As self-professed foodies, we're always interested in what chefs have to say—whether it's about what they whip up for a healthy weeknight meal, which kitchen tools they swear by, or what they'd never order at a restaurant. So naturally, we had to know what films the pros find the most inspiring, fascinating, and stimulating. From an inspiring documentary about a dedicated sushi chef to a surprisingly compelling film about soil, these recommendations did not disappoint.
Ahead, 11 of our favorite foodies give us a peek at what's on their watch lists, plus additional picks from the MyDomaine team.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)
Jiro Dreams of Sushi was a clear favorite among the chefs we asked to provide food documentary recommendations. Scroll through the glowing recommendations below (and add this film to your watch list stat).
"It was extremely inspiring, especially as it relates to the discipline it takes to be a chef and dedication to a single craft. I used to require my cooks and chefs to watch it," says chef Missy Robbins.
"Jiro Dreams Of Sushi is a source of inspiration for me. I have always believed that becoming a great chef is a lengthy quest, and Jiro's many years as an apprentice validated my beliefs regarding the process. I learn something every day I pick up my knives. I feel a lot of culinary students graduate thinking they're chefs. When I saw this movie, I was a sous chef at Le Bernardin and was blown away by the dedication, passion, and willingness to not give up and keep working on my craft. We chefs learn something every day, and our career is a never-ending apprenticeship," divulges chef Diego Garcia of Gloria.
"Jiro is an immensely inspiring chef, and the documentary is a true encapsulation of his life's work. Jiro's desire to achieve perfection is astonishing and admirable. Even as he neared the end of his life and had his son to take over the business, he never stopped pushing for greatness and perfection," reveals chef Jose Guerrero of ViewHouse Eatery, Bar & Rooftop.
"My favorite food documentary is Jiro Dreams of Sushi. To me, it told the story of a chef incredibly dedicated to his craft and truly understanding the work that it takes to be a great chef. The fact that he sought cooking great at a small restaurant and after strives for expansion is fascinating," says chef Mark LoRusso of Costa di Mare.
Michael Pollan's Cooked was also at the top of many chefs's watch lists. This four-part documentary series is an extension of Pollan's book by the same title and explores the idea that cooking is integral to the human experience.
"My favorite food documentary is Cooked. It has a unifying power because it breaks cooking down to the elements, allowing us to see how similar the world is in spite of all the differences on the surface. Before we know a country's language, or sometimes even their people, we know their food first. And Cooked illustrates that regardless of culture or geographic location, regardless of the progress or development of a city, region, or country, we all use the same mediums. It enhances our understanding of cooking—and of the world—at a more fundamental level," says chef Simone Tong of Little Tong Noodle Shop.
"I really enjoyed Michael Pollan's documentary, Cooked. I enjoy both the history and science behind food, so this series really struck a chord with me. The way he explains processes like fermentation and the difference between wholesome, natural food versus factory food, is detailed enough for a professional but approachable enough for a home cook to enjoy," praises chef John Poiarkoff of Denizen.
"I loved the book and recommend that first, but the documentary—a four-part miniseries—is great not only because it's produced well, but more so because it focuses on the roots of all cooking technique. It's literally an elemental look at how we have developed cuisine as a civilization and how we can get back to basics in what we produce in our own kitchens on a daily basis," recommends pastry chef Scott Green of Travelle Kitchen + Bar.
Symphony of the Soil (2012)
In Symphony of the Soil, director Deborah Koons takes the potentially dry subject of the Earth's topmost layer and turns it into a compelling miracle, taking viewers on a journey across four continents meeting farmers, scientists, and foodies along the way.
"I love it because great food truly starts with great soil," endorses chef Chris Starkus of Urban Farmer.
Chef's Table (2015)
From the director of Jiro Dreams of Sushi, this documentary series highlights some of the most renowned restaurants in the world and the chefs behind them.
"My favorite food documentary is Massimo Bottura's episode of Chef's Table. It wasn't necessarily the food that made me like the episode so much but rather the love story behind the restaurant. I love that it illustrates how this industry can really bring people together," says chef Nini Nguyen of Cook Space.
For Grace (2015)
For Grace follows the opening of Chef Curtis Duffy's Michelin-awarded restaurant, Grace. Not only does the film provide a behind-the-scenes view of the restaurant industry, but it also offers a look inside the life of one of the world's best chefs.
"The last touching and life-relating documentary I saw was For Grace. At a point in life where all chefs hit rock bottom, Curtis Duffy is a perfect example that a new life can be created by focus, commitment, and determination," explains executive chef Viet Pham of Café Pinot.
Ella Brennan: Commanding The Table (2016)
Featuring interviews with family, friends, and fellow chefs, this documentary offers a never-before-seen look into the life of one of the restaurant industry's household-name chefs.
"I love Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table because it showcases the impact she's had on so many people across the nation, not just those interested in her specific career or New Orleans cuisine. Her story reaches thousands of people who can relate to it on both a personal and professional level. And in turn, the restaurant she built impacts thousands of people through shared memories and experiences," says chef Tory McPhail of Commander's Palace.
And ahead, discover 14 more documentaries to add to your watchlist now:
Salt Fat Acid Heat (2018)
Author and chef Samin Nosrat travels to some of the world's best food cities to bring viewers close-up to the four elements central to delicious cooking: Salt, fat, acid, and heat. We join Nosrat in Japan, Italy, Mexico, and California in the U.S. to sample and learn alongside her and a cast of female culinary experts.
More Than Honey (2012)
Bee colonies around the globe are collapsing, and we don't exactly know why. In More Than Honey, the documentary explores the numerous potential causes of their decline, and travels from China to California to learn how different communities interact with these important pollinators.
A Tale of Two Kitchens (2019)
A Tale of Two Kitchens highlights front and back of house stories from two Mexican restaurants—one in San Francisco, California, and the other in Mexico City. Interviews highlight restaurant employees whom don't consider the world of restaurants as a mere stopover, but their second home and a place of pride.
"By 1830," describes the voiceover, "the average American over 15 years of age drank the equivalent of 88 bottles of whiskey every year." That's three times as much as their 21st century descendants drink, the voiceover explains. Prohibition, told in three parts, is the story of the constitutional amendment that was supposed to improve the lives of Americans, yet accomplished the complete opposite.
The Search for General Tso (2015)
How did General Tso's chicken become a mainstay of Chinese-American cooking, and who exactly was General Tso? This documentary travels from Shanghai to New York in search of illuminating details behind the culinary mystery, and is rooted in the American immigrant experience.
Pressure Cooker (2009)
For high school students in Wilma Stephenson's culinary arts class, heeding her guidance may offer the path to self-determination. In Pressure Cooker, the documentary follows three Frankford High School students as they balance academics and home life in Philadelphia to compete for thousands of dollars in culinary school scholarships.
King Corn (2007)
Corn is in nearly everything Americans eat, from the sodas we guzzle to the hamburgers we scarf down. In King Corn, recent college grads and friends Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis attempt to follow a plot of corn they farmed on Iowa soil into the food system, and run into troubling insights along the way.
Ugly Delicious (2018)
The inaugural season of David Chang's Ugly Delicious examines what authenticity really means through the lens of country-wide comfort food favorites like pizza, tacos, and fried chicken. Chang breaks bread and travels around the world with well-known chefs, celebrities, food writers and more to dive deep on a dish's historical origins and cultural evolution.
The Mind of a Chef (2012)
Each season of The Mind of a Chef is dedicated to the inner world of culinary powerhouses including David Bowein, April Bloomfield, Gabrielle Hamilton, Ludo Lefebre and more. Each episode blends cooking with travel, history, art, and science for a glimpse into contemporary cooking's brightest culinary minds.
Somebody Feed Phil (2018)
Phil Rosenthal, creator of sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond," brings his humor to this traveling docuseries. In each episode, Rosenthal immerses himself in a new city—Lisbon, Bangkok, Mexico City—to discover its culture through its cuisine.
A global, primal ritual ignites across culture, race, and class in Barbecue. In this documentary, we travel from South Africa to Mexico, Texas to Armenia and explore tradition and community through the flame.
Theater of Life (2016)
Chef Massimo Bottura's soup kitchen for the 2015 Milan expo is the subject of food documentary, Theater of Life. Bottura enlists the help of culinary heavyweights, like René Redzepi and Ferran Adrià to create dishes solely made from food waste.
The Heat: A Kitchen (R)evolution (2018)
The Heat follows the professional and personal struggles of seven female chefs in New York City, London, and Toronto. In a traditionally male-dominated and oftentimes toxic environment, Canadian filmmaker Maya Gallus aims to illuminate the unique challenges women chefs face, including the financial difficulties of opening a restaurant.