Last summer, when it was too hot to venture outside and far too hot to even consider preparing food that didn’t arrive in a takeout bag, I developed an obsession with Bon Appétit’s YouTube channel. For hours, I’d watch as an eclectic cast of food editors made their favorite pasta dish, tried out survival cooking in the great outdoors, searched for the perfect New York City pizza slice, and reverse-engineered a gourmet version of Twinkies.
I was obsessed, and so were millions of others — Bon Appétit’s YouTube channel has more than five million subscribers, with their big franchises (like Claire Saffitz’s "Gourmet Makes"), pulling in over two million views per installment. But my interest in Bon Appétit’s presence on the video streaming platform traced further back than its recent explosion in popularity: I’d actually attempted and executed a recipe for a congee-link chicken soup with sweet potatoes and garlic created by Senior Food Editor Andy Baraghani to delicious results.
If the Bon Appétit test kitchen has a thirst trap, it’s Baraghani, who jokes that his impressive arms are “pretty much all from grating cheese” and that his coworkers regularly compliment him on his poreless skin. That skin is just as poreless up close, as I learn on an early December day in the test kitchen. Baraghani has invited me over to chat as he guides me through making a lemony cacio e pepe — pasta, butter, Parmesan, and Meyer lemons. Simple, but effective.
As we slice lemons and grate cheese, Baraghani tells me about his earliest memories of cooking. His parents were first-generation Iranian immigrants — they moved to the United States in the ‘70s — and his mother taught him Iranian home cooking while his extended family “fed me everything.”
From a young age, Baraghani had a refined palette. “I craved certain things I don’t think little kids would crave, really. Not candy or sweet things, but bitter herbs and sour citrus, and vinegars, and pickles, and fatty köfte, which is like a Persian meatball: there are many variations around the Middle East,” he says.
Baraghani started cooking as early as eight, and at 15 got his first restaurant job, where he received the “extended foundation” of his cooking. His first chef advised him not to attend culinary school, but to instead go to college and work his way up through restaurants. “That’s not to say people shouldn’t go to culinary school that was my path as someone who did not come from a background that I could afford culinary school,” Baraghani explains over a pot of boiling water. “I just had to work in restaurants. And it was really one of the
best things I’ve ever done because besides gaining some incredible knowledge about food and cooking, and refining my skills ... there are so many other things you learn in a kitchen, how to work with people, how to communicate, how to really use every single sense.”
Speaking of feeling, my teacher for the day instructs me to dump some salt into the water. “Is this enough,” I ask, hesitantly holding a heaping handful. It’s not, and I add two more. “Taste from the very beginning and at the very end,” Baraghani instructs. “And that applies to your raw ingredients, like this lemon, to the water that you’re going to be boiling when you add the salt, to the sauce that’s being emulsified, to when you add the pasta, and to when you bring the sauce and pasta together in the finished dish. You taste every step, so then at the end, you know what you’re getting, and there’re no surprises.”
But as well-prepared as Baraghani is, nothing could have prepared him for becoming a YouTube celebrity when Bon Appétit expanded its channel three years ago. Two years ago it was clear that people were watching, but now when he’s out in New York, people will approach him on the street for selfies.
“The amount of just DMs and handwritten letters, and emails, it’s wonderfully bizarre,” he confesses.
What many viewers don’t see is that when he’s not playing their surrogate boyfriend on camera, Baraghani is still
an actual magazine editor, contributing to each issue of Bon Appétit and serving as the co-food editor of Healthyish, one of the magazine’s verticals focused on clean eating.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the way Baraghani feels when he sees people recreating his recipes at home. “I still can’t get over it ... to see people not just make the recipe, but then to message me and [say], ‘This completely changed the way I cook,’ or ‘I never knew about this ingredient, I never knew about this dish or culture.’ Those are the messages that really resonate with me because that’s very much been my main goal and main agenda when I came to BA. And it still is.”
But of course, those aren’t the only kinds of messages he’s getting. When I ask how many people have slid into his DMs thirsty for more than just cooking tips, Baraghani says he’s gotten some “very sweet” messages. “Some of them so sweet, I can’t respond to,” he laughs. “But if at the end of the day ... I’m somehow bringing them to Bon Appétit, or a dish, or a food then that really makes me really happy. So, I keep smiling.”
This piece originally appears in Out’s 2020 Culture Issue, available on newsstands on 2/25. To get an advanced look at the issue, download it for Kindle or Nook, and grab your copy by subscribing now.