IV: What Happens Next?
“Is there another way that one is supposed to do this, though?”Chris Morocco, “Pastry Chef Attempts to Make Gourmet Mentos” (31:47-50)
Is it possible for the Bon Appétit channel to return to the heights of its dramaturgical success? If it wants to do so, I suggest that the staff turn again toward the tenets of reality television that are so essential to the channel’s own aesthetic framework. Not the casual facade of a ragtag group of friends just “hanging out”, coincidentally caught on camera rather than consciously performing for an audience; that premise was destroyed the moment the realities of the workplace broke through the screen. Instead, I would urge the staff to turn their cameras away from the playful and passive workplace series and shift focus toward what Bignell calls “narratives of personal improvement and aspiration””(109).
A subgenre of reality television, these narratives—think Netflix’s Queer Eye reboot, or even the game show franchise Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?—follow their subjects as they progress through individual journeys toward a better self, be they wealthier, more confident, or more racially just. It would be futile to stick El-Waylly back at a kitchen island with Saffitz and have them simply work through the minutiae of a gourmet gummy bear – and even more awkward to attempt to force a careful conversation about the racist history of the sugar industry while they do so.
There are moments wherein the channel’s second iteration signposts a trend toward the dramaturgical framework of growth as narrative. “We have been listening, learning, and building something together that showcases our best,” newly appointed executive editor Sonia Chopra wrote in an Instagram caption that accompanied the release of the “Why We Joined Bon Appétit” video (@bonappetitmag). That said, since the fallout in 2020, nearly every performer at the height of the BA Culinary Universe video content has left their post at the magazine.
Claire Saffitz, Sohla El-Waylly, and Rick Martinez have started their own successful YouTube channels separate from the Condé Nast conglomerate, while Molly Baz and Carla Lalli Music have founded “recipe clubs” available via the subscription on Patreon. Priya Krishna has expanded her work with The New York Times and is publishing an upcoming cookbook with renowned chef David Chang. Andy Baraghani and Alex Delaney have also left their positions at Bon Appétit, leaving only Brad Leone and Chris Morocco—both straight, cis white men—on staff with the magazine as regular contributors to their video content.
Perhaps I speak more as an audience member than scholar when I say that I want to believe Chopra, to believe that growth and change are possible and that the Bon Appétit staff and contributors may undergo a racial awakening that results in video and editorial content that celebrates and compensates the foods and stories of its BIPOC staff. Yet even genuine change in content will only be received by the audience when the dramaturgical rules of the BA Culinary Universe, and indeed food media more broadly, change in kind.
The dramatic fall of Gimlet’s Reply All podcast following their attempt to detail the Bon Appétit devolution is a strong warning against attempts to cover such stories without due diligence analyzing one’s own position as storyteller. Likewise, the swift backlash against even more recent Washington Post Magazine column by Gene Weingarten, who railed against Indian food while calling his palate “sophisticated” and set “apart from, and above, lesser persons, such as you” shows that the audience for food media has been put on high alert to the mere scent (or, in this case, overpowering odor) of racism by their content creators.
If food has always been political, as the Bon Appétit Instagram page asserted—so, too, has performance style. It is overdue for food media creators across the board to wake up and smell the coffee.
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Bon Appétit. “The BA Test Kitchen Makes the Perfect Thanksgiving Meal | Making Perfect: Thanksgiving Finale”. YouTube, appearances by Brad Leone, Claire Saffitz, Rick Martinez, Carla Lalli Music, Andy Baraghani, Chris Morocco, Molly Baz, and Chirstina Chaey, 20 November 2019. Accessed 15 December 2020.
Bon Appétit. “Brad and Chrissy Make Vegan Cacio e Pepe | From the Home Kitchen | Bon Appétit”. YouTube, appearances by Brad Leone and Chrissy Tracey. 4 November 2020. Accessed 16 December 2020.
Bon Appétit. “Brad Makes Giardiniera (Italian Pickle Relish) | It’s Alive | Bon Appétit”. YouTube, hosted by Brad Leone. 17 May 2018. Accessed 16 December 2020.
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Bon Appétit. “Pastry Chef Attempts to Make Gourmet Twizzlers | Gourmet Makes | Bon Appétit”. YouTube, hosted by Claire Saffitz. 18 September 2018. Accessed 16 December 2020.
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