning and going to bed at night. Hayden’s content feels personal, helping viewers feel they know her and going beyond the expected chef brand.


I’m not crying YOU’RE CRYING 😭 but I’m so excited for this next chapter love you all sm

♬ original sound – wishbonekitchen

In a “season finale” of her time at the Hamptons, Meredith brings viewers into the garden as she makes a final meal for the family. Calling food her “love language,” Hayden shares that preparing a great dish for her employers is a way of showing her gratitude for the experience.

Street Food (Multiple countries)

The Netflix series Street Food showcases street food vendors from different cities around the world. With episodes highlighting the cultural significance of international street cuisine, the interview-style show brings audiences into the kitchens of Izakaya Toyo in Osaka, Dalchand Kashyap in Delhi, and Yoonsun Cho in Seoul; this show relies on the stories of restaurant owners and chefs to provide a look into the rich history and importance of this style of affordable and delicious food. 

In the Bangkok, Thailand episode, audiences are introduced to Jay Fai, a street food chef renowned for her unique twist on tom yum soup and the remarkable achievement of earning a Michelin star for her delectable crab omelets. New York Film Academy (NYFA) MFA Filmmaking alum Valéria Costa worked on the series as a Production Manager.

Taste the Nation (2020-)

Padma Lakshmi, an award-winning cookbook author, host, and executive producer, guides audiences through a culinary odyssey in Taste the Nation. Embarking on a journey worldwide, she delves into the vibrant and diverse food culture. From indigenous communities to immigrants, Padma shares meals with people nationwide, unveiling the intertwined narratives of our food, humanity, and history. 

In season two, episode eight, Lakshmi showcases local Filipino-American cuisine in the San Francisco Bay Area, making stops at Cafe 86, Sarap Shop, and Abacá, helping to uncover stories about identity and belonging.

Image via CNN.

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat (2018)

Based on Samin Nosrat’s book Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, the series explores the fundamental elements of good cooking—salt, fat, acid, and heat—across different countries and cultures. Viewers accompany James Beard Award-winning Chef Samin Nosrat as she demonstrates cooking techniques – the use of salt, fat, acid, and heat. The show is an exemplary example of how simple concepts can lead to compelling and in-depth stories, as long as there is a good storyteller at the helm. 

The third episode of the one-season Netflix series brings audiences to Mexico. In the episode, Nostrat explains the value of acid in Mexican cuisine, stating that it “does the absolutely necessary job of balancing flavors, which makes it indispensable to cooking delicious food.”

Become a Modern Storyteller at NYFA

Modern storytellers must go beyond providing exceptional performances on-camera; they’re expected to master a level of authenticity. In addition to being charismatic and relatable, stories must flow and draw audiences in. Aspiring storytellers looking to showcase their skills and expertise can hone their techniques in acting, filmmaking, documentary film, screenwriting, digital editing, and more in NYFA’s hands-on classes.

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