I don’t really watch cooking shows but there is one show that There’s a cooking show on YouTube called Gourmet Makes, presented by Bon Appétit pastry chef Claire Saffitz. And while it may appear to just be a fun little series, I think it’s unlike any other cooking show out there.
The premise of the show is pretty simple and kind of goofy; Claire Saffitz takes a different snack food each episode and tries to reverse engineer it, making a “gourmet” version from scratch. It’s a simple concept that sometimes requires a complicated execution.
Okay, so most cooking shows are about someone who knows what they want to make and generally know how to make it. Often the options are restricted by what can be used (an ingredient, a type of food, etc.). What’s backdoor brilliant about Gourmet Makes is that the restriction is on knowledge rather than process. Everything from equipment to ingredients are available, but it’s the food itself that starts off as a mystery. In order to solve the mystery the food is broken down into more and more basic parts, and then build them back into a recipe.
The closest thing tho this show I can think of would be Good Eats with Alton Brown. That show was about approaching food from a scientific method, with chemistry being at the heart of it. But Gourmet Makes is still something unique in that it sometimes requires rethinking the snack at hand. Sometimes it’s the food itself that is mysterious, and sometimes it’s the cooking process.
The first episode is Twinkies, which is a simple starting point. It’s a yellow cake and cream filling. The most difficult part was creating a cake that would cold the cream without absorbing the moisture or crumbling. But the 3rd episode tackles Cheetos. They’re corn and they’re fried. But it turns out that they frying process is a bit more complicated than one would think. And then there’s Skittles. I had never actually thought about what Skittles were, as far as confections. It turns out they’re a particular kind of taffy. Who knew? But it makes sense, right? The Pringles and Ferrero Rocher episodes will also bring new respect for the process. It’s fairly evident what both of those snacks are made of, but the trials and attention to recreating them by hand show just how specific and intentional every part of the cooking process is to make them.
Each episode finishes with Claire victorious, and experiencing varying degrees of exhaustion and pride, followed by a recipe. I am going to be honest and tell you all that I don’t intend to ever try my hand at these. While shows like Good Eats make their subject matter more accessible to home cooks, Gourmet Makes does quite the opposite. The idea of making an open mould to fry individual Pringles seems daunting. The thought of hand-applying the candy coating to homemade taffy nubs to end up with artisinal Skittles is bonkers. But the point of the show isn’t to have you add Tinkies and Kit-Kats to your inventory of desserts. It’s to make you reassess how you look at the kinds of food most thoughtlessly consumed. Whether you like Twinkies or Snickers or Twizzlers or not, hopefully you’ll come away from each episode realizing that these snacks are cooked to particular, and sometimes peculiar, standards and end up exactly as intended.