This video, uploaded November 14, is Episode 9 in Bon Appétit’s series Gourmet Makes, in which the aforementioned pastry chef, Claire Saffitz, conjures up remarkably accurate replicas of classic junk food — Twinkies, Oreos, Cheetos, and, perhaps most impressively, Gushers. (I can barely comprehend what a Gusher is. Watching a chef make a batch from scratch is literal witchcraft to me.) But to understand why this particular video was so exciting, you have to know that its star, Claire, departed her job as a Bon Appétit editor in August, leaving her future appearances in these videos uncertain. And, more to the point, you have to be the kind of person who cares as much about Claire herself as you do about her command of re-creating Hostess pastries.
Area of Expertise is a column on niche interests, personal passions, and other things we might know or care a little too much about.
That kind of person is me. To be clear, I don’t know Claire — and I know Hostess pastries intimately — but my fascination with the Gourmet Makes series has always had more to do with my affection for its star than with anything she’s making. I have always been dubious about the phenomenon of YouTube celebrity, so I was not fully prepared, as the gateway drug of Gourmet Makes led me further down the rabbit hole of Bon Appétit’s YouTube channel, to find myself so fully obsessed with Claire and her colleagues. But here we are.
It helps that these Bon Appétit personalities do not stay confined in their respective series. It was while watching Gourmet Makes that I first observed Brad Leone, giving Claire the brotherly tough love she needed to push her Twinkies to the next level. (Note: Some avid viewers on Twitter have described the banter between Claire and Brad as flirtatious, but they are wrong and frankly perverting a platonic relationship that is deeply important to me.) Once I’d come to appreciate Brad and his mostly useful contributions, I dove into the series he headlines, It’s Alive With Brad. The Bon Appétit videos are my Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the crossovers (Brad and Claire make sourdough!) just whet my appetite for seeing the chefs shine in their individual projects.
But It’s Alive — which began as a show about fermented foods and has expanded to cover everything from mushroom foraging to knife-making — exposes the fundamental contradiction of my obsession with Bon Appétit videos: The food itself is always secondary. While I’ve been known to overindulge in kimchi, I almost never care about what bacteria-induced delicacies Brad is making. I watch for Brad and Brad alone. At least with Gourmet Makes there was always a base level of culinary interest. Who doesn’t want to watch a chef try to figure out how to give homemade Kit Kats that distinctive snap? But even then, it’s not like I’m ever going to attempt to take on these recipes myself. You think I have the patience or emotional fortitude to temper chocolate? I once gave up halfway through a five-minute mug cake recipe. Yes, there’s a thrill in watching Claire finally discover what makes a Twizzler a Twizzler, but truth be told, I’d basically watch Claire do anything.
This is also why, years before I discovered Bon Appétit videos, I was an avid watcher of the Food Network. My interest in cooking is essentially nonexistent, but my interest in colorful personalities who cook is, for whatever reason, very high. The Bon Appétit videos, which highlight the charming idiosyncrasies of their chefs and the convivial relationship between them, are the perfect antidote to the kinds of cooking videos that dominate my Facebook feed now: the largely impersonal, overhead, highly edited how-to clips — including BuzzFeed’s own Tasty. (I am not biting the hand that feeds me: I am merely pointing out that the hand that feeds me is mostly just a hand, shot from above.) I can appreciate that genre of cooking video from a food porn perspective — extreme close-ups of cheese pouring out of fried dough are truly NSFW — but I will always gravitate toward the people doing the cooking.
And so, each night before bed, I check in with the chefs at Bon Appétit like I’m catching up with old friends, watching (or let’s face it, rewatching) video after video until I pass out. This is comfort food to me. Claire and Brad will forever be my favorites, but I’ve been branching out and discovering how much Carla Lalli Music — who is, behind the scenes, Brad’s current and Claire’s former boss — has to offer. She’s heavily featured in the series Back-to-Back Chef, in which she stands (you guessed it) back-to-back with celebrities and gives them detailed cooking instructions so that both she and Natalie Portman are making the same vegan fruit-and-veggie carpaccio (“Make sure you grab the coconut that feels good in your hand!” Carla says). At the end, they swap plates and eat each other’s food, and it’s immensely satisfying, thanks in large part to Carla’s supportive but lightly sarcastic demeanor. (I’ll admit I was a little concerned Troye Sivan was going to kill her with undercooked chicken, but as far as I know, she survived.)
Because Bon Appétit videos have millions of views, it’s safe to say I’m not alone in my new hobby. (Shoutout to the guy on Tinder who, when I told him I was writing this essay, asked if I identify as more of a Claire or a Brad.) There are a huge number of people for whom Claire and Brad (and Carla and Chris Morocco and Gaby Melian and countless others) are low-key iconic, but thanks to the intimacy and conversational nature of these videos, my passion still feels weirdly niche. It’s like they’re making them just for me. I may never get better at cooking — I live near a 24-hour empanada place that delivers, come on — but I will follow these chefs to the ends of the earth. Which, incidentally, could make another great video series. ●