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Five Food Shows That Inspire Us in the Kitchen

by Deborah Thomas

I can't do recipe books. They've never worked for me, and the more categories and recipes they hold, the more useless they are to me. I have trouble pulling inspiration from standard cooking shows, too—those 30-minute single-recipe programs from cooks like Rachel Ray. There's something about them that quashes my creativity in the kitchen.

This is why reality television in the food industry is such a blessing (as opposed to everywhere else, where it's usually a curse). According to www.direct.tv, some of the most popular reality shows are the most pointless: "Real Housewives," "Jersey Shore," and the like. But reality food shows give us something the scripted studio ones can't—real people cooking food in their own environments, whether it be for a travel show or an under-pressure contest. That's culinary inspiration Rachel Ray just can't deliver.

Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern (Travel Channel)

If you have a tough stomach and an insatiable appetite for new and unusual foods, "Bizarre Foods" is a great resource for dishes and ingredients you may have never known existed. Andrew Zimmern highlights unique cuisine from countries and cultures across the world (no, we don't expect you'll be skewering beetles over the barbeque for your next Memorial Day picnic). Even if you never cook a single meal featured on the show, "Bizarre Foods" might just inspire you to shop some different aisles during your next trip to the grocery store.

No Reservations (Travel Channel)

If chocolate-covered scorpions from the Middle East aren't your thing, but you'd still like to learn about various dishes from around the world, Anthony Bourdain has the solution. Veteran chef Bourdain travels the globe, acquainting himself with native delectables and the native themselves. Is this is a show about food or a show about culture? Does it matter? What we eat directly relates to how we live and socialize within our communities; ask a New Englander what it means to spread boiled lobster and corn across a picnic table covered in newspaper, or a family in Memphis what it means to slow roast spare ribs in their backyard. Food is interwoven with our culture, and nobody teaches that better than Bourdain.

Chopped (Food Network)

"Chopped" is a reality competition show that pits four chefs against each other and forces them to create dishes from random mystery ingredients for the judges to critique. If this format sounds familiar, "Iron Chef" it is not. The cooks on "Chopped" are not Bobby Flay vs. another head chef of some five-star restaurant. Many of these men and women run barbeque pits, Cajun grills and local delis, so watching them fumble over a combination dish featuring pepper jack cheese is entertaining.

Cupcake Wars (Food Network)

Another reality competition shows, "Cupcake Wars" is a top pick for lovers of all things pastries. Like "Chopped," the challenges often require bakers to use bizarre ingredients (cheddar cheese in a dessert?) in their race to please the judges with exceptional taste and presentation. "Cupcake Wars" could be lumped into the "just another food contest" category, but for all its format regularities, it might still be the best dessert show on television.

Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (Food Network)

Guy Fieri might embody the stereotype that's become American dining, but it's one he embraces and for which he is completely non-apologetic. "DD&D" won't teach you how to boil gluten-free pasta, it won't discover the best vegan cupcakes in the Midwest and it won't provide you with delicious, low-calorie meals. What you will get is burgers, fried foods and sauce-covered barbeque from some of the most underrated and well-hidden food joints in the U.S. Folks Fieri are the yin to every healthy chef's yang; sometimes, it's good to just pig out.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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