A new breed of food documentaries

I have been watching some great tv recently, which combined stories about food with social commentary. Food is truly an icebreaker into all cultures and communities, and the foods we eat are insights into our way of life and our belief systems. Here are three series which I am/have been following:

The absolute pinnacle of food storytelling must be Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown on the CNN Network. As with good stories, you never know what will happen moment by moment. The pace, script and filming are so well edited. I find myself chuckling when he reaches pits of despair in Sicily; salivate at the ridiculously elaborate French meal in a Canadian ice-fishing shack and watch in disbelief at the religious conflict in Jerusalem. No matter how tense the situation, Anthony Bourdain always manages to charm the locals and coax a great story and a meal out of them. Being with the CNN Network allows the programme to go to places not accessible to any other food or travel show; such as Libya and the Congo. Here is the episode where he hangs out with RenéRedzepi, of Noma fame, and the driving force behind getting Nordic food (and foraging) onto the world stage.

It may not surprise you that my second favourite series also involves Anthony Bourdain. The Mind of a Chef is produced and narrated by Bourdain, but each season features a different chef, their mentors and inspirations, and showcases their signature dishes. Season 1 featured David Chang of Momofoku and Lucky Peach magazine fame. David is a badass American Korean chef (and coincidentally, Parts Unknown did an episode on American Korean food culture and community in LA). My favourite episode is ‘Soy’, which took the audience on a history lesson to Japan to learn about the traditional ways of making tofu and miso, and then looked at modern interpretations on how to use these two very traditional ingredients.

The third is much closer to home. Robert Oliver is a global restauranteur who was born in NZ, grew up in Fiji and now consults on restaurants and sustainable food programmes. He wrote Me’a Kai: The Food and Flavours of the South Pacific, which incidentally won Best Cookbook in the World 2010 at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. Real Pasifik, the tv series, is the start of Oliver’s campaign to reduce the reliance on Western foods for the tourism trade in the Pacific Islands and introduce locally sourced ingredients and foods to the resort dining tables. What an amazingly simple but life-changing idea.

Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown
(New Zealand) Sky channel: Mondays 2pm, or watch on youtube

The Mind of a Chef
For clips, see http://www.youtube.com/user/MindofaChef

Real Pasifik: Food and Flavours of the South Pacific
Watch episodes on tvnz on demand: http://tvnz.co.nz/real-pasifik/index-group-5530261 (only if you are in New Zealand)

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