Food for Thought: 5 Important Life Lessons from Famous Food Shows and Documentaries

Words by Lorraine Giron 

Everyone loves food, which is why while not everyone is into documentaries, people will still find food documentaries engaging. Many of these also involve traveling to different parts of the world, which is like getting to travel without leaving home! More than being visually appealing, they are actually often more than about food itself. Food series and documentaries tackle culture and other relevant and significant issues. They are a great source of life and artistic inspiration and the following are just some of the life lessons we can pick up from watching them:

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5. Sky is the limit when it comes to creativity. 

cake bossPhoto: Mike Stobe and

Every episode of Cake Boss never fails to amaze me. Buddy Valastro has rightfully earned the title of “Cake Boss” for he has done some of the most impressive cakes I’ve seen. The saying that “food is art” is exemplified through his works. His passion and creativity are an inspiration not only to aspiring bakers, but for visual artists as well. Despite the challenges, Buddy constantly innovates and comes up with more creative ideas and execution that exceed his customers’ expectations.

I’m a visionary. And I’m not afraid to try [things].

When I make cake, I go into what I call a zone. You don’t hear nothing, you don’t feel nothing and you are just focused. And you stop when you’re done. You step back. You look at what you created and it’s like, “wow!” It’s like a feeling of self-worth. That’s why I became a baker. And it’s funny because after all these years, and all these cakes, I still get that feeling.

-Buddy Valastro, Cake Boss

4. Food teaches us grit, resilience, history, and identity. 

street food asia cebuPhoto from Street Food Asia

As someone who has a delicate stomach, I rarely eat our local street food. Despite this, I was very excited when I found out that the creators of Chef’s Table were making a new series called  Street Food. What’s more exciting is that they are featuring the Philippines—Cebu and its street food! This series is a breathe of fresh air as it focuses on people who didn’t have formal training or prestigious background and the setting is very far and different from the fine dining world.

Street Food teaches us many things. For people like me who were born and raised in a sheltered environment, watching this series made me rethink all the biased notions I have with street food. Street food is not only a source of survival for the people behind it, but it was able to improve the lives of their communities as well. It is because of their grit and resilience that they were able to come up with something creative and satisfying.

3. Every day is an opportunity to be better at your craft. 

jiro dreams of sushiImage: Jiro Dreams of Sushi Trailer

For sushi lovers and fans of Japanese cuisine, you might want to check out Jiro Dreams of Sushi. The documentary, which was released in 2011, was directed by David Gelb who is also the creator of Chef’s Table. It follows the life of Jiro Ono, a sushi master and the owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro. Sukiyabashi Jiro is a tiny restaurant, with ten counter seats located in the Tokyo subway station. Despite its humble appearance, it is actually a three-Michelin star sushi restaurant and is praised by well-known chefs. Some of the famous personalities who have dined in Sukiyabashi Jiro are former U.S. president Barack Obama with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe.

The Japanese’s dedication to perfection is truly amazing. Jiro Ono has devoted all his life into making sushi. His humility and work ethic is a perfect reminder that becoming better entails constant practice and hard work. Despite being one of the most acclaimed sushi chefs, Jiro Ono believes he still has to improve. He doesn’t see success as an end goal. Rather, it is to become better in his craft every day.

Once you decide on your occupation…you must immerse yourself in your work.You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success…and is the key to being regarded honorably.

-Jiro Ono

2. Creativity and ego cannot go together. 

jeong kwan 1Image: Chef’s Table

Chef’s Table is a critically-acclaimed series which focuses on the lives of different renowned chefs per episode. While all episodes are very inspiring, one particular episode that stands out is Episode 1 of Season 3 that follows the life of Jeong Kwan, a Zen Buddhist nun who cooks for the community at Baekyangsa Temple in South Korea. Jeong Kwan is evidently different from the other personalities featured in this series. Jeong Kwan cooks temple and vegan food and her approach differs from other chefs in the world.

jeong kwan

“Creativity and ego cannot go together. If you free yourself from the comparing and jealous mind, your creativity opens up endlessly. Just as water springs from a fountain, creativity springs from every moment.

You must not be your own obstacle.You must not be owned by the environment you are in. You must own the environment, the phenomenal world around you. You must be able to freely move in and out of your mind.

This is being free. There is no way you can’t open up your creativity. There is no ego to speak of. That is my belief.”

-Jeong Kwan

There are so many insights we can gain from Jeong Kwan regarding spirituality and cooking, but this is probably the best takeaway from her wisdom: Creativity and ego cannot go together. Despite the fact that we are subjected to the pressure of fame and competition, we should not allow these to become obstacles from trusting ourselves, our abilities and the creative process.

1. Food binds people together. 

bourdainImage: CNN

Exploring the world through various cuisines—I think we can all agree that no one did this better than Anthony Bourdain. He went to the grittiest parts of the world, tried all sorts of food, and shared meals with people from different walks of life. He is one of the most-loved celebrity chefs, author, and travel documentarian because of his charisma, open-mindedness, honesty, and wit. He’s a great storyteller as evidenced in his books and his series Parts Unknown and No Reservations. 

Bourdain was right when he said that food connects people. Here in the Philippines, meals are often and best shared with family or friends. To cook for one’s family is not only a Filipino thing, but also holds true for other parts of the world.

“Meals make the society, hold the fabric together in lots of ways that were charming and interesting and intoxicating to me. The perfect meal, or the best meals, occur in a context that frequently has very little to do with the food itself.”

-Anthony Bourdain

How about you? What are some of the life lessons you picked from your favorite food shows and documentaries?  Tell us in the comments!