Visual Bites: A Cookbook Author Weighs in on the Best Food Shows

The Parchment Paper Cookbook by Brette SemberEditor’s Note: Many thanks to cookbook author Brette Sember for this post. Her many credits and books are listed at the end, so be sure to visit her sites and check out [amazon_link id=”1440528594″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The Parchment Paper Cookbook on Amazon[/amazon_link].

Shhh. Don’t tell anyone, but I’m a couch potato when it comes to food. I love to cook and taste food, but sometimes I like to sit back and watch someone else do all the work in the kitchen while I put my feet up. Sometimes I watch food shows while cooking, but I also love to just sit down and relax with them at night. Here are the best visual bites I’ve found on TV:

Paula’s Home Cooking: I love Paula Deen’s older shows, where she starts each show by saying “Hi y’all” and cooks by herself and makes all of the recipes that made her restaurant, The Lady and Sons, famous. I have had the pleasure to dine there, and it was the best fried chicken and lemonade I’ve ever had.

Paula Deen
Bubbly Paula Deen

She also talks to her dogs while she cooks, which I do all the time. If you’re looking for down home cooking that doesn’t count calories, this is the show for you. There’s something about Paula’s Georgia accent that relaxes me and makes me feel like I have plenty of time to whip up a gooey butter cake, with lots and lots of butter. My one complaint about Paula? She cashed in and hawks everything from hams, coffee, and her son’s cookbooks to pots, pans, tours and cruises featuring her.

Top Chef and Top Chef Just Desserts: Sometimes I feel sorry for the chefs who compete on this show because they’re given such crazy challenges (create a dessert using chicken or make a meal by going door to door and asking homeowners for ingredients). I love to see what creative dishes they come up with under pressure, though, and it always makes me feel like I have NO excuse for not being able to pull something together for dinner.

I also adore judges Tom Colicchio and Johnny Iuzinni, who are tough, but fair. Contestants need to stop cooking with liquid nitrogen though, since those of us at home have no chance of trying those recipes.

The Next Food Network Star: I guess I’m a sucker for food contests, because I always watch this show, in which lucky contestants vie to get their own show on Food Network. It’s about the food, but it’s also about how they portray themselves on camera, which adds an interesting twist.

Ina Garden, The Barefoot Contessa
Ina Garten, a.k.a. The Barefoot Contessa

Barefoot Contessa: I adore Ina Garten and all of her “How easy is that?” recipes. I own several of her cookbooks, and some of my all-time favorite recipes come from her (her Lemon Chicken with Satay Dip is my go-to for casual dinners with friends). Ina used to work for the government as a nuclear policy analyst, which I think somehow taught her to be so calm.

She bought a take-out shop on Long Island and created a food empire. She comes across as relaxed and easygoing, and you can always trust a gal who isn’t skinny to make great food. Ina cashed in, too, though, and now sells baking mixes and frozen meals. I avert my eyes and stay focused on the food she makes on-screen.

Sandwich King: I can’t get enough of this show, starring cute and personable Jeff Mauro. He makes everything into sandwiches (chicken mole sandwich anyone?) and I always applaud his creativity and yummy creations. I want to have lunch with him every single day.

Chef Robert Irvine, Restaurant Impossible
Chef Robert Irvine dishes it up on Restaurant Impossible

Restaurant Impossible: This is one food show my husband likes to watch with me. Chef Robert Irvine barrels in and remakes a failing restaurant each week. He tells them their food is bad, their décor horrible, and their servers subpar. He’s actually softened in the second season and now offers encouragement and platitudes, as well as barked orders.

The restaurant is remade in 48 hours with only $10,000, and he reworks the entire menu, showing line cooks how to make gourmet fare. In one episode, he sent the owner home and packed up the man’s petting zoo that was supposed to draw customers in but instead, just emphasized the uncomfortable connection between farm and table.

The Frugal Gourmet: I couldn’t list my favorites without mentioning the recently deceased Jeff Smith who had this PBS cooking show about 20 years ago when I was a newlywed. We watched him often, and he got me started cooking Asian food at home. He’s my Julia Child – he got me into the kitchen and made me feel I could do it. And when I cook, I find myself repeating his words, “Hot pan, cold oil, food won’t stick.”

Brette Sember
Brette Sember and Furry Pals

Brette Sember is the author of The Parchment Paper Cookbook, published by Adams Media. She blogs about parchment paper cooking at She also writes the popular food blog She is also the author of the upcoming titles The Organized Kitchen and The Muffin Tin Cook Book from Adams Media.

Sember is a former attorney and author of more than 35 other books, including How to Parent with Your Ex, The Complete Credit Repair Kit, The Divorce Organizer & Planner, and The Complete Divorce. She is a member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. She lives in Buffalo, New York with her husband, two children, and two golden retrievers. Her web site is and you can follow her on Twitter @brettesember.


19 responses to “Visual Bites: A Cookbook Author Weighs in on the Best Food Shows”

  1. merr Avatar

    What an great post! I, admittedly, have never seen a single one (except for 5 minutes of Paula Deen while waiting at the doctor’s office and I understood how much she likes butter)…but this gave me a sense of them! Fun, fun!

  2. Sheryl Avatar

    Great suggestions. Sometimes while I’m at the gym I’ll turn on the food channel. Seems strange to watch a show about food while I’m exercising, but it’s fun, especially Paula Deen, since everything she cooks is just so…fattening.

  3. Susan Avatar

    Love how you tied in cooking shows with the cookbook release! My favorite cooking show is Take Home Chef. The chef on that show has an adorable accent, and he’s not too bad on the eyes either. 😉 Plus, I think he’s great at making food accessible and tailoring the menu to the people he meets.

    1. Brette Sember Avatar

      I have not seen that one Susan. I’ll look for it.

  4. MyKidsEatSquid Avatar

    My kids and I were hooked on the worst cooks ever awhile back. What’s the Travel Channel Show? Man v. Food, we’re catching up on those via Netflix. Funny, when I watch that show I’m always less hungry.

  5. Roxanne Avatar

    See … I kind of like Chopped and sometimes Iron Chef America … just to see what they pull off. Gosh, I remember watching The Frugal Gourmet as a kid. I had not heard he died. That’s sad.

  6. Brette Sember Avatar

    Roxanne, he died and I learned for the first time by reading the obit that apparently there was some horrible sexual abuse case against him involving an intern or something, which was why he disappeared. Totally tarnished the whole thing for me.

  7. Living Large Avatar

    These are some good ones. I like Rachel Ray’s Week in a Day sometimes too.

  8. […] Reel Life with Jane […]

  9. Kerry Dexter Avatar

    I think it’s interesting to watch how different chefs teach as well as entertain. Except for Ina Garten, my top choices differ from Brette’s — Melissa D’Arabian is one of my favorites, and I wish they’d do a new show with Ellie Krieger, for example– but it’s interesting to hear what and why Brette likes the shows she chooses.

    1. Brette Sember Avatar

      Kerry – I like Melissa D’Arabian too, but don’t even know what show she has now. I liked her when she won The Next Food Network Star but the show they ended up putting her on was not what she was pitching.

  10. wandering educators Avatar

    i always forget about food shows – you’ve re-inspired me!

  11. Donna Hull boomer trave, active boomers,travel Avatar

    I don’t watch much TV, but when I do, food shows are a favorite. I learned about some new ones from Brette. Thanks!

  12. Vera Marie Badertscher Avatar

    Thanks for the guide to cooking shows. I only catch them accidentally once in a while. I did watch Julia Child religiously in the old days, so maybe I should settle down and watch one of these.

  13. sarah henry Avatar

    As a food writer, you’d think I’d have watched these programs. Nope. Who has time for TV? Well, for research purposes, of course, I did watch both Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and Gordon Ramsay’s MasterChef.

    Full of drama, both.

    1. Brette Sember Avatar

      I watched Jamie Oliver with my son who is in middle school. A great way to have conversations about healthy eating.

  14. Donald Quixote Avatar

    Absolutely love the food network! Thanks for posting all of this!

  15. Ashland gourmet food and craft beer Avatar

    Just stumbled across your article, Brette. Nice job!

    Really happy you mentioned Restaurant Impossible. It’s one of our favorites to watch together, too. My wife and I run a gourmet food and craft beer/wine stores, so you can imagine the ideas that show has given us! We subscribed – looking forward to reading more articles from you 🙂

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