Food is the common denominator for all of us during these trying pandemic times. Whether we’re stuffing our faces with takeout or baking all of the banana bread (or at least salivating over Instagram pictures of someone else’s moist creations), baked goods and sumptuous spreads provide sustenance and joy. And joy is in short supply right now.
Fortunately, the Food Network has come to save the day with three new shows that transport viewers into a comfy, cozy, calorie-filled world, even when the hosts have to navigate the quarantine measures imposed across the globe.
Adding these hour-long slices of reality to your diet should be as easy as wearing a mask outdoors. Sample them below.
Amy Schumer Learns to Cook
Mondays at 10pm ET
The premise: Comedian Amy Schumer learns how to cook with help from her chef husband Chris Fischer, while the couple is quarantining on Martha’s Vineyard with their 11-month-old son Gene and attentive nanny (and clutch camerawoman) Jane.
The execution: It’s clear this hodgepodge of a show is truly self-produced. Amy and Chris play it loose, usually looking like they’ve spent no time gussying up for TV, which only makes the pair more charming. The episodes take place in a relatively small kitchen, ensuring an often barefooted Amy has to maneuver around Chris every time he gives her a small task to fill like boiling water or chopping fennel, his favorite vegetable. They do two segments per hour, both starting off with Amy showcasing her bartending skills and Chris following up with multiple, fairly easy dishes that fit a predetermined theme, like late-night munchies, brunch and sandwiches. Nothing feels scripted and Amy’s jokes are delightfully off-the-cuff. Like any meal makers stuck in quarantine, they must make do with the ingredients on hand and offer up substitutions.
The verdict: It’s refreshing to watch a cooking show that looks like it is taking place in real kitchen. You won’t find everything neatly laid out in perfectly-measured bowls. Presentation takes a backseat to the messy, sweaty act of preparing dinner. Amy and Chris have an easy way with each other. She refrains from outrageous outbursts, yet never misses a chance to sweetly rib Chris with a joke at his expense. They’re good company. Sit back with a drink and pretend you’re hanging out with your favorite husband-and-wife duo who doesn’t marinate in their coupledom.
Bakeaway Camp with Martha Stewart
Mondays at 9pm ET
The premise: Six talented home bakers descend on a large, green parcel of land near Martha Stewart’s farm where they will camp out for four-weeks and participate in elaborate dessert challenges. The contestant with the weakest confection is sent home each week, while the last baker standing at the end of the season will leave with $25,000 and the priceless approval of Stewart herself.
The execution: The cheery group of contestants must tackle two challenges per episode and are given tons of freedom to create flourishing takes on campfire favorites like S’mores. The winner of the initial round gets a one-on-one baking lesson with Stewart in her own kitchen to learn tips on how to master the final assignment, which she judges along with “camp counselors” (and familiar faces) Dan Langan and Carla Hall. The catch? All of the culinary action takes place outside in the elements. Rain, heat, bugs – the bakers and their creations must contend with them all, leaving viewers wondering how much commitment to a theme is too much?
The verdict: The fawning over Stewart borders on overkill, as the bakers’ devotion to the housekeeping maven rings sincere, but also desperate. Like a literal knight in shining armor, she arrives on horseback during her intro in the premiere, and tears pour from the faces of these eager, bright-eyed followers. The camaraderie between the contestants shines through and despite the immense pressure — stemming both from the nature of a timed competition and the inner turmoil of trying to impress a hero — the bakers’ delight in concocting painstaking sweets is infectious.
Worst Cooks in America: Celebrity Edition
Sundays at 9pm ET
The premise: A group of seven celebrities participate in cooking bootcamp with chefs Anne Burrell and Tyler Florence, who, over the course of six episodes, train the clueless bunch how to correctly wield a knife and not serve a piece of chicken that’s still clucking. The contestant with the most improved culinary skills at the end of the journey wins $25,000 for their favorite charity.
The execution: The kitchen is in frenzy mode at all times as the contestants try to stop preening for the camera long enough to get their hands dirty. The chefs model how to prepare intense dishes and then stand back and wildly criticize from afar as the "recruits" try to recreate them from notes taken during, frankly, a very quick session that almost seems designed to trip them up. When the oven buzzer dings and the flour settles, each contestant presents their plates to Burrell and Florence, who must earn hazard pay for biting into each one.
The verdict: Anyone feeling insecure about their own cooking prowess can take great comfort and snide pleasure in watching these lower-tier celebrities flail spectacularly. However, their shenanigans can grow tiresome. Johnny Bananas is just so “bananas.” Real Housewives album Sonja Morgan brings all the crazy energy of housewiving and a disturbing obsession with toaster ovens. Dave Coulier loves talking in funny voices and compulsively blurts out his Full House catchphrase (“Cut. It. Out.”) But, seriously, cut it out! Personality reigns, often overshadowing the culinary work in progress, but you didn’t really tune in for tips on how to whip up a frittata, did you?