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Your essential Bon Appétit reading list

cameron cravings

For essentially all of 2019, I have been straight-up not having a good time. It seems everyone I care about has been hurting at some point, in more ways than I can list in this column. After my two best friends and I all lost a grandmother in the span of ten days, we half-jokingly began typing up a Google Doc to record the year’s catastrophes. The file is entitled “2019 curse” and is now three pages, single spaced. This year has simply not been an easy one.

Despite all of the bullet points on that list, one blessing has graced and sustained my life throughout the darkest moments: the Bon Appétit YouTube channel. I don’t want to be dramatic (who am I kidding, of course I do), but it does not feel like an exaggeration to say that it is the best thing that has happened to me this year. 

If you aren’t one of Bon Appétit’s 4.82 million YouTube subscribers, you might appreciate some context. The Bon Appétit channel, like the magazine, is centered around food. Most of their content consists of tutorials where test kitchen staff members walk the viewer through a recipe, but they also have several video series where specific editors complete more specialized tasks and activities. For example, in “Gourmet Makes,” senior food editor (and my personal role model) Claire Saffitz is challenged to recreate and perfect popular snack foods like Twinkies or Doritos. Other series focus on everything from exploring food fermentation to guest celebrities cooking gourmet dishes with only verbal instructions. 

Of course I watched their videos before 2019 started. I got the Top Fan badge on Facebook for Bon Appétit for the first time on November 28, 2018 (a date I remember vividly and have listed on my resume under “accomplishments and awards”), but I like to think I was an unofficial top fan for much longer. That said, Bon Appétit has had a genuine moment this year, with longer videos, more frequent uploads and even several new series like “Making Perfect” and “Reverse Engineering.”

A passionate, wonderful community of unofficial content has sprouted up around these videos: meme pages, merchandise featuring art created by fans and even a Twitter account devoted entirely to Claire Saffitz’s hair. All this creative energy, centered around lovely people and good food, has produced one of the most wholesome pockets of the Internet. And this year, wholesome was exactly what we all needed.

Bon Appétit has made the worst days bearable. It has made me a better, more adventurous cook. It has strengthened old friendships and forged new ones with group chats dominated by pictures of the recipes we have tried: crispy saffron rice, banana bread, rigatoni with vodka sauce.

So this is my holiday gift to you: a Bon Appétit reading list, for every occasion and emotion. The days are growing shorter, the deadlines are piling up and there’s no space in Perkins right now anyways. Get cozy with a blanket, pour a cup of tea, hot cocoa or wine and imagine the glamorous life you will live once you can afford a fully-functioning kitchen. 

Here’s what I recommend watching when...

I’m feeling sad but want to feel happy: Brad and Matty Matheson Go Noodling for Catfish Part 1. In this episode of “It’s Alive,” Brad Leone and guest star Matty Matheson travel to Oklahoma to go digging around for catfish in a muddy creek. General hilarity ensues, and we all need a good laugh. If a catfish named “Ezekiel” doesn’t make you scream with laughter, I’m out of ideas.

I’m feeling sad but want to stay sad: Pastry Chef Attempts to Make Gourmet Pop Rocks. This is the closest Bon Appétit has come to making me feel sad. Claire is a capable, brilliant angel and I would never say that she had failed per se, but Pop Rocks do prove to be an unconquerable challenge. Seeing her upset makes me upset, okay?

I’m feeling happy and want to stay happy: Chris and Andy Try to Make the Perfect Pizza Toppings. This video could alternately be called, “Chris and Andy Make the Perfect Video,” because there is simply nothing wrong with it. Chris and Andy are the ultimate dynamic duo, and collaborate inventively and supportively. Just guys being dudes, making and sampling dozens of pizzas in their pursuit of perfection. It is a joy to behold.

I’m feeling lonely: The BA Test Kitchen Makes the Perfect Thanksgiving Meal. I don’t want to spoil any part of this precious video, so I won’t go into specifics here. I will say that this made me laugh and cry and miss my family and be grateful for my friends, all in one go. 

I’m feeling generally content: Queer Eye’s Antoni Porowski Tries to Keep Up with a Professional Chef. Worlds collide in this installment, and it all goes wonderfully. Why Antoni, who is a pretty experienced cook, only had to make a sandwich when poor Troye Sivan, who knows comparatively nothing, had to spatchcock a chicken is beyond me, but that’s neither here nor there. This is just two beautiful humans cooking cheesy carbs. What could be better?

I’m feeling stressed and want to be soothed: Brad and Priya Make Yogurt. Priya looks adorable in her turtleneck; Brad gets a nickname; everyone is very giggly. There are several incredibly heartwarming story-telling detours, and Priya even Facetimes her dad, making this one of the most wholesome and healing Bon Appétit videos.

I’m feeling stressed and want to be inspired: Pastry Chef Attempts to Make Gourmet Pop-Tarts. Everything Claire does is a success because she is perfect, but Pop-Tarts go particularly well for her. She aces this one, and it’s so satisfying to watch that I want to bust out a rolling pin (or open my textbooks) and get something done. Claire herself says: “Basically, this was an unmitigated success,” which is the kind of can-do attitude we should all strive for.

I’m feeling competitive: Molly Makes Strawberry Shortcake. You could watch basketball and think about how Zion and RJ never would have lost to Stephen F. Austin State, or you could watch Molly race Chris in juicing lemons and Andy in whipping cream. Up to you.

I’m feeling hungry: Trying Everything on the Menu at a Famous NYC Taco Shop. I’m low on food points and had ABP soup for dinner, but I want to imagine that I’m eating a five-star feast. Watching Alex and Rick sample every taco, quesadilla, and tostada on the menu at the famed Los Tacos No. 1 is almost enough to fool my taste buds and stomach.

I’m feeling like I have no purpose or calling and school is meaningless and I don’t want to be here anymore: Brad and Claire Make Doughnuts Part 2. The subtitle of this video (and this semester) is “The Disaster.” The first seven minutes are complete tomfoolery, followed by a series of tragic mistakes and misjudgments. It is absolutely deranged and wildly entertaining, and I take comfort in the fact that even Brad and Claire sometimes have no idea what they’re doing.

In years like this, full of heartache and fear, finding moments of uncomplicated, unproblematic, unadulterated joy can feel like an impossible quest. This world is hard, and doesn’t make sense, but I have never had a bad day that wasn’t alleviated by watching these kind, brilliant people cook and laugh together. No YouTube video can fix the mishap that was 2019, but Bon Appétit makes me feel hopeful for 2020. For now, that’s enough.

Gretchen Wright is a Trinity senior whose entire personality is roughly 25% love for the Bon Appétit test kitchen. Her column, “Cameron Cravings,” runs on alternate Thursdays.

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