The Food Network's 12 Best Cooking Shows of All Time
January 17, 2017
From 'East Meets West' to '30 Minute Meals,' these are the network's finest
#12 “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives”
Love him or hate him, you can’t argue that Guy Fieri hasn’t been a major cultural powerhouse since his “Triple-D” debuted a full ten years ago. Yes, his spiky blond hair, backwards sunglasses, and surfer bro demeanor can wear a little thin at times, but at the core of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives is a desire to showcase the hardworking chefs who keep America’s casual neighborhood joints going strong, and spending half an hour watching them do their thing is very entertaining indeed. It doesn’t hurt that business usually soars through the roof after Guy pays a restaurant a visit.
#11 "East Meets West"
Chef Ming Tsai is a wizard of Asian cooking, and on this show, which ran for five seasons, he not only demonstrated his deep knowledge of all things Asian but also seamlessly fused Asian and Western techniques and recipes into something truly unique and entertaining. His dishes weren’t just a hodgepodge, either; they were carefully thought out and often ingeniously delicious, ranging from udon seafood cioppino to shepherd’s pie with Asian braised duck and Chinese-style smoked suckling pig with garlic-bacon grits. Occasional visits from chefs like Masaharu Morimoto and Mario Batali were icing on the cake.
#10 "Tyler’s Ultimate"
Debuting in 2003, Tyler Florence’s Tyler’s Ultimate fused the best of both worlds: travel and stand-and-stir cooking. The concept was brilliant: Tyler travels the world in search of the origins of one particular dish as well as different variations, then returns to his kitchen and prepares a definitive version of it based on what he learned. Each episode was devoted to one classic dish, ranging from sole almondine to chicken and dumplings. The travel aspect was removed for a time and the show is no longer airing, but it was great to see Florence in his element, cooking the classics.
“Remember, life is a matter of taste,” the elegantly poised David Rosengarten would tell viewers at the end of every episode of this show after sampling his cooking and taking a sip of wine. Taste, which was one of the original Food Network programs and ran for 8 years, was unabashedly highbrow, cultured, and refined. Each episode had a theme, such as “lobster,” and Rosengarten wasn’t afraid to share his encyclopedic knowledge of each dish and component in an entertaining and informative way, long before Alton Brown came on the scene. “Devoted to the principles of good taste in food and wine,” this show represented the high point of the network’s highbrow beginnings, and that’s nothing to complain about.
#8 "Cooking Live"
The thought of doing a live cooking show, while taking callers at the same time, would today be considered just about impossible, but Sara Moulton did just that nearly every weeknight from 1997 to 2003. Her simple approach to classic recipes, self-deprecating humor, and ability to seemingly know the answer to every question thrown her way attracted legions of viewers. She never talked down to viewers, and always managed to stay calm, cook delicious-looking food, entertain, and educate, all on live television.
#7 "Too Hot Tamales"
Susan Feniger and Mary-Sue Milliken hosted what might have been the most unabashedly fun straight-ahead cooking show in Food Network history. Running for 396 episodes between 1995 and 1999, Too Hot Tamales featured the two chefs (and longtime friends) having a ball as they demonstrated their unique brand of modern Mexican cooking, simultaneously entertaining and educating viewers about the nuances of Oaxacan mole, cactus paddle tacos, and other recipes they picked up while road-tripping through Mexico. Today, the chefs run Border Grill, one of the country’s most highly-regarded Mexican restaurants.
#6 "Barefoot Contessa"
If you want to be put into a relaxed mood while simultaneously overcome with jealousy towards those who spend their days entertaining in the Hamptons, turn on an episode of Barefoot Contessa, which has been on the air since 2002, and watch host Ina Garten prepare a simple and delicious multi-course meal for her friends and husband, Jeffrey. Making the most of fresh, seasonal ingredients, Garten breaks down complex recipes into easier formats, with the goal of showing that you can entertain and prepare a great meal at the same time. Tablescaping and entertaining tips round it out.
#5 "Everyday Italian"
Giada DeLaurentiis’ wide grin and easygoing attitude attracted viewers in droves to Everyday Italian, where she’d prepare Italian classics with an American flare. Along with Rachael Ray, Giada ushered in a new, more casual era for Food Network, and the program’s unique style (shows are filmed in rented houses instead of sets, extreme close-ups of the food being prepared are incorporated in order to mix it up) has been hugely influential and is now the norm for just about every other cooking show. She’s hosted multiple shows since, but Everyday Italian, with its focus on quick and healthy Italian-inspired dishes, is still her best work.
#4 "30 Minute Meals"
When 30 Minute Meals debuted in fall 2001, it was a breath of fresh air for a network looking for a new twist to what had become a tired format. Bubbly host Rachael Ray caught some flack due to her lack of formal training, but her show’s formula — preparing a multi-course meal in essentially real time — as well as her fun, youthful attitude, won her legions of fans. Today Ray is a certifiable superstar, and it’s all thanks to her first Food Network show, one which, in many ways, set the course for the network’s future.
#3 "Essence of Emeril"
Emeril Lagasse is best known for his catchphrase “Bam!” and it was on this show, which ran from 1994 to 1996 and again from 2000 to 2007, that he coined it. For those used to the big, loud Emeril of his long-running live show, his stand-and-stir show presented a more calm, low-key Emeril, focused on preparing classic Cajun and Creole recipes with his trademark touch. Emeril is undoubtedly a great chef (and remains one of the foremost ambassadors of New Orleans cuisine), and on Essence he’d pass along his deep wealth of culinary knowledge while keeping viewers entertained with his trademark dry humor and endless quest to “kick it up a notch!”
#2 "Molto Mario"
American audiences were first introduced to superstar chef Mario Batali in 1996, when this no-frills cooking show quietly hit the airwaves. Over the course of 78 episodes, Batali took viewers on a full tour of Italy, exploring the cuisines of each individual region (pointing them out on a large map) with an audience who largely still equated Italian food with what’s served at red-sauce joints. Batali never talked down to his audience, and effortlessly demonstrated his deep knowledge of every aspect of Italian cooking while at the same time showing off his gregarious personality and dry wit.
#1 "Good Eats"
The best cooking show in the history of Food Network was the revolutionary Good Eats, created and hosted by Alton Brown, a former cinematographer who went to cooking school and decided to start his own show after being unsatisfied by the cooking shows that were then currently airing. Each of the 244 episodes and 8 specials dealt with one specific theme, from chocolate chip cookies to pulled pork, eggnog, and pad Thai, and over the course of the episode he’d delve into the science and techniques behind the dish’s perfect preparation. While it might sound dry, the show was often laugh-out-loud funny, with a rotating cast of characters, occasional Monty Python references, wacky music, and an unapologetic rejection of “unitaskers.” The show was creatively filmed, with the backs of cabinets, ovens and refrigerators removed so cameras could get behind them, and ingenious hacks, tips, and tricks were included in every episode. There was nothing like it before and there has been nothing like it since. Not only was Good Eats the most unique show in the history of Food Network, it was also the best.