“Claire Saffitz is who I pray to every night before bed,” an Instagram user commented under a post from the Bon Appétit themed meme account, meme_appetit.
The 32-year-old pastry chef turned TV show host is an unconventional YouTuber, but fans revere her as the queen of relatable content. In each episode of her YouTube show, Gourmet Makes, enthralled viewers watch Saffitz reverse engineer beloved junk foods, from trash snacks like Cheetos to more refined candies like Ferrero Rocher. She doesn’t know what she’s going to make before each shoot begins, and spends days figuring out textures, tastes, and shapes. By the third day, she tends to be on the verge of a tempered chocolate-induced breakdown.
“You can nail the look or you can nail the flavor, but it’s really hard to nail both,” Saffitz said during a VidCon panel of fellow YouTube chefs in Anaheim, California this week.
Since the show’s beginning in 2017, Saffitz’s iconic gray-streaked hair and ability to recreate increasingly difficult snacks have ranked on Reddit and YouTube’s trending page over and over again. While she’s certainly an impressive baker, it’s her on-screen frustration that makes her so relatable. Her exasperated sighs, panicked energy, and crazed stares into her recreations when the end product doesn’t meet her expectations make up the self-destructive passion that everyone’s felt at least once in their lives.
“I truly did not understand why it resonated,” Saffitz said during a break between her panel and a cooking demonstration she had planned with fellow Bon Appétit host Brad Leone. “Because I was so used to the idea of a food video providing service, and there was something actionable from watching it. There’s no recipe [in Gourmet Makes], no sane person is gonna recreate this.”
Traditional culinary media does have some entertainment value, but tends to be informational. Alton Brown’s Good Eats educated viewers on history and technique with quirky comedy sketches. Netflix’s Salt, Acid, Fat, Heat explored the relationship between various ingredients with heartwarming, personal stories. Even Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives highlighted the heart of American comfort food.
‘There’s some sort of transference from people, they get stress relief from watching my stress.’
Saffitz couldn’t wrap her head around why someone would want to watch her furiously roll out shortbread dough until she received DMs from viewers who told her they loved decompressing after a tough day at work with one of her episodes.
“There’s some sort of transference from people, they get stress relief from watching my stress,” she laughed. “It’s a positive feedback loop because then that makes me feel better. There is service here, it’s just not service about cooking or baking … The service is stress relief.”
Viewers love the heartwarming nature of Gourmet Makes. Screenshots from the show are inherently ripe for memes; nihilistic internet culture adores any content about exhaustion. But there’s also something so joyful about watching Saffitz accomplish a recreation. Every step that brings her closer to the final product — from the powdery daintiness of a Pringle or the rich filling in an Almond Joy — is a tiny victory. Her triumph is the viewers’ triumph.
That sort of problem solving is one of the many reasons Saffitz is the internet’s collective crush.
Part of the show’s appeal is how transparent it is: Cooking is hard, and people need to understand that. BuzzFeed’s Tasty popularized aesthetically pleasing top-down tutorial videos, but the process is hardly as seamless as the easily shareable videos portray. She may love it, but to Saffitz, “cooking has always been work.”
“It’s a very important feeling to call out,” she noted, listing just how much prep and clean up goes into making a dish. “It’s alienating the people where it’s like, if they’re not achieving that feeling of effortlessness, especially if they’re a beginner, then they think that they’re doing something wrong.”
Gourmet Makes may edit a three-day long experiment down to a 40 minute video, but it doesn’t hold back on showing the grittier parts of the process. There’s endless chopping, rolling, folding, grinding, tempering — the tasks are countless. When Saffitz messes up, she starts over, just like how cooking works in real life.
“I don’t know if it’s necessarily good for my mental health, but the show has pushed me to be mentally stronger,” she joked. “To basically not get so frustrated, to roll with the punches a little more.”
Saffitz’s approach to problem solving is probably the healthiest, most productive way to approach issues. Even outside the kitchen, in personal relationships and professional work places, everyone should resolve conflict by unpacking it to its foundations. Quartz even dubbed her the “ultimate life coach.”
“I think people’s feedback has made me more aware of my emotional state,” Saffitz said. But even if the show ups her cortisol levels, she’s glad it’s forced her to be more “solution oriented” instead of letting her wallow in frustration.
There have been days when she was “pushed to exhaustion” but never to the point of crying in the kitchen. Saffitz is OK with being vulnerable enough to broadcast her exasperation across the internet, because at the end of the day, deconstructing the Cheeto dust is just deconstructing Cheeto dust.
“I have enough perspective where I’m like, ‘it’s just a snack food,'” she said.
While she may appear distressed on camera, Saffitz said she rarely reaches the point of an actual break down.
“There’s moments I do wish the camera wasn’t rolling, that they’d let me have this moment of frustration in private,” she continued. “But for some reason it doesn’t set off any kinds of alarms where it feels uncomfortable.”
Crediting her crew for putting her at ease, Saffitz is so comfortable on camera that many don’t realize how introverted she is in real life. Self-care is one of her highest priorities now. She pushes herself to get a full night of sleep, or treat herself to dumplings and a massage in Chinatown, or simply sit in dark room and mindlessly binge watch a show after work.
“I’m so bad at self-care,” Saffitz said, shaking her head. “I’ve always just operated with the attitude that if I work just as hard as I can, everything will be fine.”
That strategy of powering through with sheer ambition worked until her late 20s, but then she hit a wall. The habits she built became “unsatisfactory.” Self-care, after all, is more than soaking with a fizzy bath bomb. Sometimes it requires a complete lifestyle reevaluation.
Which is how Saffitz ended up with her signature streaked hair.
Shortly after Trump’s election in 2016, the pastry chef decided to stop touching up her roots, which had started to go white in her 20s. As part of a feminist book club, she read Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, which examines how the societal obsession with perfection is used to restrict women. Although she was regularly dyeing her hair in the salon and at home, it became a chore to maintain the color.
“I started to push back on ideas of beauty standards, and I think I had internalized as a kid really false information about what women had to look like,” Saffitz said, gesturing to her hair. “I felt trapped, that I [was] a slave to the process. I just stopped one day, and now I really embraced it.”
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