Netflix takes another swing at cannabis programing with their recent competitive cooking show Cooking on High. And if you were hopeful that the move from Stoner Comedy to medicated cuisine would see Netflix elevate their weed-centric content, you're going to be disappointed.
Cooking on High is ostensibly a competitive cooking reality show a la popular programs such as 'Chopped' and 'Master Chef.' In each episode, two chefs are brought in to battle it out in the kitchen to impress the judges and take home the prize. They must face down a 30-minute time limit, and their final dish must comply with the episode's given theme, such as "Afternoon Delight" (lunch foods) and "Mexi-Cannabis" (Mexican inspired cuisine). And of course, the food must get you high.
Yet despite the title, there is very little cooking happening on 'Cooking on High.' Instead the show focuses largely on the rotating cast of comedians and hip-hop artists brought in to judge the food. A choice that sees 'Cooking on High' pandering to stoner stereotypes of watching Cheech & Chong and listening to Dr. Dre instead of presenting a genuine interest in the world of cannabis cooking.
This is not to say that the food featured in the show is a joke. All the chefs chosen to compete on the show are seriously skilled, professionals. The dishes they present are inventive and push the cannabis edible far beyond the ubiquitous pot-brownie. From La Cordon Bleu trained Andrea Drummer's cod cakes fried in cannabis butter to Mike Delao's gnocchi with cannabis pesto, the dishes look like something you would sooner get from a gourmet restaurant than your dealer's fridge.
But, the show's judges are almost always unqualified to be authorities on fine cuisine, with many of them admitting they've never tried the dish before—ranging from comedian Vitality Zdorovetskiy admission that he's "never really had a French onion soup" to rapper Mod Son saying, "I never ate fish before." When a judge on a food show openly admits they've never eat from such a wide category of foods, it is clear that the food show is, well, not really about food.
The highs and lows of rotating judges
In fairness, the rotating cast of judges and chefs is both one of the shows great strengths and weakness. On the plus side, working with a changing panel of judges enhances the show's diversity. Numerous people of color and women feature on the show, as do open members of the LGBTQ community.
But, Netflix fails to take this format to it's logical conclusion by making each episode a truly unique cast. Instead, most of the judges appear in at least 2 episodes across Cooking on High's 12-episode season, some of the chefs even appear in 3. This is of course too many times to allow the sense of a truly unique situation each time, and not enough for the audience to build a relationship with the chefs and judges featured on any given episode.
The show's two consistent cast members are show host Josh Leyva and lauded cannabis activist and comedian Ngaio Bealum. While Leyva's own relationship with cannabis culture, or even cooking for that matter, is questionable (it certainly plays no part in his YouTube content). Bealum has long been a part of the movement. Bealum is largely treated as the show's cannabis expert, introducing the strain of cannabis that the chefs will have to cook with in each episode and dishing out some cannabis knowledge here and there. Bealum is one of the show's saving graces that gets vastly under utilized. His knowledge of both cannabis and cooking, as well as his charisma likely would have made him a superior host to Leyva.
Perhaps doubling down on Bealum and cutting Leyva from the cast would have also allowed the studio the budget to extend the episodes's runtime from the frustratingly short 12–15 minutes to a more sensible 30 or 45. The increased episode length would have allowed the show to create a sense of tension and further explore the complex world of cooking with cannabis. Instead, the 15-minute top-out feels more like an appeal to stoner stereotypes of short attention spans.
The food in 'Cooking on High' feels like more of a pretext for Netflix to spew out another trope-ridden series than to actually celebrate the culinary arts, let alone cannabis. As the "first ever competitive cannabis cooking show," 'Cooking on High' leaves a lot to be desired—the show doesn't even discuss the flavor profiles of the strains featured in the cooking competition.
Next time, Netflix, produce a show viewers can take seriously.