How to Go to Culinary School by Watching Netflix

Courtesy of Rene Funk / Netflix
A much more chill way to learn.

If you’re reading this right now, there's a decent chance you've at least entertained the notion of going to culinary school. There's no doubt that learning how to prepare a proper béarnaise sauce and de-bone a fish with ease are worthwhile skills, but not all of us have the two to four years, not to mention the mental and physical endurance, needed to actually get that degree.

If you want to know what attending culinary school is like without ever going, read Michael Ruhlman’s The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America. But if you just want an education in food, turn to Netflix.

From in-depth food documentaries to profiles of the world’s greatest chefs, Netflix streams can teach you how to prep, cook and better understand food. We've put together three levels of Netflix programming (basic, intermediate and advanced) that can serve as your basic culinary school education. Additionally, each selection is paired with an actual corresponding class required at the Culinary Institute of America. Here’s how to go to culinary school by watching Netflix.

Basic

Nutrition: Cooked

Michael Pollan knows a lot about nutrition and his Netflix documentary-series, Cooked, focuses on many of the aspects of how we eat that he's been researching for years. Pollan's series is broken down into four parts, each of which focuses on a different element of cooking: fire, water, air and earth. Additionally, Pollan's series raises questions about sustainable farming, meat consumption, misconceptions of gluten and cheese production. Cooked also looks at the disconnect between producer and consumer and how the public relies more on mass-produced, modified food with less nutritional value than ever before. Cooked is a building block for better understanding nutrition and an excellent starting point for your Netflix education.

Culinary Fundamentals: Mind of a Chef

Unlike many of Netflix's most popular culinary shows, Mind of a Chef actually teaches you how to cook dishes at home. Whether it's with Andy Ricker's pig feet pancakes, Ivan Orkin's shio ramen or Gabrielle Hamilton's eggs Benedict, Mind of a Chef focuses on the culinary fundamentals needed to better understand how and what we cook.

Professionalism and Life Skills: Avec Eric

Eric Ripert is 52 years old and still spends most of his days in a restaurant kitchen (when he's not filming his show, writing books or hanging with Anthony Bourdain, of course). Ripert's restaurant journey began almost 40 years ago and he's now regarded as one of the most accomplished chefs in the world. While Avec Eric certainly offers more light-hearted, casual takes on the dishes Ripert serves at his restaurant, Le Bernardin, the food is cooked with Ripert's unique humility, all while he delivers lessons to viewers about his life both in and out of the kitchen.

Introduction to Gastronomy: Master of None

There is no show on Netflix more obsessed with loving food than Master of None. While Aziz Ansari's show focuses on everything happening in the life of his protagonist, Dev, it's the character's love of gastronomy that makes him so relatable. Yes, there's a whole episode dedicated to searching out the best tacos in New York City according to Yelp, which takes Dev and his friend Arnold (Eric Wareheim) hours. (Finally, they settle on a food truck that ends up being out of tortillas.) However, there's also a beautifully shot sequence of Ansari making pasta from scratch. By the end of the first season, Dev is boarding a plane to Italy to go learn to make all of the Italian food he loves the proper way. If that isn't a commitment to gastronomy, what is?

Intermediate

Introduction to Catering: Chef

Jon Favreau's Chef is actually quite well-informed when it comes to the movie's food, cooking techniques and depiction of restaurant culture, all of which can be attributed to chef consultant Roy Choi's work on the film. While Chef's definitive pasta scene could be used to teach a class on food seduction all on its own (seriously, that pasta), Favreau's character's transition from executive chef to food truck owner can teach viewers a lot about catering logistics, food prep and even marketing. Making a profit on four wheels with a staff of 2.5 is much different than running a high-end restaurant. It's a good opportunity to watch and learn. 

Meat Identification, Fabrication, and Utilization: The Wild Chef

Martin Picard is a mad man. His Montreal restaurant, Au Pied de Cochon, has more than 10 different foie gras dishes on the menu and those aren't even the most indulgent options. Picard is also an avid outdoorsman, hunter and trapper and, as such, is very knowledgeable when it comes to wild game and obscure meats. On his show, The Wild Chef, Picard cooks every protein from moose to muskrat to beaver to venison, as well as every wild bird and fish you can imagine. He prepares each of these simply and rustically, usually with a touch of French technique. All the while, Picard explains what makes each type of meat he's working with unique and delicious, and provides tips for handling meats you're unfamiliar with.

Seafood Identification and Fabrication: Restaurant Australia

Chefs Neil Perry, Ben Shewry and Peter Gilmore are three of Australia's most knowledgeable culinary ambassadors. Their show, Restaurant Australia, is designed to act as part-informative culinary journey through their often-misunderstood country and part travel ad. However, there is a great deal to be learned about Australia and its incredible ingredients by simply watching these three explore. Throughout the three episodes, the chefs provide in-depth tips for selecting, preparing and enjoying many varieties of seafood (Australia has plenty, due to its vast coastline), including abalone, rock lobster and whiting.

Advanced

Contemporary Restaurant Cooking: Chef’s Table


"I make food that I want to eat and I've never made any apologies." These words from chef Ivan Orkin perfectly describe the entire mantra of Chef's Table, Netflix's flagship chef documentary series. Each episode is dedicated to one individual's story, journey and vision and pushes the idea that the world's greatest chefs are driven by expressing their entire beings through their restaurants. Trends from around the world, from the way food is plated to how restaurants are designed to the philosophies behind how menus are created, are all on display on Chef's Table.

Menu Development: Noma: My Perfect Storm

Rene Redzepi is the most influential chef of the 21st century and Noma: My Perfect Storm reveals everything you should know his landmark Copenhagen restaurant as it stood in 2015. You'll learn about the stress and expectations that come with running a restaurant named best in the world, as well as how a Noma dish comes together—from obtaining ingredients (foraging, maintaining relationships with farmers) to preparing them (lots of fermenting) and arranging them on the plate for customers. This documentary will inspire you to approach flavors and textures in completely new ways.

Cuisines and Cultures of Asia: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a masterpiece. Besides educating viewers about sushi itself, the documentary highlights the importance of proper rice cooking, how to balance seasoning and the most precise knife work ever filmed. Also, Jiro Dreams of Sushi provides an intimate look at what is required of a restaurant staff to achieve three Michelin stars, especially when the team is only a handful of dedicated people.

Controlling Costs and Purchasing Food: For Grace

What does it take to start a restaurant? What are the actual logistical challenges of opening a fine dining establishment? For Grace profiles the opening of Curtis Duffy's Grace in Chicago in 2014. The documentary doesn't hide any of the painful realities—it's a first-hand look at how hard it can be to go from well-respected hotel chef to restaurateur. From construction setbacks to zoning requirements to the familial tolls restaurants take, nothing is hidden in For Grace and that's what makes it such an important story.

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