by Allan Shewchuk
It’s difficult to find comfort in the long winter of the Great White North, which stretches into May. Gone are sunny days where I can enjoy a long walk to an outdoor patio, sit down to a bottle of rosé wine and feel the warmth on my face. To avoid the Seasonal Affective Disorder blues, I switch to my cold weather playbook. I pop corks on earthy French vins rouge, cook hearty carb-filled one-pot meals and get the fireplace glowing. And for the ultimate in pleasure, after dinner, once the dishwasher is filled and the kitchen cleaned, I pour a tumbler of wine, open my laptop and head to YouTube for a few hours of therapeutic surfing. But unlike most people, I don’t watch flash mobs at malls or Russian car accident clips – I’m addicted to watching chefs show me their cooking secrets.
I think the satisfaction I derive from a behind-the-scenes look at cooking was born out of the number of times I have been in restaurants and have asked if the chef will tell me how a dish was done, only to be met with an outright refusal to reveal the recipe or even speak to me. As a cooking instructor, I find a fellow cook being so secretive insulting, since I’ll tell anyone who asks me how I rustle up any dish. As a result, I love that YouTube gives me access to kitchens, especially in restaurants. A good example is Del Posto in New York City, which posts high-end videos of its famous Italian dishes while showing the complicated steps its chefs take along the way to creating them. The more complicated, the better, as far as I’m concerned, as I can pause or repeat the clip as much as I want. The kitchen and the food are so beautiful that I am in hog heaven. I also like the fact that YouTube features “related” videos on a sidebar, so I can branch off to another recipe from another chef and see where it takes me. However, I have learned to be wary, because some YouTube videos can take you where you don’t want to go.
My trip to the shocking side of culinary YouTube started when I was watching gorgeous clips from chefs in Italy and I noticed a video in the sidebar that had the simple title, “Three Cheese Pizza Blend.” Curiosity got the better of me and I clicked on it. Up came the image of a dimly lit small kitchen with a guy in terrible chef-wear standing at a small counter with an empty big glass bowl in front of him, and three smaller bowls of cheese around it. He started out by saying he was going to show how to make a three-cheese blend for pizza (which explains the title of the video, I guess). He went on to say, “First, you start with shredded mozzarella. Then a shredded provolone. Then a freshly grated parmesan.” He then poured all three of the cheeses in the larger bowl and mixed them together with his hand and finished with, “That’s how you make a three-cheese blend for your pizza.” The video ended. I sat in stunned silence. Somebody actually made this for educational purposes? Why am I not a YouTube star?
After composing myself, I immediately sent the video link to my cooking friends. Their responses were hilarious. One said she wouldn’t attempt the recipe because she was intimidated that he had not shown her how to grate the cheese first. To that, someone else replied, “A magician never reveals his tricks.” Another wrote that she would have to repeat the technique shown in the video over and over until she had the confidence to try a “quattro formaggi” blend, since the challenge of mixing four cheeses was too overwhelming.
I did some searching and was horrified to find that there are far worse “cooking” videos out there. For example, on Ashwin’s Hip Foods YouTube channel, the host talks in rap and makes gang signs with his hands. In one episode, he “teaches” how to make zucchini noodles by simply cutting a zucchini in half and turning it in a spiralizer. None of his instructional videos is over a minute long. I gasped as I read that Ashwin has more than 20,000 YouTube followers. I concluded that we have reached the “dumbing down” tipping point as a society.
So I’m heading for dumbed-down YouTube cooking fame. Watch for my first lesson: “Toast — it’s not just bread anymore.” Stay tuned…(and if you need to
know about mixing cheese for pizza, take a look at this: www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfxpwbWBNuU)
Allan Shewchuk is a lawyer, food writer and sought-after Italian food and wine guru. He currently has kitchens in both Calgary and Florence, Italy, but will drink wine pretty much anywhere.