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Cooking On The Internets: A brief history of homebrew cookery shows

2012 July 2

Cookery was never my forté.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a history with kitchen equipment – it’s a sad, sad story involving a large quantity of Red Bull, an all-nighter at University, an offer of 50p, a camera, a toaster, and my genitals. The problem is that the output of my culinary bodgejobs tend to be either inedible, burned, or contain more cheese than the average human is capable of dealing with.

It’s hard to deny that cookery is fun, though. Get in a kitchen, crack out all kinds of implausibly-shaped apparatus, put squishy and goopy and chewy things together, bung it in the oven, hope for the best. It’s like science, but with an end product that will either serve as your dinner or a cheaper alternative to Polyfilla.

So, if you’re like me and you feel that, for the sake of all involved, cookery is best done vicariously – it saves on cleanup, anyway – fear not, because the Internet is here to help.

It Begins: Epic Meal Time

Epic Meal Time is where it all started. A bunch of guys got together with a camera and made some brilliant, stupid food. The preview frame for each video contains a picture of the eldritch horror that is produced, along with its calorie count.

Previous creations include their riff on the turducken – the TurBacon Epic (79,046 calories, pictured above, and described as ‘a bird in a bird in a bird in a bird in a bird in a pig’), Fast Food Sushi (11,816 calories of I assure you that you really don’t want to know), and the Valentine’s Day special – 190,400 calories of ‘Super Sloppy Sundae‘.

I think we can rest assured that this is the kind of cookery that would give Jamie Oliver an aneurysm, and the rest of us a nasty case of angina. And why the hell not? It’s your body, and you should choose exactly what you want to put into it. If you can have a good time with your friends in the process, so much the better.

Epic Meal Time was brilliant, witty, and otherwise furiously entertaining for a long time. It got the idea that cooking could be a gentlemanly pursuit out there to a lot of eyeballs, and that has value. What ruined it though was, like so many things, its own success. Suddenly, the self-parodying bravado of this group of friends became actual bravado. A sponsorship deal and continuous references to ‘Internet Money’ took the metaphorical axe to the humour.

Two girls with heavy make-up, eating a large dessert while a bearded man peers on from the background

Behold: Epic Meal Time’s personal twist on gender balancing.

It wasn’t just that, though. You can be damn certain that if I’m getting the arse on at something on BadRep, there’s a gender angle too, and sure enough, there is. When the bravado became too genuine, the continuous (and already tenuous) references to ‘bitches’ went from problematic to outright misogynist. Attractive women started to feature in the videos – but only eating the food, never participating in its creation as part of the group. I can’t even remember a single video in which you hear a female voice.

Once it stopped being self-parodying and just became self-aggrandising, the shark had been jumped.

Scandinavia Steps In: Regular Ordinary Swedish Meal Time

A Swedish gentleman with the kind of facial hair not seen since the heady days of Technoviking decided that Sweden could do better without making any special effort.

The host of Regular Ordinary Swedish Meal Time and a friend, biting each end of a rasher of bacon and stretching it between them

With the ancient Swedish tradition of bacon tug-of-war, everyone’s a winner.

Our host regaled us with fairly uninspiring, everyday meals, prepared in a wonderfully over-the-top manner. Mayonnaise was eaten straight from the jar (“PRE DINNER SNACK. IT’S GOOD FOR YOU”). Butter was smeared by punching it. Cardboard packaging was opened with teeth. Water for boiling pasta was collected in the form of snow.

There’s undeniable machismo, but since this show is meant as a parody of Epic Meal Time, I think there’s a reasonable argument to be made for it being exaggeration for the sake of comedy. It doesn’t grate in the same way that Epic Meal Time started to.

Cooking is a better experience when combined with facial hair and shouting. Fetch yourself a horn of mead and check it out.

The obligatory, if unorthodox, musical: Vegan Black Metal Chef

Black metal conjures up imagery of teenagers in too much makeup running through the woods, filming themselves on their Dad’s camcorder, while they scream about the Grim Frostbitten North and wield ludicrous knives that they bought on eBay.

What it doesn’t conjure up, however, is vegan cuisine.

This is exactly the reason that Vegan Black Metal Chef is amazing.

A man in corpsepaint, doing the claw with the text An Epic Plate Of Tempura Asparagus

The Dark Lords of the Deep are well-known for their vegan tastes.

The effort that goes into the Vegan Black Metal Chef kitchen is pretty mindblowing. The whole place is outfitted with studded black leather, occult symbols, skulls, you name it. The food isn’t particularly inspiring, but that might just be how I see vegan food. Fortunately, the food is far from the point.

Black metal is another field of intense bravado. Though I don’t want to paint an entire subculture by the failings of its extremes, it’s hard to avoid the fact that black metal fandom is a subculture full of homophobia and transphobia, and is often popularly associated with Nazi music. It’s wonderful, then, that Vegan Black Metal Chef is so inherently subversive. It’s self-deprecating mockery in which you’re invited to laugh with someone at the sillier bits of their own subculture, and that makes it a pleasure to watch.

The extensive make-up is a  wonderful parallel here with more ‘traditional’ female-led cookery shows, particularly Nigella Lawson’s sexualised content where her appearance is pushed to the audience just as much, if not more, than the actual food. Vegan Black Metal Chef, it could be argued, takes host-over-food cookery content to the next level.

In any case, do you want to see a man in corpsepaint invoke Lovecraftian horrors over a bowl of Pad Thai? Of course you do. Vegan Black Metal Chef is for you.

Booze and brilliance: My Drunk Kitchen

As far as I’m concerned, My Drunk Kitchen is the best cooking show on the Internet right now. Hosted by Hannah Hart, it’s a very simple premise – drink booze and cook some stuff.

Hannah Hart of My Drunk Kitchen peers at a self-heating bag while holding a glass of water

Shortly after this frame, the self-heating bag begins to billow smoke. If that isn’t selling you on My Drunk Kitchen, I don’t know what will.

It’s the first of the shows that I’ve covered here to feature a female host, and what I find particularly important is that it doesn’t fucking matter. There’s the occasional line that bugs me, but by and large the humour is genderless, and there’s no (or very little) cutesy look-at-me-I’m-a-girl-on-the-Internet-teehee. Hannah Hart is Hannah Hart, and she’s drinking beer and belching and overdoing it with the cheese and burning herself on the oven because fuck you, that’s why.

Far and away my favourite episode is the one where the good Ms. Hart tackles military Meals Ready to Eat – known as MREs – outdoors and clad in a bodgejobbed Braveheart-esque shawl.

It’s not going to teach you to cook. It’s going to make you grin repeatedly. Watch it.

And the rest

I’m absolutely certain that I’ve missed some gems. Have I neglected to mention your favourite homebrew cookery show? Let me know about it in the comments. If there are enough, and BadRep haven’t fired me for overuse of the term ‘bodgejob’, I’d love to write a followup with the fan favourites that I’m currently unfamiliar with.

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