With every food-themed innuendo that could possibly fit in an 1,800-word erotic fan fiction, someone on the internet has meticulously described their fantasy of two Bon Appetit staffers hooking up during a wine festival.
It was only a matter of time.
The chefs who make cooking tutorial videos for the magazine Bon Appetit have racked up a digital fandom to rival that of a serious celebrity. Fans create stunning paintings of them. A new podcast discusses all their latest moves. A meme page dedicated to them has racked up more than 80,000 followers this year. Blame it on a weird millennial sense of humor and an exhausting media environment, those fans say.
After a Bon Appetit video about brewing kombucha, a pair of meme-makers were hooked. “That's partly because of the sheer enthusiasm Brad shows for fermentation,” the duo behind the @MemeAppetit Instagram account said via email of Bon Appetit test kitchen manager Brad Leone.
The site has been making test kitchen videos for several years. Some are walk-through tutorials of new recipes on the site. Others, like Leone’s show It’s Alive (which focuses on foods with live cultures like kombucha and yogurt) or chef Claire Saffitz’s show Gourmet Makes (which painstakingly recreates popular snacks like Gushers) are more specialized. Like short, bingeable dopamine hits, cooking videos flooded Facebook in recent years, with BuzzFeed’s brand of cooking videos racking up billions of views by 2016. Bon Appetit’s videos deliver the same soothing food content, but with a reality TV show’s eye for characters, rather than the impersonal instructions that mark other companies’ cooking clips.
“The Bon Appetit videos are my Marvel Cinematic Universe,” BuzzFeed writer Louis Peitzman wrote in November, when a visible fandom was beginning to grow around the videos.
In late January, the MemeAppetit duo launched their Instagram page. Today it has nearly 82,000 followers. Other Bon Appetit fan pages are close behind.
Last week, a former employee with the Gimlet Media podcast network asked Twitter followers whether “hypothetically do we think people would listen to a fan podcast where i dissect every bon appetit test kitchen video... because i really think there’s a hole in the market,” only to realize a different group of podcasters had launched a Bon Appetit podcast earlier in the month.
Members of that podcast, “Pod Appetit,” often refer to Bon Appetit videos as “The Office, but in a kitchen setting,” co-host Meg Mezeske told The Daily Beast. Viewers feel like they know the details of the chefs’ lives, she said, leading to an online fandom that’s “in-jokes upon in-jokes, inserted into a wider meme culture.”
“Even though it’s niche, and still kind of small fandom it’s really growing. The barrier to entry is low,” she added.
A Twitter account dedicated to Saffitz’ glossy hair launched in April and has more than 1,000 followers. The Twitter account @OutOfContextBA, which just tweets screenshots of Bon Appetit videos, launched in March and is already pushing 30,000 followers.
Hyper-specialized fandom accounts are nothing new. Consider the Twitter account that just posts out-of-context screenshots of the 2017 Daniel-Day Lewis film Phantom Thread, or another recent account that makes memes from the radically unfunny 2018 film First Reformed. The weird specificity is part of the joke.
“I think part of the appeal of the fledgling fandom is that it's super unlikely that it’d take shape,” Anthony Smith, a New York-based journalist and Bon Appetit fan told The Daily Beast.
“I can think of so many wild ironic internet fandoms around people who have done roughly nothing—Marianne Williamson, Gail from A Star Is Born, Barb from Stranger Things who literally got an Emmy nomination off of ironic internet buzz. It’s nice to be able to stan someone who, like, is so fiercely competent that she can teach famous people to cook without even watching them cook.” (A popular Bon Appetit series features a chef guiding celebrities through recipes without watching them.)
Three Bon Appetit chefs said they were gratified, if sometimes surprised, by the level of online fandom.
“It blows my mind that people care so much about what we do. Not that I don’t, or that they shouldn’t, it’s just that for most of my time at Bon Appetit, the test kitchen was effectively closed off to the outside world,” chef Chris Morocco told The Daily Beast.
“Now we have cameras rolling nearly every day, our work is suddenly visible to the entire world, and Meme Appetit is tagging us in hilarious stills on Instagram. The fact that they understand so much about who we are and the relationships we have to each other and our work is beyond flattering. I don't even know what goes on on other platforms like Twitter and Tumblr; even the thought of being active on another social platform sends me over the edge.”
Although popular Bon Appetit accounts focus on producing relentlessly wholesome content, it’s not representative of the whole community.
“We've definitely seen some more risqué BA-themed content that's been sent in to us on Insta, so it's definitely not a set rule that every BA fan exclusively enjoys wholesome stuff,” MemeAppetit said.Like other, more obvious fandoms, Bon Appetit’s test kitchen has started inspiring fanfiction, some of it innocent and some adult. They’re not the only chefs in this situation. A fanfiction inspired by an offhand remark from a Bon Appetit staffer is available on a site alongside a truly startling wealth of fiction about Gordon Ramsay’s sex life.
This side of fan culture, which saturates followings for bands and the casts of popular shows, is deliberately over the top. A recent meme involves fans begging their favorite singers and actors to run them over with cars, New York magazine explained this year. But Bon Appetit is such a niche fandom that much of its following has a tongue-in-cheek mentality.
“I think there is kind of a self-conscious gag around tweeting, like, ‘I love Chris Morocco more than I love my wife,’” Smith said, “but also he’s competent and helpful and deserves it!”
It’s that unlikeliness that brought many of Bon Appetit’s hardcore supporters to the fandom.
“We think one of the reasons Bon Appetit’s videos have become so popular is that they genuinely aren’t trying to be famous at all,” Meme Appetit said.