For most, the holidays are a great time to be around the kitchen with family. Sharing stories, laughing, licking the spoon — there’s just something about gathering around the stove with loved ones that just feels so precious, like you couldn’t get it anywhere else.
But here’s the thing: You can. It’s on Bon Appétit’s YouTube channel. And get this: There’s no critiques about your stirring, no judgments about how slow you measure flour and there’s surely no passive-aggressive comments on how you never call them when you’re away at school, because Mr. big-shot Yale man thinks he’s just so busy.
With Bon Appétit’s videos, it’s a no strings–attached kind of family affair. There’s a whole family of chefs who produce a series of videos. There’s Claire, the overly-anxious aunt with a white streak to prove it, who makes gourmet versions of manufactured food (the Cheetos episode is glorious); and Brad, the oddball uncle who wears fisherman garb and ferments food; and Carla, the sister everybody would want who cooks just about everything with a dash of D-list celebrities.
While the whole family has a special place in my heart, Carla stole my entire attention this break. With her joint episode featuring Miz Cracker, who most of you should know from season 10 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Carla changed the genre forever. The two have famously done episodes in the past, but their most recent video is just so fetching.
The duo came together early last December to cook latkes, just in time for Hanukkah. Miz Cracker brought her all, dressed in a tight and bright gold dress, embroidered on the front with the Star of David. The only thing larger in the room than her hair was her personality.
In between grating potatoes and prepping oil in the pan, Miz Cracker shares stories to Carla that nears the dull pleasantries of any other cooking show. (You don’t know bland, uncomfortable perfection till you’ve seen the Pioneer Woman try to make Oklahoma look glamorous). She talks about how intense her family is about cooking and eating, and gives a vague history of the latke, nodding to her Jewish ancestry. But she quickly dives deeper and gives the conversation a little kick. The loveliest moment is when she talks about the dangers of cooking naked with hot oil: the chance encounter between a bead of hot oil and her exposed testicles left her no choice but to call in sick. But that’s all to say: Cook at a medium temperature. And that, she advises budding drag queens, is a model for their careers: Don’t rush it. Let it simmer — low and slow.
Beyond the extensive life advice, this show is probably the most informative cooking show I’ve seen by far, giving anyone some sort of new insight in the kitchen. These nuggets of information are so well hidden. Miz Cracker holds a spoon in her mouth, while grating an onion to keep from crying. She models with the spoon, widening her eyes to grab the camera’s attention. It zooms in on her in response. Having too much to say, she took it out during most of the grating, just to make a joke about how metallicy [sic] it tastes. Did it work? We don’t know; we don’t care.
Miz Cracker’s forced jokes feel so out of place in the kitchen. But between the two of them, the conversation is endearing. You can’t help loving them. It’s like watching a friend flounder, making a joke that just doesn’t stick. You cringe but only love them more for it. From the beginning, they feel like old friends. Miz Cracker has me caught in her magnetic personality. And Carla, who graciously hosts by never stealing the spotlight, stages Miz Cracker’s room-filling personality. Carla doesn’t offer many words throughout the show, but with her warmth, she makes herself integral to the conversation.
And it’s this easy conversation that lifts this casual, YouTube cooking show up to something stunning. There is nothing that was said in the show that really stuck with me: I had to go back and watch to find most of these moments. But what it left with me was the feeling of pleasant conversation. I could have been cooking in a kitchen with friends or family. Just without the harsh realities of cooking or friendship — hot oil, heated conversations.
The latkes looked great. Fried and served with sour cream and applesauce, the perfect comfort food. I haven’t made them. I can’t tell you if they give you that full feeling. Despite watching from my bed, with the only warmth coming from laptop, I’m left with warmth and comfort from everything besides the food. Like family gathering around a stove.
Jacob Miller | firstname.lastname@example.org