Everything good must come to an end, especially when the truth behind it is anything but good.
The Bon Appetit Test Kitchen is home to YouTube’s most lovable cast of food editors, known for their fun on-screen banter and an authenticity that nearly every home cook could relate to. An upscale food magazine owned by Condé Nast, the world’s leading mass media company, found its niche when it began to give ordinary home cooks from around the world a virtual guide to gourmet eats.
Food editor, Claire Saffitz, debuted the first episode of her now series on Bon Appetit’s YouTube channel July 18, 2017. The first episode, titled “Pastry Chef Attempts to Make a Gourmet Twinkie,” has since accumulated nearly 7 million views. It catapulted Saffitz into social media stardom and launched what would become a cultural reset for the world of food. The success of Saffitz’s videos, each a vlog-style attempt at trying to elevate popular junk foods, coined her series “Gourmet Makes.”
As the channel started to pick up traction and subscribers began to grow, the test kitchen began introducing new faces and new series that would encourage home cooks to venture out of their comfort zones and try new recipes that would impress anyone they’re having over for dinner. But, as the team of food gurus grew there were noticeably fewer BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) chefs than white ones. This raised red flags among viewers, but the channel itself still continued to thrive.
The brand’s YouTube was especially successful throughout quarantine: while everyone was home, restaurants were closed down, and the list of things to do was slowly dwindling, the BA crew took their skills back to their own kitchens and started filming. Viewers got to see an inside look at the lives of their loveable band of cooking teachers and with that came an even larger feeling of relatability. Shortly after a photo of Bon Appetit’s editor-in-chief, Adam Rapoport, began circulating of him posing in brownface. In addition, one of the BIPOC members of the BA Test Kitchen spoke out about her measly $50k salary and lack of compensation for filming for the brand’s YouTube channel.
Adam Rapport’s brownface photos and resignation from his position at the magazine launched a deep investigation into the struggles of being a BIPOC employee. It was revealed that Sohla El-Waylly, one of the most beloved personalities on Bon Appetit’s Youtube channel, was getting paid dust while her white counterparts were being paid double to edit and actively getting paid for their on-screen appearances. This was especially perplexing considering El-Waylly is the most formally educated and experienced of the group. After her brave recount on instagram and the announcement that she would no longer be appearing on the channel as a Test Kitchen chef, other BIPOC members of the kitchen came out stating they, too, were not being paid for their contributions to Bon Appetit YouTube channel. Popular Test Kitchen chefs Priya Krishna and Rick Martinez would soon follow in El-Waylly’s footsteps and resign from their video obligations as well.
Many fans of the previously esteemed YouTube channel voiced their outrage and disappointment. A handful of white Test Kitchen chefs have since stepped down from their video roles as well in solidarity with their co-workers, but little was done in the executive branch of the publication to ensure this systemic racism was handled.
For years, Bon Appetit Test Kitchen videos have been the source of much inspiration and comfort. The kitchen staff’s frequently sunny disposition, the playful banter between Test Kitchen personalities, the helpful tips and reminders to ALWAYS salt your pasta water, have since been poisoned with the toxicity of a racist work environment.
It’s hard to believe the Test Kitchen will ever be the same and upon reflection many subscribers felt they should’ve seen it coming. The lack of representation in that kitchen was very telling and it’s hard to admit that this issue was overlooked because of the authentic facade they were able to create and capture viewers with. It was easier to believe the sunny disposition instead of addressing pressing matters.We can no longer consume media without challenging the spaces (or lack thereof) created for minority workers.
Bon Appetit and Conde Nast have a lot of damage control to do before they can expect viewers to support them again, but it will never be the same. The executives at Bon Appetit and Conde Nast must be held accountable and, although it shouldn’t be, it’s up to us to show them how much they should care.