Folks, our long national nightmare is over. That’s right: “Top Chef” is back. New seasons of Bravo’s cooking competition show are so few and far between, it’s an event when a new one drops, and so last Thursday was cause for celebration as “Top Chef Season 20: All Stars” started its run. If you need to familiarize yourself with any of the returning chefs, Hulu has the whole catalog up, and what better time to dive in?
Bon Appetit on YouTube
Staying at home with extra time and lots of groceries means we all seem to be chefing it up right now. If you need any inspiration for your Quarantine Cooking, now is the time to dive down the rabbit hole of famed food magazine Bon Appetit’s cult favorite YouTube channel, with cooking shows that put Food Network to shame. Rather than go for the anonymous overhead cooking videos seen everywhere on social media, Bon Appetit knows they have a wealth of entertainment in the good-looking and charismatic food editors who populate the Test Kitchen, and they have incredible amount of expertise to go along with their charm and cooking chops.
There’s the stern taskmaster with a perfect palate, Chris Morocco, never without a tasting spoon (watch him re-create recipes from taste and smell in “Reverse Engineering”), lovable Philly lunk Brad Leone (he tackles all things fermentation in “It’s Alive”), and brilliant baker Claire Saffitz (she makes high-end versions of junk food in “Gourmet Makes”), among a host of other charming foodies.
It’s fascinating to watch the process of recipe development in “Making Perfect,” in which they’re paired up to tackle different elements of pizza (Season 1), and Thanksgiving dinner (Season 2). But it’s the interpersonal dynamics that makes the videos addictive (take a look at the YouTube comments that dissect every minor interaction). Like TV writer Margaret Lyons said on Twitter, “it’s Parks and Rec,” and she’s right. The pleasant and quirky personalities of the Test Kitchen and their interactions make for delightful watching, and I can attest to the mentally curative powers of watching Molly Baz make mac ‘n’ cheese, especially if your attention span can’t handle a whole movie or series right now.
“Julie and Julia”
Need more streaming cooking content? Julia Child biopic “Julie and Julia” is on Netflix, starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep. If you’re inspired to try a similar project, cooking your way through a cookbook, do like the millennials do and cook your way through Alison Roman’s repertoire, which includes her two buzzy cookbooks “Dining In” and “Nothing Fancy,” as well as a catalog of viral recipes on the New York Times cooking app, with accompanying tutorials filmed in her cozy Brooklyn kitchen for the NYT Cooking YouTube channel. Be sure to capture your efforts for the ‘gram!
For your quarantine-themed cinema, this week brings the release of “Vivarium,” on all major streaming platforms and On Demand, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots as a couple who become trapped alone in a suburban dystopia. Unable to escape from the labyrinthine maze of the cookie-cutter housing development called “Yonder,” and saddled with raising a very creepy and menacing child, they slowly start to unravel in this surreal and torturous environment. This freaky-deaky movie boldly directed by Lorcan Finnegan is incredibly dark, and either the perfect quarantine watch or the worst. Either way, it’s totally fascinating and unlike anything else you’ll see.
“The Art of Self-Defense”
Make it a double feature with another Eisenberg/Poots two-hander, last year’s pitch black comedy “The Art of Self-Defense,” in which they costar as a pair of karate students who come under the spell of a local martial arts teacher (available on Hulu/Amazon/YouTube).
Finally, let me add my voice to the chorus that “Tiger King” on Netflix is the true crime docu-series we need right now. Following the travails of Oklahoma’s own big cat enthusiast and zoo owner Joe Exotic, all I can say is every twist and turn will have your jaw on the ground multiple times an episode. The series is stuffed with side characters and details that could each warrant their own episode and is the kind of series that offers the perfect distracting entertainment in a time like this.
Stay home, folks! The streaming content is indeed abundant.