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The State of the System: What else are you going to watch while waiting for your sourdough starter to ferment, cable news?

The Top Ten:

  1. Sohla El-Waylly, Assistant Food Editor
  2. Claire Saffitz, Contributing Editor
  3. Alex “Delany” Delany, Associate Editor
  4. Chris Morocco, Test Kitchen Director
  5. Brad Leone, Test Kitchen Video Host
  6. Molly Baz, Senior Food Editor
  7. Gaby Melian, Test Kitchen Manager
  8. Priya Krishna, Contributing Writer
  9. Christina Chaey, Associate Editor
  10. Amiel Stanek, Editor-At-Large

The Big Question: Jeffrey, why are you making a faux prospect list based off a cooking YouTube Channel?

As our editor-in-chief, Craig Goldstein, has said to me many, many times over the years: “The people love lists, Jeffrey.” Certainly, the majority of my annual word count at Baseball Prospectus goes to ordinal rankings of people. Now my lane is baseball prospects, not food program hosts, but there’s no baseball, you see. I can’t let these muscles atrophy in the meantime.

You, the audience, may be aware that I am at best ambivalent about the whole list-masking process. It’s needlessly reductive, and not the best way to express the strengths and weaknesses of prospect profiles or overall organizations. In my bio for this year’s Annual I included the line: “He primarily makes lists of things, despite finding High Fidelity kind of insipid.” 

The 2000 Stephen Frears/John Cusack film is competently made, and Cusack as usual is charming enough, but it’s the last gasp of a particular kind of moody, late-90s male protagonist whose life obstacles to be overcome within a 100-minute run time are almost all his own creation. I’m told the Hulu series remake is worth watching, and I can’t speak to how much of this sad-sackedness is present in the Nick Hornsby novel that serves as the source material, but it’s the most noteworthy example of the list-making culture that I am forced to inhabit.

Rob Gordon’s lists, though, are completely subjective: “Best Side One, Track One” and whatnot. Our prospect lists are always going to have a personal slant, closer to a pref list than “add up the tool grades,” but at their core they are meant to be a belief of “what will happen,” as haughty and imprecise as that may be. It’s nice to be able to make a completely subjective list for once. 

If I were so inclined I could expand this into a think piece on the conundrum of sticking to sports in an era of no sports by asking “Is the BA Test Kitchen sports?” Despite the occasional plating or tasting competition the answer is of course not, but it has been scratching a sports-adjacent itch for me in some weird way. Perhaps because the ads are the same—there’s a lot of Chantix and Cologuard—or perhaps because while cooped up in my house with its too-small kitchen, unable to go to the park, alternating between pantry pasta, chili, and bean soup, this is the only content I can rank.

n.b. This list only considers content from the Bon Appétit YouTube channel proper, so Brad eating hot wings or Claire on the Tonight Show, etc. are not factored into the final product Also, I didn’t consider BA or Condé Nast employees that drop in on occasion, so no Rhoda, or Hunzy, or Kevin.

***

  1. Sohla El-Waylly, Assistant Food Editor

The Report: I expect this to be somewhat controversial as Sohla has only been at Bon Appétit for less than a year per Wikipedia—so the track record is limited—but every video she’s in is an absolute joy. She doesn’t have the advantage of a signature show—get on that, BA folks—but she’s been a true breakout star for me. I was already in on her as a top-10 Bon Appétit personality solely on the basis of her two adorable dogs, but what rocketed her towards the top of this ranking was her “favorite coffee.”  While most of her colleagues were describing their fastidious pour over routine—weighing out their beans and lovingly describing their burr grinder—Sohla’s response was “I don’t like coffee, here’s a boozy White Russian riff instead.”  (I will also note that in the staff’s actual favorite cocktail video, she makes a proper Old Fashioned—“pour in as much whiskey as you feel good about”—and always seems to have a knack for being around when her colleagues are finishing up preparing their drinks in order to sample).

I was on the fence between her and Claire at number one, until Sohla attempted to make pasta carbonara into a dessert. You’d think that’d be anathema to someone whose last name ends in a vowel, but for me it was a revelation, the Jo Adell batting practice of YouTube cooking videos. She does well at the nuts and bolts of the more standard issue recipe videos too, keeping them light and entertaining while showing off some pretty good kitchen chops. 

Ultimately any cooking show host exists as an aspirational model. Sure, we have a bread starter bubbling away on our kitchen counter, and I ordered some herb kits for a quarantined summer, but mostly I am making the same five or six recipes out of Ruhlman’s Twenty. Prospect team member Matt Winkleman summed it up best: “There are always takes on which friend is which Bon Appétit chef, and I have to say we all aspire to be Sohla.”

  1. Claire Saffitz, Contributing Editor

The Report: The general consensus from our sources could be summed up thusly: “I would die for Claire.” If you search for that phrase on YouTube you will find four videos (and one playlist) with that title, totaling over five million views. So it’s a common sentiment. In fact there is no shortage of fan edits of Claire content. While I wonder if she finds that weird or disconcerting, if there’s a breakout star in the group, it’s her. So I figured she’d end up number one, and she was at the top of the early drafts of this list. 

Claire has the exact proper attitude for the absurdity of the Gourmet Makes show. That can come across at times as “over it,” and one high-ranking figure within BP noted that “she won’t even temper her own chocolate,” but I find that all part of the charm.  It’s the right frame of mind for a show with a fundamentally absurd premise, and Claire has the right mix of polish and exasperation to make for compelling television. Baking is fundamentally technical and scientific in a way that broader recipe development isn’t, and I find her methods for scaling down industrial-sized snack food production quite interesting. Her show tends to fly by despite being among the longer videos the channel releases.  

Claire also shines outside of her main show, working well in any number of pairings with other BA personalities in other videos, and is downright charming when not actively despising her assignment for the week. I’m going to pre-order her cookbook and I am not a baker at all. (I don’t want to temper chocolate either, frankly). Ultimately, though, this piece of industry feedback carried the day: “I’d probably die for Claire too, but Sohla’s better.”

  1. Alex “Delany” Delany, Associate Editor

The Report: Delany was the most divisive ranking as I shopped the list around. There was significant pushback, with one source with knowledge of the Brooklyn bartending scene noting that “where Morocco might come across as particular, Delany seems pretentious. I know his focus is on adult beverages, but I rarely see him showcase those skills.” To be fair, the same source did also note that “it’s a perfectly functional mustache.” Another evaluator disagreed saying he was “100 percent the best hang,” while also admitting “I might just like him because he’s a piney.”  I actually appreciate that as the drinks guy Delany doesn’t go very bespoke cocktail on video, although one could argue the audience for these is not going to be averse to making tinctures or oleo saccharums. 

His spruced up amaro and soda is exactly what I’d expect a drinks editor to have as a go-to, since fernet, neat isn’t technically a cocktail, and I tested out his boulevardier proportions and found the 5:4:4 mix to be nicely balanced compared to the more popular, rye-forward 2:1:1. Ultimately this is my list, and I’m probably going to default to the dude who can mix a good boulevardier, but I will admit that pairing what is essentially a spiked Miller High Life with 200-dollar-a-pound jamón ibérico is possibly too cute by half (at least use an Estrella). 

A common criticism of Delany was that he does an awful lot of cooking in front of the camera for someone with no real culinary background, and while he’s not going to win any knife skill competitions, I do think he’s utilized well on his two shows, One of Everything and Alex Eats it All. These are more traditional “foodie” shows than straight cooking, but they are more effective without the kind of chef fussiness you might get from one of the other hosts. (Although the video editor in me finds some of the Alex Eats It All transitions embrace a “late-90s music video” aesthetic to the point of distraction).

In the end, do I really want someone who knows how to make an amazing coq au vin, or do I want someone to have poutine with at two in the morning in Montreal after drinking my way through Le Plateau? 

  1. Chris Morocco, Test Kitchen Director

The Report: Hey guys, it’s Jeffrey here on the BP Prospect Team, and I’m gonna have a secret conversation with you about Chris Morocco. I probably should like Chris more than I do, we seem to have a lot in common. Studying French at Oberlin and ending up trying to discern what exactly is in the queso in Guy Fieri’s trash can nachos, isn’t all that different from studying film at Hampshire and ending up trying to discern if Francisco Mejia can stick at catcher. And when watching his videos I see similar peculiarities and particularities when it comes to food and cooking—although I love peanut butter, come on, who doesn’t? 

Chris’s show, Reverse Engineering, is in some ways the most similar to what I do despite residing in a very different discipline. At its core it’s about using your senses to come up with comps, and trying to piece together what something (or somebody) is. I do enjoy watching him, but there is a certain fussiness here—one I am guilty of as well—that keeps me from enjoying him as much as I maybe should. Perhaps it just feels too much like observing one’s self. Or perhaps observing a more meticulous and exacting—and thus, more successful—version of one’s self.   

  1. Brad Leone, Test Kitchen Video Host

The Report: The baseball scouting term for Brad would be “high motor” which can be both a blessing and a curse in your YouTube cooking video. It’s high-leverage, late-inning stuff, but he’s stretched as a starter, to torture the metaphor a bit more. There is extreme Jersey deli guy energy. That’s not a criticism—we should all aspire to this—and it can be a refreshing change of pace from the rest of the Test Kitchen, and Brad does shine the brightest when he has someone else to play off of. It can also be a lot over the course of a 20-30 minute video. That said, his fermentation show, It’s Alive has some of the more practical techniques you will find from a YouTube channel that … well, does videos about preparing 200-dollar-a-pound ham. And about that…

  1. Molly Baz, Senior Food Editor

The Report: Molly slowly rose up the list as I did more “research.” I think at first I was put off by what appeared to be a somewhat performative vibe on camera, but the more I watched her, she’s just a delightfully earnest weirdo, which I can appreciate. I had to dig around to find the actual name of her show, Molly Tries, as it’s never shown on screen and the titles on YouTube are some SEO-optimized nonsense like “Pro Chef Makes a Meal with $10K+ Caviar.” Earlier I referred to cooking shows as “aspirational,” but Molly’s episodes can run a bit too far to that extreme—sometimes you do just need a pantry pasta recipe. Her enthusiasm for whatever weird scavenger hunt the production team has cooked up carries the day more often than not, but ultimately I can’t have anyone in my top five that doesn’t like chocolate. 

  1. Gaby Melian, Test Kitchen Manager
  2. Priya Krishna, Contributing Writer
  3. Christina Chaey, Associate Editor

The Report: All three of these Test Kitchen hosts I’d like to see more of. I always enjoy when they do show up, but it’s usually in snippets of the larger staff showcases or for a basic end-to-end recipe video. Gaby is your favorite aunt, right down to accidentally thinking she invented the Penicillin cocktail and calling it “Gaby’s Feel Better Drink.” (Hmm, that’s the third time I’ve linked to the cocktail video which I guess says something about where I am on Day whatever this is of quarantine). Priya generally only features for Indian food recipes, but that’s also not a criticism, as I need to break out of my “making butter chicken once a week” stay-at-home routine and she offers a bevvy of options. She also has a fun energy in her videos even if her camera presence isn’t quite as polished as the people ranked higher. I enjoyed Christina a lot in the Court Street Grocers episode of One of Everything linked above, and the cooking from home segments have allowed her to show off cool cookware, which is content I am always going to appreciate. I could see both Priya and Christina as 2020 breakout candidates.

  1. Amiel Stanek, Editor-At-Large

The Report: The top nine was pretty well set from the beginning of this process, although the order shifted a fair bit along the way. I debated a number of names for the ten spot, but then Amiel showed up dressed like this in the background of a Chris Morocco video: It should be no surprise even on this list I am still a sucker for #aesthetics, even if in this instance that leans towards “Andy Samburg is a 1970s cop who goes undercover in a restaurant to solve crimes.”

Thank you for reading

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Cameron eadie
4/22
We the people, love lists .
Byron Hauck
4/22
I started from as close to the "beginning" as I could stand (a few It's Alive's before Claire made Twinkies) and I've only seen the next ~50 videos or so,, so I haven't even seen half these people. Of what I've seen, I'd go 1) Brad 2) Claire 3) Carla 4) Andy 5) Molly. I don't doubt Molly's got more to bring to the table, I just haven't seen it yet.
morro089
4/22
High leverage reliever who couldn't make it as a starter for Leone is a proper comp. He's the two inning equivalent of Fernando Rodney. The whole time you're watching, you're thinking "Is this good? Is he good? Has he been in too long?" But you'd be happy to know he's going to show up at some point, compared to the existential dread of Rodney warming up.
norman valin
4/22
No Carla Lalli Music? She's the og bon appetit youtube personality. I'd put her somewhere in the Molly tier.
Ross Adams
4/22
Love the list but the omission of Carla is tragic.

I'd have her 3rd above Delaney since she has real cooking skills and backs it up with some good wit and a steady energy that isn't overwhelming but also not boring.

I'd also include Andy and Rick whom i'd sandwich around Molly in that order (that's a weird phrasing but i'm sticking with it). Andy brings legit cooking skills and I find Andy's bluntness more endearing than Molly's weirdness. Rick goes below the two of them because he doesn't have his own show and only appears sporadically however whenever he is on he brings a lot of personality and i'm always entertained.
Nicholas
4/24
Enjoyed this