"When life is chaotic, every meal can feel like a struggle," Great British Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain says in one episode of Time to Eat, her BBC series that launched on Netflix in the United States today. Upon hearing this, in my kitchen full of toppling dishes and my dining-table-meets-new-work-desk covered in unceasing crumbs, I unclenched my jaw, let my shoulders fall slightly, and thought: Finally, a cooking host who gets it.
Though many of us might be working from home at the moment, time feels just as tight as ever, and Time to Eat, which focuses on time-saving meals using pantry staples, is exactly the cooking show we need. Each episode includes several recipes, as well as a scene in which Nadiya helps a "time-poor" person improve their cooking and another in which she visits a food production site.
As with all good TV cooking shows, Time to Eat shines because of its host, and Nadiya is just as charming as we came to know her on season six the Great British Bake Off, which she won. Having gotten her start on Bake Off, Nadiya is a real person who can cook well, not necessarily a career chef, and she's exactly who I want to guide me through those struggle cooking days, both during self-isolation and in time-crunched normal life. On Time to Eat, she merges her realistic approach with the fantasy feel of old school cable cooking shows.
In the boom of cable TV cooking, people like Sara Moulton and Martha Stewart were our icons. But as YouTube stars who got their starts at home like Binging with Babish and Maangchi have eclipsed TV chefs in cultural relevance, the cable cooking show and its meant-for-TV host feel more like relics. Instead of the thick veneer of production over shows like Sandra Lee's Semi-Homemade, the trend shifted to videos starring real people as hosts, and they let us peek behind the veil at the production process. The Bon Appétit Test Kitchen, for example, acknowledges the editing and swapping that goes into showing you how to cook a roast chicken.
But there's still some pleasure in a meted bit of fantasy about cooking, and anyone with an affinity for the Food Network era will find Time to Eat as a delightful return to form. With beauty shots of food set to cheesy upbeat music and out-of-kitchen jaunts, Time to Eat has the nostalgic feel of old school cooking shows and a similarly high level of production to serve as escapism, but it offers a host with as much relatability as the ones we love on YouTube. The perfectly designed set might not be realistic, but Nadiya's honesty and cool approach as a host are a bit of grounding reality.
Like Ina, Martha, and Nigella before her, Nadiya is equal parts soothing and charming. Her off-set ventures are reminiscent of Ina taking a trip to a quaint Hamptons market in Barefoot Contessa, and scenes of Nadiya eating dinner with her family are like her version of Ina's dinners with Jeffrey. But she feels more realistic than all of the above: she's young, honest, and—to borrow one of her Britishisms—a bit cheeky. She knows that we have more pressing things on our plates because she does too, and she's not above garlic powder or canned vegetables.
Just as Bake Off reminded us that normal people doing their best in the kitchen are worth praising, Time to Eat is a reminder that our food can be delicious, flavorful, and nourishing even if we rely on hacks like "tinned" potatoes or making a baked pasta using what appears to be SpaghettiOs. Her perky (but not in an annoying way) voice, with a pleasing British accent and use of amusing slang like "whacking" things into a food processor, is a nice alternative to the voices in our heads that might otherwise suggest, "Microwave another crappy frozen pizza."
With so many of us cooking now, it's a bit of a surprise that a proper cooking show hasn't dropped sooner. Though Netflix released the Kelis-hosted Cooked with Cannabis earlier this month, its content is focused on competition, not home cooking. Sometimes, what you really need is a calming host walking you through the vision of a beautiful kitchen and a beautiful meal, providing reassurance that you can make it work with humble things. Luckily, with Nadiya's Time to Eat, we now have our new home cooking queen.