I am not quite sure if it is carefully crafted algorithms giving me what my heart secretly desires or if it is simply testament to the sheer mass of channels putting out content, but YouTube cooking shows seem to be all the rage lately. While channels like Buzzfeed’s Tasty (and their healthier sub-service Goodful), So Yummy and Tastemade have been cranking out content in their tried and tested, yet ultimately fairly boring shot-from-the-top, sprinkled-with-copious-amounts-of-cheese style on Facebook and Instagram for years now, YouTube is currently seeing the heyday of personality-driven, failure-positive shows that intend to teach you how to cook, not just recreate recipes.
Channels like Binging With Babish, VICE’s Munchies and, above all, the sensational crew at Bon Appétit Test Kitchen have similarly intense posting schedules, with videos coming out almost daily – though their focus on concept and chefs alike never gives you the impression that this is just for clicks. In the comment section, the excitement for new and interesting recipes does not seem to ebb at all, and is in fact almost overshadowed by the excitement of seeing a new video by your favourite – chef? personality?
The distinction is not easily made, especially because the content is so dependent on brand. Take Bon Appétit’s Rick Martinez, for example, whose focus lies in modern and traditional Mexican cuisine, and whose videos come to life with family stories and anecdotes about various holidays all over the world. Similarly, Priya Krishna’s features almost inevitably end up with her FaceTiming her family to discuss the Indian-American fusion recipe du jour. And Andy Baraghani’s cooking is regularly interspersed with good-natured ribbing about his impeccable style by his fellow chefs. Of course, these interactions are what makes Test Kitchen such a hit – while they do teach you how to cook, of course, the whole set-up is also incredibly endearing.
At times, especially in the series Making Perfect (sporting several 40-minute videos teaching you how to make the perfect pizza or the perfect Thanksgiving dinner), it feels almost like cooking with family – only your family is probably both more drunk and more dysfunctional, because after all these are still paid professionals. And their professionalism is another reason that the channel is such a treasure in YouTubeland – not once have I watched a video without feeling I’ve learned a thing or two for my next dish, even if I decide not to make the recipe at hand. The few times I’ve actually tried one of the dishes, they were raging successes.
It is strangely reminiscent of old episodes of The Office – when watching the breakout series Gourmet Makes (Claire Saffitz) and It’s Alive with Brad Leone, the camera people and editors are the real heroes, comically overplaying spats, zooming in on oddities happening in the background and onomatopoetically subtitling verbal glitches by the hosts. Relatability is key, and Bon Appétit has understood this mantra perfectly; their videos regularly rack up more than 2 million views in the first 24 hours, and fans span the globe. There’s a reason the chefs have become famous enough to appear on Ellen or The Tonight Show.
There’s only one drawback here – their highly informative, yet entertaining concepts are impeccably, and I would say almost exclusively, marketed towards the young urban millennial elite. Having access to a wide array of ingredients ranging from tomatillos and dried chilies to guanciale or even some fennel with the fronds still intact, is not a given for anybody not living in New York or Los Angeles. Even other urban centres (I live in Berlin) do not guarantee access to all ingredients, or even substitutes for them – getting fresh corn tortillas in Europe is an endeavour to say the least, and making everything from scratch means having both time and income disposable.
Still, actually making what you are taught is secondary. I have, as of yet, made exactly two of the hundred recipes I’ve watched, despite their relative foolproofness. The videos are, like most of what you can find on YouTube, mainly entertainment.