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Bon Appetit’s Test Kitchen serves up gourmet dishes with side of charm

| Monday, April 6, 2020

Lina Domenella | The Observer

If you’re on the Internet today, chances are that you’ve at least heard of the Bon Appetit Test Kitchen. As the video arm of Bon Appetit magazine, the immensely popular YouTube channel has over five million subscribers, and the chefs who work in the kitchen have become instant Internet personalities with hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers. They’re also the subjects of endless goodhearted meme fodder, especially on Twitter

In a time where the future of print magazines is uncertain, the channel has successfully secured Bon Appetit’s place in the digital age –– and by extension Conde Nast, who owns the magazine. Standout series include “It’s Alive” with chef Brad Leone, whose childlike energy and enthusiasm is nothing short of infectious, where he explores cooking techniques from fermentation; “Reverse Engineering” with the charmingly uptight Chris Morocco, where he recreates recipes from famous chefs by taste alone; and “One of Everything” with magazine drinks editor Alex Delany — a beverage enthusiast with lovable frat-star energy — where Delany and his fellow chefs visit renowned New York City restaurants and taste everything on the menu.

Perhaps the most popular show is “Gourmet Makes,” hosted by pastry chef Claire Saffitz, whose signature gray streak and dry, awkward sarcasm have launched her into an Internet celebrity. On “Gourmet Makes,” Saffitz makes gourmet versions of beloved junk foods — Girl Scout cookies, Gushers, Warheads and more — and Test Kitchen chefs, without fail, show up to heckle Saffitz and taste the final product. It’s the kind of pandemonium that is inherently watchable and makes the channel such a success. 

By far the best series, though, is “Test Kitchen Talks” — where anywhere between 10 and 14 chefs gather to complete a task, like making a cocktail, and engage in delightfully chatty banter while doing so. Saffitz, Leone, Morocco and Delany make frequent appearances — as well as the charmingly put-together Carla Lalli Music, wry and adventurous Molly Baz, taco enthusiast Rick Martinez, “internet boyfriend” Andy Baraghani, easygoing yet passionate Christina Chaey and more. Each chef brings a unique perspective and specialty to the table for an ensemble performance that never disappoints. The food is delectable, too — but that’s just a bonus. 

Still, the cooks themselves are just part of the magic behind Bon Appetit. The editors and videographers for the channel deserve just as much credit for the channel’s popularity and success. This strength is perfectly exemplified in a standout video for the channel: the conclusion of the “Making Perfect: Thanksgiving” series, where Saffitz, Leone, Morocco, Baz, Chaey, Lalli Music, Baraghani and Martinez, after months of recipe development, venture to Cape Cod to cook the “perfect Thanksgiving meal.”

Cooking a Thanksgiving dinner is stereotypically chaotic, and the Bon Appetit chefs, despite their combined years of expertise, are not immune. The episode includes frequent cuts to Baz’s dog Tuna, graphics highlighting how many hours the crew is behind schedule and a not-so-brief detour where most of the cooks go clamming (the episode was filmed in August) cut between shots of Leone and Baraghani, left behind to supervise the turkey to their great disdain. The editing is masterful, emphasizing the literal representation of the phrase “too many cooks in the kitchen,” and the bedlam makes it all the more fun to watch. Still, the best moment of the episode comes when the food is finally completed and everyone sits down to enjoy the meal, together, with a sense of accomplishment washing over chefs and viewers alike.  

More than fresh ingredients or gourmet dishes, the real appeal of the Test Kitchen is its reminder to us is that good food is best enjoyed with good friends. Many of us are far away from our friends right now due to social distancing, and meals, however fresh the ingredients or delicious the food, can feel a little more lonely than usual. Bon Appetit is both an escape from reality and a reminder of the delicious food with the great company we have to look forward to when this is all over. We could all use some of that right now.

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About Claire Rafford

Claire is a senior from Tempe, Arizona majoring in English and minoring in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy and Business-Economics. She peaked when her team won the Battle of the Books state championship in 2011.

Contact Claire