I am a foodie—un-ironically, unabashedly. I love to cook; I love to eat. Cookbooks are like porn for me. I nerd out on food writing, food history, and cultural analyses of food at the intersections of race, class, and gender. I get irrationally upset over poorly written or edited recipes. I don’t have cable, because I cannot use the Food Network or Cooking Channel responsibly. But then, Netflix rapidly started adding food programs, competitions, and documentaries to their line-up, and now my queue is filled with Iron Chef America, Chopped, Food Network Star, Good Eats, and much more. I leave them on in the background as I move about the house, picking up tidbits, new ideas for cooking, writing, etc. But none of these shows touch my foodie soul the way PBS’s Mind of a Chef does.
Mind of a Chef is currently approaching its fourth season. Each season follows two different chefs in their “food-obsessed worlds.” The chefs talk family experiences and background, culture, creative inspiration, and more. Most episodes follow the chefs from inspiration to the creation of innovative dishes. And the show is peppered with illustrations and quirky cartoons that provide interesting historical tidbits. In one of my favorite bits from the entire series, Swedish chef Magnus Nilsson, with layers of cracked ice he finds in the stunning Swedish countryside, conceptualizes a cold dessert. Nilsson talks about food and creativity in ways I only aspire to, and his creative process is thoughtful and thought-provoking. Further along, the film crew captures the Swedish countryside with sweeping, lingering shots that make me grateful for finally getting on that whole HD TV craze (I’m not the most tech savvy).
As a native of the American South, season two was particularly poignant for me. The first half of season two followed Chef Sean Brock of McCrady’s in Charleston and Husk, which is also in Charleston with a second location in Nashville. Much of the focus for Brock is on heirloom seed saving and production, as well as cooking and preservation methods that retain quality and flavor. Unfortunately, Brock tends to veer into a romanticization of Southern cooking that results from racial privilege and cultural appropriation. While Brock acknowledges the influence of West African ingredients and cooking on Southern food, his rhapsodic waxing veers into the problematic, where food is something that transcends political and cultural influences. This, coupled with the lingering shots of Southern landscapes and the quirky historical cartoons mentioned earlier, is frustrating for a viewer interested in food as not just a source of pleasure, but as an apex of culture, civilization, and industry. Fortunately, Robert Moss, food writer and Southern Food correspondent for the foodie blog Serious Eats, has done some excellent work on this topic. His piece on the “Real History of Hushpuppies” is a call to action for food writers interested in exploring food in all its cultural and political ramifications. Also, check out Render, an online magazine about food, culture, and feminism.
Season four of Mind of a Chef premieres September 2015.