My mother is a brilliant cook. Like generations of Lebanese women before her, feeding the family is an integral part of her life. Everyone claims their mother is the best cook in the world, but I bet she could put up a hefty fight for that title. Somehow, however, I managed to completely dodge inheriting that gene. The vague smell of burnt toast still haunts my microwave (please don’t ask) and my fridge contains at this present moment only one lonely pickle left in a miscellaneous jar. I could scramble together an average bowl of pasta if pushed, I guess. But, alas, I am not here to defend myself. I am here to share with you my love of the Bon Appetit Test Kitchen. One rainy afternoon, I stumbled down this Google hole of insanely wholesome and hilarious videos from an American cooking and baking magazine and binged my way through almost their entire video catalogue. This motley crew of recipe developers, testers, editors and managers pump life and plenty of garlic back into my blood. Their witty jibes at each other are priceless, combining effortlessly with all kinds of culinary How-Tos and experiments.
This group of humble magazine staff have rapidly exploded into internet celebrities, with over four million subscribers on YouTube, raking up more than 500 million views. Bon Appetit magazine was hardly known or revered for its video or online content before 2016, when then test kitchen manager Brad Leone debuted his now infamous It’s Alive series. This saw Leone create and try all kinds of wacky fermented foods from sauerkraut and kimchi to pickled eggs. The success of this series opened the door the magazine, leading to their creation of equally brilliant and popular series such as Claire Saffitz’s Gourmet Makes, where pastry chef Saffitz recreates various iconic lollies and snacks from scratch. Her ‘Oreo’ episode will make you proud. Her ‘Starburst’ episode will make you cry. Her ‘Doritos’ episode will alarm you. As I write this article I am being routinely distracted by the video ‘Every Way to Cook A Potato,’ where editor Amiel Stanek is baking, frying, juicing and electrocuting a russet potato. Something about this cast of characters so charming that I don’t mind watching a random kitchen staffer on the internet cook a potato in ridiculous ways for 45 minutes. Viewers delight in the long-form episodes where the crew explore New York to and Italy to learn how to create the perfect pizza. The success of the test kitchen has allowed for an expansion into a variety of streaming services, further bolstering its status as a juggernaut in the food industry.
These videos are so comforting. When the news is broadcasting pure chaos every night and there seems to be an existential crisis around every corner, it’s human nature to crave comfort. The popularity of American food channel, Food Network skyrocketed following the horrific events of 9/11, as people were desperate to tune into anything other than tragedy. It’s a welcome distraction to tune out and watch a friendly stranger massage some kale. Cooking shows feel genuinely good to binge watch because of their subtle educational undertones and their appealing content. But there’s something about the Bon Appetit Test Kitchen that sets it apart from any regular old cooking show. You can literally feel the energy and the joy radiating from the test kitchen crew, bubbling over like a pot of generously salted pasta water.
Filmed in the heart of a working test kitchen, the staffers interact and cameo in each other’s respective series with ease and hilarity. And it works. It works so well. The internet idolises Claire’s grey-streaked hair and determination. The now-muse for countless fan art creations and professions of love via tweet, she is literally what dreams are made of. Another massive fan favourite, Brad Leone, feels like the lovable uncle at the family barbeque. Brad’s hilarious vocal quirks and pronunciation blunders – a running gag being his mispronunciation of water as ‘wourder’. He is the master of garlic and rarely goes a video without explaining the magic of Allicin, the compound in garlic that makes it so delicious and good for you. The more you know, huh.
The casual, conversational tone makes each video feel you’re hanging out with a brilliant friend. The editing of every single clip is brilliantly constructed and makes every moment sing like a well-dressed salad. I’m especially a fan of the Brad Leone bingo that appears in every episode of It’s Alive. It’s thanks to the brilliance of this content that I feel comforted and inspired no matter which episode I watch. I might be no better off in the kitchen, but at least I have a couple relatively successful kimchi experiments under my belt.
Seriously, do yourself a favour and take a deep dive into the magical world of Bon Appetit.
Ava is the proud owner of a food dehydrator she doesn’t know how to use | @avacadee
Words by Ava Cadee