From luxury Michelin-star restaurants to hot-headed chefs to the disgusting secrets hidden within the food-supply chain, this is the definitive list of the 15 best food documentaries of all time. (Yes, there is one about wine, too. Think of it as a mix of The Wolf of Wall Street and Ocean’s 11.)
Be prepared to raid your kitchen or zip down to the local cheese shop after pressing play. Some of these films might even prompt you to give up sugar, book a trip to Tokyo just for the sushi, or volunteer at your local garden.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)
Our all-time favorite food documentary follows the life of Jiro Ono, an 85-year-old sushi chef considered the best in the world. His small 10-seat restaurant is located within a subway station, serves a set course, and can take months to get reservations. It was the first establishment of its kind to gain a three-star Michelin Guide rating. Both the visuals and the story arch are stunning, mimicking Jiro’s constant pursuit of perfection. Have a sashimi take-out menu close at hand.
Super Size Me (2004)
In summary: You’ll never want to eat McDonald’s again (or you’ll want to immediately go to McDonald’s … it’s a toss-up). This 2004 documentary sealed Morgan Spurlock into the guild of iconic documentarians. The concept was simple: Eat only McDonalds for a month— breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert — and see how your health changes. Spurlock’s social experiment was simultaneously a cultural break-check on the role corporate giants have on American lives and health, particularly the obesity epidemic.
Noma: My Perfect Storm (2015)
Located in Copenhagen, Noma was named the best restaurant in the world. The title changed everything, especially for chef René Redzepi, who finds himself stuck between creating tranquil, brilliant meals and the scattered, frustrated anxiety of staying on top. Some of the otherworldly dishes you’ll see include bread and grilled roses, crispy reindeer moss, and wild blueberry and ants.
What The Health (2017)
Attempting to seek out a dietary approach to preventing and reversing chronic disease (OK, we’re down), filmmaker Kip Andersen traces the smoking gun back to animal products. The pro-vegan film prompted us to take a good look at our meat/cheese/dairy consumption and test out healthier swaps. It’s huge when a food documentary physically makes you get up from the couch and seek out a healthier diet. However, many of the claims, such as eggs being as bad as cigarettes, have been called out as bologna. As with all docs, it goes without saying take everything with a grain of salt, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
Sour Grapes (2016)
Not technically a food when finished, but we’re putting it on here, anyway. Sour Grapes is a 100-percent Rotten Tomatoes-rated documentary about wine. And damn, it’s exciting. Following the legend of the Gen-X Great Gatsby, a young wine savant who conned investors out of millions of dollars in “the world’s greatest wine fraud.”
That Sugar Film (2014)
Deep down we know sugar is bad for us, but Australian documentarian Damon Gameau is reminding us just how wicked the sweet stuff is (we promise you will be disturbed). Using himself as a test rat, Gameau adopts a low-fat, high-sugar diet equivalent to 40 tsp of sugar a day. The result: He feels like crap. Expert interviews delve into the molecular level of sugar calories and how they work (or more correctly, how they don’t work), and uncover the insane amount of sugar hiding in everyday food items, which are added to reach the “bliss point” that makes food more desirable.
Fed Up (2014)
If you weren’t already convinced every ailment the human species has can be traced back to food, well buckle up. Fed Up is hard-hitting, fact-focused, and packs a “holy $#&!” moment every couple of minutes. American journalist Katie Couric investigates why childhood obesity has become an epidemic. We’ll give you two hints: The “fat-free” movement and libel of food labels.
Symphony of the Soil (2012)
When we think of food documentaries, we think of, well, food. And chefs and restaurants and grocery stores. But hardly ever the soil. Symphony of the Soil explores the relationship between soil, plants, and animals, highlighting the virtues of organic farming and experts who have made their life around getting dirty growing soil to grow plants. If you don’t normally like foreign or subtitled films, this slow-moving, molecular-detailed doc might not be your pace.
Three meat-and-cheese-loving New Yorkers are thrust into a vegan diet. That means faux meat, zero eggs, and adios butter. During their six-week “vegucation” trial, the three get a lesson in Factory Farming 101, exposing the largely inhumane treatment to animals. We’re not saying you should be a vegan, but we are saying is know what happened to your meat in order for it to reach your plate, because that’s what it means to be a real man. A little rough around the edges, this doc will get you #woke.
Do you know every single wine on the planet? These guys do. Four wine stewards study for the Master Sommelier Exam to earn the highest level of recognition for a Sommelier: the Master Sommelier diploma. However, the test is one of the world’s most difficult exams, not to mention it’s presided over by a notoriously selective Court of Master Sommeliers. For a taste, Somm shows how the exam covers all aspects of the world and industry of wine, beer, spirits/cocktails, and hospitality from a business, service, and philosophy. Did we mention the typical pass rate is 3 percent to 8 percent? So yeah, there are some breakdowns.
42 Grams (2017)
Top-tier chef Jake Bickelhaupt opens a restaurant below his apartment with his wife. They call it 42 Grams as a play on how much the soul is said to weigh (21 grams times two people). While we ordinarily wouldn’t recommend this movie on account of the restaurant mysteriously closing due to domestic abuse, 42 grams remains one of the most real and terrifying accounts of how abusive and obsessive chefs can become, losing themselves to the ego of “greatness.”
Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table (2016)
Screw Julia Child. Southern icon Ella Brennan was the true queen of food and a household name in the industry that you’ve probably never heard of. She was a celebrity restauranteur before there were celebrity chefs. Now, big names like Emeril Lagasse, Daniel Boulud, Jeremiah Tower, and Tory McPhail give us a glimpse of this vibrant, smart, food-loving matriarch of Creole fare.
Food, Inc. (2008)
This doc peels the lid off the obscene power modern-day food companies hold, which operate under the decree of faster, fatter, bigger, cheaper, and how the supermarket is a land field of heavily-processed, corn-based, food-like items. Also, the government and food industries are largely corrupt, and healthy food is intentionally harder to buy, and … just spare us the struggle and watch it. One of the best (and most eye-opening documentaries) every American should watch.
For Grace (2015)
This 2015 documentary follows chef Curtis Duffy as he turns his Chicago restaurant, Grace, into the most sought-after dining experience in the country. You’ll be asking why it never fell onto your plate earlier. Watch as the Michelin-starred Duffy builds Grace literally from the ground up, designing his own kitchen, toys, and menu. Even more surprising is a look at the intense tragedies that defined Duffy’s youth how they make him the last person you’d expect to be as successful and kind as the chef of Grace. This one is pretty damn inspiring and uplifting.
A Matter of Taste (2011)
At only 24-years-old, Paul Liebrandt became the youngest chef in history to receive a three-star rating from The New York Times for his hyper-modern dishes such as espuma of calf brains and foie gras. A Matter of Taste shows how Liebrandt did what no one thought possible to do with food (while also seeing a certain wildness that landed him either on the most-hated or most-loved list for critics). The 2011 documentary follows Liebrandt through fame, the creation process, unemployment, and gives a provoking look at the cutthroat world of haute cuisine in New York City.
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