Laura Murray / Bon Appétit
As far as cooking shows go, there’s the run of the mill competition series à la Chopped, informative programs from chefs like Bobby Flay—but then, there’s the Bon Appétit Test Kitchen, which is in an entirely different genre of its own.
Every week, the team at Bon Appétit uploads videos featuring a cast of characters with different skills, specialties and personalities, all of which serve to make the YouTube channel the success it is, with over 5.4 million subscribers.
There’s Claire Saffitz, the pastry chef who’s faced with the challenge to turn junk food into a gourmet dish. She’s previously revamped Snickers, Cheez-Its, Hot Pockets and more foods, with other treats like Cadbury Eggs and Bagel Bites coming in the near future.
Claire’s often assisted by Brad Leone, the former Test Kitchen manager turned “It’s Alive” host. Leone’s episodes often take him across the country and sometimes focus on things that aren’t necessarily “alive.” But, as Brad sees it, “If that don’t make you feel alive, then we can’t help you.”
Next on the list of BA chefs is Carla Lalli Music, host of Back-to-Back Chef and aspiring ASMR-tist. On her show, the magazine’s food editor guides A-listers like Natalie Portman, Michael Shannon and Elizabeth Olsen through recipes of varying ease—the degree of difficulty largely depends on the celeb’s schedule, she reveals—all while standing back-to-back as the title would infer. (She aspires to one day instruct Billie Eilish, who she says she’s “obsessed” with, but would gleefully settle for Catherine O’Hara, John Mulaney or Tilda Swinton.)
These three chefs, among numerous others, find themselves on the YouTube trending page day after day, averaging out at a whopping two million views per video. They stand out among a sea of BTSmusic videos, beauty vlogger feuds and viral cat videos.
Laura Murray / Bon Appétit
This success, Claire tells E! News, is a testament to the team’s “great chemistry.”
“We have a fun group dynamic that comes from everyone liking each other but also respect for our skill and talent and knowledge. I think that kind of balance and respect and intimacy between us,” she reasons. “The other side of it is that people enjoy that behind-the-scenes look at everything we do.”
Carla agrees, but humbly acknowledges that a lot of the success can be attributed to the chefs just being themselves.
That being said, Lalli Music shares it took some time and encouragement to allow themselves to be “familiar and comfortable” when in front of the camera. She describes their initial videos as being pretty “cringe-worthy,” while Andy Baraghani jokes he’s glad some of the other videos never made it to air.
It wasn’t until their Editor-in-Chief Adam Rappaport told them to loosen up that they found their stride and let the more “goofy” versions of themselves come out.
“He was like, ‘You’re all down here doing the thing that you’re doing and it’s cool and you guys are cool, so just like act normal.’ It was really the best advice early on that I got because he basically just gave us permission to just be yourself,” Carla explains.
From there, they were able to create the truly organic experience that is the Test Kitchen.
In fact, BA’s sweet spot is its candor and documentary-like production value.
Although, the Test Kitchen isn’t nearly as quiet on filming days. Carla says they turn off the lights and their music when cameras are rolling. Otherwise, what you see is what you get.
Laura Murray / Bon Appétit
As Claire points out, this is their “work environment,” albeit unconventional. “It’s an environment where we’re kind of supposed to mess up and problem-solve and come up with solutions.” She shares, before adding another key to their triumph: “This is kind of a new way of presenting food content I think that hasn’t really been done before.”
Not to say the chefs expected this to be a smash-hit when they first embarked on their respective series. Andy says they’re all “shocked” and proud of the popularity of the channel. “What makes it extra special is that the camera crew is really just capturing the chaotic, loving family that the BA Test Kitchen is,” he explains.
Interestingly enough, Claire jokes she gets a “little bit of a kick out of” their newfound fame. She shares, “I certainly did not imagine anywhere near the popularity it’s achieved. When I first started doing video I was a full-time editor in the test kitchen and video was just a thing I did when I had a little bit of free time, which wasn’t very often.”
Now, in the few years since launching the channel, Claire says her role and the others’ has “shifted a lot” in terms of their responsibilities. Depending on the cook, their day-to-day no longer consists of testing recipes and sitting at a desk to write them-up.
For Carla, she finds herself slipping in and out of the Test Kitchen to attend to other tasks, meetings and deadlines. After all, Bon Appétit isn’t just a YouTube channel.
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s Brad, Rick, Claire and Andy, who can be found at various locations across New York City and beyond.
Laura Murray / Bon Appétit
As part of their shows, Brad, Rick and Andy are removed from the comfort of the Test Kitchen and thrown into different scenarios in order to immerse themselves in the art of cooking. For example, Brad’s traveled to Hawaii, Alaska and Italy, where he says they “shot a really cool truffle mushroom foraging episode,” with the help of a dog. Unfortunately, this never made it beyond the cutting room floor, but he says “maybe” they’ll share that in 2021.
Claire’s one of the only chefs who’s not in the office on a full-time basis. Instead, she splits her week between the time in the office and writing a new cookbook at home. As unusual as the schedule is, she says, “It’s so much fun to see my friends and hang out with them after having been alone in my apartment with my cat for three days.”
And the changes aren’t exclusive to their work schedules. Rather unexpectedly, they find themselves at the center of fan encounters, which Claire describes as a “really wonderful experience.”
Their fame seems to know no borders too, with the chefs meeting fans in all corners of the world. Carla’s met avid viewers in Milan, Italy, in addition to her gym’s shower—although she’d prefer to keep the encounters to times when she’s not “dripping wet in a towel.”
Rick Martinez, recognizable for his painted “nails, button-less shirts [and] Mexican aprons,” frequently finds himself in Mexico, where he’s run into loyal subscribers who excitedly pull him in for a selfie.
This is all just par for the course for the YouTube celebrities, and none of them would change it for the world, except for maybe Claire—there’s unanimous agreement she has one of the most difficult series, with Chris Morocco‘s “Blind Taste Test” coming in second and Alex Delany coming dead last—while it’s certainly not easy to eat everything off a menu, Andy points out it’s not a “bad gig” by any means.
Celebrity is a word that’s used lightly, however, because at the end of the day, the chefs view what they do as a result of shared passion. While some workplaces encourage competition among colleagues, Carla says it’s quite the opposite with BA. “For me, it’s cemented how much we all kind of love to love and support each other and we all want everybody else to do well,” she shares.
“It’s just the most fun group of people,” Claire adds. “I often say I’m so annoyed we have to roll the camera because we’re having so much fun hanging out and almost like ‘Gourmet Makes’ is getting in the way of my day, kind of.”
More importantly, Brad, Carla, Claire and the rest of the gang genuinely love to cook. As Andy puts it, “I think one of the greatest things to have come from all the videos is that it really allows the viewers to get a sense of each member of the Test Kitchen—how we cook, taste, what we’re curious about, what we crave, and really how we all bond together by our deep love of food.”