If you're done with all of the good food TV shows currently streaming on Netflix, don't despair: the service always carries a nice selection of documentary films on the subject, whether that means a tumultuous chef-driven story, a tale of obsession, or all of the ways our food is slowly killing us. Here's a handy guide of what's worth your time.
This Is NYC's First All Japanese Food Hall
Fire pits in every corner around the world unite in this James Beard Award-winning documentary about none other than the art of barbecue. Traveling through 12 countries, director Matthew Salleh examines the multitude of cultural traditions of grilling and smoking meats, from Texas barbecue to South African braii, hitting every important locale in between. Through vignettes, Barbecue dotes over the technical mastery required to turn a hunk of meat into the perfect food.
Forks Over Knives (2011)
Forks Over Knives doesn't pretend to be anything other than a vegan-advocacy film, and that's its strength. Instead of relying on sleight-of-hand or conspiracy-theorist talking heads, the film delves deep into research and makes its case. Whether you're on board is up to you, but by the end you'll find that it's difficult to deny that, at the very least, you could probably stand to add more vegetables to your diet.
For Grace (2015)
A film that flew under the mainstream radar, For Grace is the story of chef Curtis Duffy as he builds his dream restaurant, Grace, in Chicago which abruptly shuttered at the end of 2017. Food obviously plays a central role in the film, but it's Duffy's perseverance through personal struggles and private tragedies that make this doc special made by Kevin Pang, now an editor at The Takeout, The AV Club's food site. It gives a glimpse behind kitchen doors, and into the private, tumultuous life of one of the most celebrated chefs in modern America.
The Heat: A Kitchen (R)evolution (2018)
Like many (most) industries, the restaurant world is no stranger to sexism, and is still largely a space dominated by men. But instead of solely focusing on the disparities in professional cooking, The Heat aims to shine light on the women paving their own road and excelling at what they do. By focusing on an eclectic array of seven international chefs from Canada to France, this documentary focuses on the culture and power structures at play behind-the-scenes at the world’s top restaurants, while honoring the artistry these cooks bring to their craft regardless of how much recognition they receive.
Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent (2016)
Jeremiah Tower could be considered one of the mainstream greats if not for his impulsivity and penchant for controversy and self-destruction. Among the people of the minted food world, most of whom are interviewed for this documentary, Tower's name lives on as one of the first American celebrity chefs and an important culinary luminary of the past half century. The chef's namesake film explores his reinvention following a two-decade departure from the public eye through the context of his freewheeling life.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)
Jiro Ono, the 85-year-old sushi master at Sukiyabashi Jiro, a three-star Michelin restaurant, has given all his adult life to the pursuit of perfecting his craft. The film documents his sacrifices, the toll his ambition has taken on his personal life, and what it means to give your entire self over to your obsession. Despite its notoriety, we'd be remiss not to mention Jiro as one of the premier food documentaries available.
Sour Grapes (2016)
The stuffy world of rare wine auctions was turned on its head when it came out that Rudy Kurniawan, a 20-something collector, had been mixing less expensive wines to recreate the flavor profiles of coveted wines from specific, high-valued years and regions, swindling buyers out of millions of dollars. His sophisticated operation led him to become the first-ever person to be convicted for wine fraud. In a familiar true-crime reconstruction, Sour Grapes leads viewers through the story of how Kurniawan pulled off such a scam and the disgrace that befell the wine world in the fallout of his conviction.
Whether you want to admit it or not, America's food system is the definition of unsustainable. We filch nutrients from the earth; raise animals for slaughter in packed, disease-ridden environments; and we throw away, or otherwise waste, plenty of perfectly good food while millions go hungry. High-profile chefs like Dan Barber and Rick Bayless, and writers like Mark Bittman, weigh in on the local food movement, which is on the frontlines doing battle with these unsustainable practices. It's not the most revelatory documentary, but it will make you stop to think the next time you want a quick-and-easy processed meal.
Theater of Life (2016)
Italian chef Mossimo Bottura runs a World's Best kitchen at Osteria Francescana, but Theater of Life captures some of his loftier ambitions: ending food waste. Through the lens of Refettorio Ambrosiano, the soup kitchen Bottura opened in Milan, we see the vast scope of food waste throughout the world, and learn how scraps can be used well past the point where most of us would typically throw them away to make world-class dishes.
42 Grams (2017)
42 Grams is a profile of chef Jake Bickelhaupt, and a portrait of the effects extreme ambition. The film follows Bickelhaupt's rise from running an underground establishment out of his home kitchen to opening and owning the acclaimed, Michelin-starred Chicago restaurant 42 Grams, largely focusing on his personal journey with his wife along the way. While this is certainly a film about one chef's career and hustle in the restaurant industry, underneath it all is a story about the devastating effects egomania can create.