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Monday, December 05, 2022
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After the reckoning: Can Bon Appétit recover?

At its peak, the Bon Appétit (BA) YouTube channel was the hub for foodies, offering creative exploration in the culinary scene, a cast of lovable chefs and a brief escape from the unprecedented times of 2020. Millions of viewers, myself included, got lost in Bon Appétit Test Kitchen and what became known as the “BA Culinary Universe.”

However in June 2020, the company — owned by the mass media conglomerate Condé Nast — found itself under a glaring spotlight as several allegations brought to light an incredibly toxic and discriminatory work environment.

Tensions began as a picture of the former editor in chief, Adam Rapoport, in brown-face surfaced on Twitter. This scandal led to the uncovering of more issues surrounding Rapoport’s conduct at Bon Appétit, even going as far as to reveal the poor treatment of people of color on the channel. In one such example, former Test Kitchen chef Sohla El-Waylly pointed out a massive pay disparity between herself and white employees, despite her rise to popularity on the channel.

In response, several Test Kitchen chefs vowed not to appear in Bon Appétit videos until their coworkers were given fair compensation. Some chefs, El-Waylly included, left the company completely. Within a few months, Bon Appétit’s reputation had been flushed down the drain. Public opinion of the channel plummeted, with several viewers vowing to boycott their videos until the company took responsibility and made serious changes to their discriminatory policies.

After four months of silence, the company re-entered the YouTube realm by hiring a new editor-in-chief, Dawn Davis, as well as new talent to replace the eight chefs who had left the company. Their YouTube relaunch was focused on “providing platforms for new voices, diverse content, and inclusive programming.” In actuality their relaunch was irrational. Bon Appétit had diverse talent priorly — they just didn’t treat them right.

Nonetheless, their return felt weird. The first cooking video released after their four month break had a remarkably different vibe. In the video, chef Chris Morocco lamely delivered a statement touching on coming back strong from an unnamed situation before launching into how to make homemade meatballs. In reflection Youtuber Jack Saint described it like “trying to do the regular show, but there’s a dead body on the floor.”

Acknowledging this, Zoë Sonnenberg wrote a thought-provoking essay in which she unpacks what made Bon Appétit so special on YouTube, and how its fall decimated its reputation. In doing so, she discusses the dramaturgy of the channel that made it so engaging to watch. The dynamic between the chefs created a rapport similar to that of reality television, invoking similar aspects such as the “unselfconscious” behavior of the chefs that create a more natural and authentic product. Sonnenberg goes on to argue that once the racial reckoning occurred, the illusion of this carefree, fun and delicate environment was shattered.

In offering further analysis, Victoria Song from Gizmodo wrote that the channel’s failure served as proof that media companies simply don’t understand what makes videos work. People of color were routinely pushed to the thumbnails in videos to take advantage of the algorithm while they were being treated poorly behind the scenes, all for the sake of making the highest profit possible.

Ultimately, Bon Appétit failed because it did not support the people who made it successful in the first place. Now that so many of those people are gone, it is that much harder to build up their new chefs. This, obviously, is not fair to the new hires who are coming into a situation where they are already up against barriers that Bon Appétit caused. 

Even now, almost two years later, the channel hasn’t regained its same following from before. Videos that normally climbed into the 3 million view range plummeted to only mid 300,000 to 500,000 views. From this, it looks as if the damage to the channel is a permanent consequence for Bon Appétit. However, that is not the case. The question is not whether or not Bon Appétit will rebuild itself, it is a matter of when, because ultimately, it will. 

After such ill treatment I would hope Bon Appétit would never rebuild that same energy in its videos, and in consequence, never reach its same popularity. Unfortunately, it seems the public is quick to forget. 

This is plainly demonstrated by looking at the comment sections in the first few videos that Bon Appétit posted when they returned to YouTube. In their first video introducing their new chefs, the comment section was filled with users calling out Bon Appétit for the performative measures they took in response to everything. In Chris Morocco's meatball video there are a few comments against the company, but there are more claiming that Chris should not be blamed and wishing him all the best. In Chrissy Tracey’s debut solo video, there are a few more comments ridiculing Bon Appétit for the way it’s handling its relaunch. However by the time you reach Brad and Andy’s video, those comments are almost completely replaced by the usual positive, “just happy to be here” comments. 

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The public forgets, sooner or later, regardless if the company deserves it. Bon Appétit will likely return to the public's favor regardless of the blatant discrimination taken to initially get there. 

Angela Glowacki is a junior studying Chinese and Community & Nonprofit Leadership. Do you believe the public should forgive Bon Appétit after prejudiced actions? Send all comments to opinion@dailycardinal.com.

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