March 1, 2016


3 minute read

Those who know me know I have a strong interest in cooking shows. I am a huge fan of Iron Chef and Alton Brown’s Good Eats (so much so that I actually own all three volumes of the Good Eats cookbooks!). Although I haven’t watched much in the way of cooking shows in recent years due to not having a permanent cable subscription, my zest for this content is as strong as ever.

That’s why I was so excited to watch all four parts of the new Netflix series Cooked, based on the book by Michael Pollan. The strong emphasis on emotions, flavor, quality ingredients, and food science hits all the highlights for me. (And unlike the series Chef’s Table, also on Netflix, Cooked doesn’t lose sight of the food when studying the quirks of individual cooks.)

Cooked consists of four mini-documentaries, each discussing a different type of “cooking”: braising/grilling, cooking, baking (specifically of bread), and fermenting/pickling/aging. Although each episode has a different feel, and often centers itself in different locales, they all tend to follow a similar arc:

  • Introducing a novel perspective on a specific type of cooking
  • Introduce cooking some dishes that way, exploring what really goes into that method
  • Discuss the history of the cooking method
  • Segue into a discussion about the food science of that type of cooking, and some nuances of that science (I especially loved every second featuring Nathan Myhrvold)
  • Spend some time discussing how degenerate the American diet is with respect to this cooking method, and how we should all hearken back to 1950’s American culinary traditions
  • Philosophize about how we’re okay even if we don’t hearken back to 1950’s American culinary traditions, as long as we eat healthier and cook our own food more.

I’m a bit ambivalent about this systematic approach to the documentary structure. Although the approach was novel and refreshing for the first two episodes, by the third episode, I was already anticipating what each act would hold. I also grew weary of the token-mandatory-philosophizing which apparently needs to conclude every episode of every modern pop-documentary. (Maybe I don’t like being philosophized to?) However, I still found each episode and the overall approach compelling enough to be able to take each episode on its own strengths. I definitely think that this series being only four episodes, and having a well-defined scope, contributed significantly to the watchability of the series.

Overall, I would recommend this series to other cooking show enthusiasts. Although I don’t believe it would interest anyone not at least interested in food, or convert to traditional cooking anyone not already so interested, it definitely holds power and pleasure for those of us who are.

© Jeff Rabinowitz, 2023