Culture

Why Is Everyone So Obsessed With ‘Bon Appetit’ Videos?

'Bon Appetit' cooking videos are taking over the internet. But why?

Claire Saffitz Bon Appetit

The video’s 40 minutes long, it’s called ‘Pastry Chef Attempts to Make Gourmet Sour Patch Kids‘ and it does exactly what it says on the tin.

Claire Saffitz, the host, has the affable air of a Sunday school teacher. When she gets irritated, which is early in the video, it’s a kind of Playschool angry — angriness without any of the rough edges. She’s always smiling, even as she’s dejectedly throwing a plate of mutant orange jelly into the bin.

Her voice, gentle and keening, makes it sound like she’s reciting koans.

But, crucially, she’s not a martyr, or a preacher. Saffitz might be calm and quiet, but she’s also self-depreciating. She has seen the true face of things, and is acutely aware that they suck. When she complains, her eyes twinkle a little.

As in: ‘both of us know that things are bad and will always be bad, but acknowledging that the world is that way makes it better, hey?’

The video has a three-act structure, of sorts: Saffitz starts optimistic about her chances when it comes to making her own Sour Patch Kids. Then, the weight of the exercise becomes clear to her. She grows dissatisfied. Hope seems lost. But, at the very last minute: victory. And Saffitz, the conquering hero, discovers something like happiness with the Sour Patch knock-offs that she’s managed to create.

At the end, she recites the recipe for the sweets. But it’s more a summation of how far she’s come than a genuine set of instructions.

After all, most of her viewers haven’t come here to actually learn how to make confectionary. They’ve come here for Saffitz. And they’ve come here to find a quiet corner of peace in the midst of an internet that is growing more reactionary, difficult, and unpleasant every single day.

This is the Bon Appetit brand, and it’s about to become a very big deal.

Where Did Bon Appetit Come From?

Bon Appetit is a cooking magazine, released monthly, since the mid-50s.

It’s always been somewhat upmarket: expensive recipes that are nicer to look at than they actually are to make. Think The New Yorker, if, instead of impenetrable cartoons, it was filled with photographs of exotic and green dishes.

Like every other magazine on the planet, Bon Appetit started a YouTube channel around the early 2010s. At first, the videos were shockingly rudimentary: nothing more than overhead shots of nameless hands making dishes featured in the publication. These clips were bland, there were lots of them, and they made almost no online splash.

Then, in 2016, the publication tried a different approach, and dropped the first episode of It’s Alive With Brad.

Shot in Bon Appetit‘s now legendary test kitchen, the episode saw host Brad Leone making his own kombucha. At that stage, the series was still mostly instructional. But Leone had an easy-going, relaxed onscreen presence.

Also, he fucked up. A lot. Clearly Leone was a better cook than most of the people watching him. But he didn’t act like it. He acted as though he were only just keeping it all together.

A year later, Saffitz starred in her first video, Gourmet Makes. A little while after that, a bevy of new hosts joined the channel. Sometimes, they starred in their own series. Other times, they joined forces with each other, in loose, funny videos where the personalities could bounce off one another for the delight of a growing audience.

And growing fast. By June, 2019, Bon Appetit had thoroughly broken out of the world of cooking devotees into the broader internet. Saffitz in particular became something of a meme, with countless fans turning her into a spokesperson for all that is right, and good, and sometimes a little messy.

The patron saint of fuck-ups.

So Why Is This Show Everywhere Now?

We live in an age oversaturated with content. Every month there’s a new major miniseries, or revived nostalgic property, or sequel to some ’90s cult classic. You could spend the rest of your life watching nothing but Netflix and be drowned in fresh material.

That’s great. It’s also deeply exhausting. Entertainment has become something like homework. If you don’t want a property ruined for you, your choices are to disconnect from the digital world, or to binge it in a flurried, desperate afternoon.

Staying in the cultural conversation is even harder. That means watching something, flying through a couple of recaps, and deciding on an opinion you’ll then have to spend the next few weeks propping up online.

Case in point: the young man I met a few years ago who said that he watched Game of Thrones at double speed. “It’s the only way to keep up,” he told me, ruefully.

The antidote to these exhausting times? Bon Appetit videos, and other digital properties like them. Gourmet Makes doesn’t demand anything of you. You don’t have to form an opinion, or argue a case for or against it online. It can be watched passively. It’s nice, and it’s sweet, and it’s undemanding.

It’s also not stupid. A show like Brad Makes doesn’t insult your intelligence, or demean you for wanting something cheap. It’s there to acknowledge that life is hard, and troubling, and messy, and that sometimes all you want to do is disconnect.

Saffitz put it best in an interview with Mashable. “There’s some sort of transference from people,” Saffitz said. “They get stress relief from watching my stress … There is service here, it’s just not service about cooking or baking. The service is stress relief.”

And in a hard world, only getting harder, what’s more valuable than that?


Joseph Earp is a staff writer at Junkee. He tweets @Joe_O_Earp.