From line cook to print editor to YouTube sensation, Molly Baz is well known for her delicious recipes and humorous abbreviations (see: Cae Sal). As Senior Associate Food Editor atBon Appétit Magazine, Molly focuses on recipes that are enticing, yet simple to create at home, all while showing us step by step on the magazine’s YouTube channel.
Here, in a Q&A with Entropy contributor Danielle Susi, Molly *dishes* about internet haters, her forthcoming cookbook, and how she made her way into the Bon Appétit test kitchen.
Danielle Susi: In the last year or so, you’ve gone from a somewhat faceless print-based editor at Bon Appétit (BA), to someone whose face is seen by millions of viewers in the magazine’s very popular YouTube videos. Has that changed your public profile or your personal life at all?
Molly Baz: Yeah, it has. It’s two-fold. Partially, it’s really amazing being out in the world now because I’d say at least once a day, if not more, someone will come up to me in the street or on the subway and feel really excited to tell me that they recognize me, but furthermore, they love my recipes and maybe made my Pasta al Limone last night for dinner and it was the best pasta they’d ever made. People come up to me to tell me that cooking is changing their life and that our tutorial videos are contributing to that. Those kinds of conversations are a really gratifying part of the public persona.
I feel like people give actual traditional celebrities their space out in the world and don’t always approach them, but YouTube celebrities are so far from that kind of fame, people feel so connected to us because we’re in their kitchen with them and I imagine people pull up our videos on their laptops or their phones while they’re cooking. That’s partly why they feel comfortable reaching out in person. BA celebrates us as individuals and our champions our real personalities. We’re never given any direction of how we should behave on camera. We’re all so different, wacky, and weird, but everyone is weird, so in a way that feels more relatable to rest of the world.
DS: Do you have any thoughts on internet haters? I know you’ve mentioned some misogynistic comments on videos and getting sent dick pics.
MB: That was really hard in the beginning. It takes the internet a while to warm up to new people. I don’t know what it is about human nature, especially on the internet, but the first inclination is to hate, basically. It’s especially easy on the internet when you can be anonymous. It’s scary to witness because their meanest streaks come out on the internet. It’s been interesting to see the tone of that change over the last year. People are comfortable with me and have gotten to know me as a person and not just as some new girl on TV, and are somewhat invested in me now. The whole sort of entity of the test kitchen has gained so much respect and following in the last few years that the more new people have entered the videos, the more people have given them respect.
As far as comments on the earlier videos there’s some really tough shit. It’s from men and women–I don’t find it to be from anyone in particular. Not only misogynistic stuff, but even women talking about me and making public statements about how I look pregnant. I like to think it’s coming from a good place but I’m not pregnant and why would I were would I be sharing that with strangers on the internet anyways?
As for that dick pic–there is one person who sends me the exact same dic pick once a month. Same user. I think I blocked him after that last one. Honestly, my inbox gets flooded with random DMs, but I started to notice it was coming from the same guy. He doesn’t say anything, he just sends me the same dick pic.
My co-worker [and Bon Appetit Food Director] Carla has gotten a couple dick pics airdropped to her on the subway. Which is terrifying because you look around and you’re like, which creepy man sent this to me?
I think twice now before going out in the world in my sloppiest outfit with no bra onto the street, which is definitely normally my MO. I really never know when someone is going to come up and introduce themselves and come into my space. I’ve just realized I’m never alone. Most of it is so nice and congratulatory and sweet and earnest. 99 percent of the interactions truly fill my heart.
DS: You recently teased on Instagram that something was coming Spring 2021. Are you perhaps at work on a cookbook?
MB: Yes! So, I recently signed a cookbook deal with Clarkson Potter. It will come out spring 2021. This is separate from BA and I acquired the deal on my own. So it will happen simultaneously with my work with BA, but the cookbook and recipe development are independent of that.
Basically, the premise is to reach my own generation of people who are disconnected from cooking because modern conveniences have made it so easy to feed oneself at the click of a button, I can tell through my interactions with followers how gratifying it is to put a meal on the table. We are all going to grow up together into our late 30s and 40s and start to have families, and it stresses me out so much to think that 90 percent of those meals are going to have been created from somewhere outside their homes. The ritual of cooking and eating together is becoming lost on our generation, and I really feel like that’s part of family building and growing up. I’m lucky that I feel super equipped to provide for my family. [This disconnect] has been my concern for a long time and so this book will address this in a lighthearted way, not in a preachy way. At the end of the day it’s going to be a super FUN book cause cooking should be fun if you’re going to commit to doing it on the regs.
If people are inspired to learn how to cook, the reason they’re not doing it more–besides having the internet or easier ways to get food–is because they’re not learning why, they’re just learning how. They’re not connecting the dots in all the steps in a recipe or the skills across recipes. I want my readers to grow as cooks as they learn how to cook, but to do so you need to teach people why you cook something in a particular way, and not just how to cook something in a particular way. That’s the only way a new cook will be able to understand the nuances of cooking. So, the recipes will be written like a normal recipe, but I’ll pack a lot more info into the text of the recipes–explaining the why of the recipe and giving an explanation for any key learning moments. Since the recipes will read through as normal recipes do while offering more information, the hope is that people will almost accidentally acquire an education in the kitchen as they cook through them. The info will all be right there on the page imbedded in the recipes rather than redirecting you to go read a chapter on searing or brining or something.
DS: What are some of your favorite cookbooks?
MB: The cookbook I wish I had written was Salt Fat Acid Heat. When I had just read the synopsis I was like, ‘goddammit, of course. Like of course, this makes so much sense. Why didn’t I write this?’
DS: I know you’ve talked about how you entered the culinary world and sort of bypassed culinary school–which most people think is the only avenue to becoming a chef. When did you start feeling confident in your cooking skills and did you ever feel any imposter syndrome either on the line or at BA?
MB: It almost makes me mad that that’s the only way people think you get into cooking or food-related careers. Working in restaurants there were a lot of people who had just come out of culinary school and the way they cooked wasn’t intuitive and it was robotic because they’d learned in textbooks and classrooms and it isn’t relatable to cooking in a home. I don’t believe in culinary school at all because you can learn a smarter way to cook in a restaurant–albeit with a terrible salary–but to that end, I am very specifically not testing the recipes from my cookbook in a professional kitchen because I want them to be cookable in a small space and you can’t really feel what that feels like in a test kitchen. At BA we have 80 burners and 12 ovens, and the unique thing about writing this book means that recipes are manageable at home.
By the time I got to BA I felt extremely confident in my skills. I had been cooking for a long time. The hardest part of my career was the first year of restaurant jobs because I was a great home cook and right after college I thought I was a great cook. I learned very quickly that I just didn’t understand anything. I knew how to cook certain things but I didn’t understand bigger conceptual things–the things I hope to address in my book. Being dropped into a big kitchen you just learn so fast. It’s intense and stressful, but once I got out the other end I felt really confident.
DS: In other interviews you’ve mentioned burning out at restaurants and feeling the intense pressure of the restaurant world when you were a line cook. Do you feel any sense of burnout now at BA?
MB: I’m extremely busy, but not to the point of burning out. It’s manageable because the work I do feels so deeply personal. The cookbook is the most personal, terrifying and exhilarating journey I’ve ever embarked on. BA as a brand is so based in celebrating our personalities as cooks and as people so that work feels really personal as well. I feel invigorated by it all because it’s so close to my heart. It’s fulfilling work so it never feels like you’re ‘grinding for the man’. I do cook all day long and then leave work, go grocery shopping, go home and print out another recipe or two for my cookbook, test those and then pass out immediately after. If I wasn’t totally obsessed with cooking I would hate that life, but it’s so awesome to me to do it all day then take a 40 min subway ride, and be excited to do more of it when I get home.
DS: When you are feeling burnt out or exhausted, what are some of your favorite self-care rituals?
MB: I’m a strict 9 hours at night kinda gal. I go to sleep at 10pm and wake up at 7. So no matter how ballistic that day has been, it’s rare that I’m in bed after 10. It’s super rare to sleep 6 hours, I occasionally have some of those days but then I feel like such a zombie. I really feel that rest and sleep is so important–my body needs to be horizonal. I’m on my feet all day and it’s important to have the blood flowing in other directions. Sleep for me is the most important, but I also drink an enormous amount of water, probably to combat the enormous amount of salt I eat. I hydrate obsessively throughout the day. Probably about four days a week I work out in the morning at Orange Theory Fitness—I can never work out after a day at work. It has to be after my long slumber. Then I power through the day then come home and power through more and then go to bed.
DS: What are you cooking most at home this summer?
MB: We’re in the process of moving to a new apartment, so for the first time I’ll have access to a grill. We live in Greenpoint where there are a lot of Polish butcher shops so I’m planning for a summer filled with kielbasa on the grill.
DS: In BA’s “Making Perfect” series, you and rest of the test kitchen team set out to make the perfect pizza. I’m curious to know if it was difficult to develop a recipe in a collaboration with five other people.
MB: The other test kitchen editors are all so talented, and I believe so deeply in them as cooks that there is a lot of trust between us all. It is, on the other hand, an extremely opinionated bunch of people. And we tend to resist and butt heads and argue as a way to solidify our own feelings about food and cooking. We have a strong willed, argumentative relationship with one another and that’s only possible because we really respect each other.
It is so unbelievably valuable to have them in the kitchen and have them taste my food, and to taste each other’s food while it’s in development and give feedback. When I’m at home I don’t have that. I told my husband I need him to push me, and I need him to idea bounce with me more because I don’t have anyone else. The greatest recipes that come out of the test kitchen come from a back and forth amongst all the editors.
In developing recipes for Making Perfect, we each got our own zone, took it by the reigns and trusted that each pair was going to cover their topic properly and do it justice. It worked out really well. Obviously the bickering happened as we all came together at the end and tried to make that final pie together, but we had all pushed hard to create individual elements that came together for a really delicious result.
DS: What snacks do you find yourself gravitating toward?
MB: At work it’s usually a handful of nuts. We always have nuts in the test kitchen. Rice cakes with some sort of jimmer jammer schmutzy thing on it. At home we eat a lot of popcorn, specifically Bjorn Corn. I also eat a lot of beef jerky. It feels like a lean, protein-y power snack that’s good on the road. I’m honestly never hungry. I feel like I graze during the week all day long in the test kitchen. So I don’t know if I’m permanently snacking or never snacking. I just eat little bits of prepared meals all the time.
DS: Working at BA is a dream job for so many people. I’m wondering if you had advice for folks who want to get into food media or even work for BA.
MB: I get asked this all the time. It’s hard because there’s so many ways to land where you land. I could never have envisioned that I would take a path to what turned out to be my dream job. I started reaching out to everyone I knew who was in food media or adjacent to it, and asking if they can put me in touch with anyone who I could take an informational interview with. One was with Dawn Perry—she’s now Food Director at Real Simple, but was at BA at the time. She gave me the advice that if I wanted to be a cook in the test kitchen and be a recipe developer, that I needed to learn to cross test recipes. People who cross test recipes cook through a recipe in development and take notes and highlight anything that feels like, oh, this was a little off for me, this temperature doesn’t seem right. That kind of thing. A lot of places hire freelancers to do that work and it’s awesome to have new people in there and get a fresh set of eyes on our recipes. I started doing cross testing work at Epicurious and then made my way through a whole slew of roles at Epicurious and BA and ultimately landed where I am. I guess, as with any industry, it’s finding connections with real people to speak to and getting advice as to the best way in. If you want to be on food development, learning how to cook in a restaurant setting is obviously the best way to do that.