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Andrew Rea slices open his 15-layer deep-fried taco for his YouTube cooking show. Courtesy Babish Culinary Universe/YouTube

Remember when TV cooking shows actually taught you how to cook? These days, it’s Guy Fieri going to some out-of-the-way barbecue joint and the camera taking a close-up of him as he bites into their pulled pork sandwich and goes, “Mmmmm.” Sure, the restaurant can probably use the publicity, but just once, I’d like to see him spit out the morsel and say something like, “That must be what evil tastes like!”

If you want to cook, you need to hit your laptop instead of your TV, because YouTube has all the cooking instruction videos you can handle.

You won’t be surprised to find out that as a film critic, I’m a fan of the Babish Culinary Universe, a channel in which Andrew Rea faithfully recreates dishes from movies and TV shows, ranging from the sublime (the timpano from Big Night) to the absurd (the Taco Town taco from Saturday Night Live). The editing is crisp, and the camera’s focus on the ingredients and work area has set the template for other YouTube cooking shows. Rea also goes about his recipes with a dry sense of humor — when he published his book of recipes from the show, he printed this disclaimer for the Taco Town taco: “Exercise extreme caution when deep-frying. Better yet, just don’t make this at all.”

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During the pandemic, I spent long hours amusing myself by watching Bon Appétit’s channel, but the brownface scandal at the publication during the summer of 2020 wound up scattering its on-air talent to different corners of food cyberspace. You can still see the videos that Claire Saffitz made for them where she attempts to reverse-engineer Cheetos and Starburst candies using a professional kitchen. Besides her own channel called Dessert Person, she contributes to the New York Times’ YouTube cooking channel. Her colleague there is Sohla El-Waylly, who was at the center of that Bon Appétit scandal and now hosts Mystery Menu.

Former Buzzfeed managing editor Alvin Zhou has now become a part of the Babish Culinary Universe. In Anime With Alvin, he recreates dishes from Japanese animation and video games. Whenever his knowledge of Asian food or cooking techniques is found to be lacking, he says, “I am a bad Asian,” a refrain that I have taken to using in my own life.

The most breathless entry in the YouTube food channel stakes is Tasty, which presents rapid-fire recipes for ornate dishes made with ordinary supermarket ingredients. (I learned how to put a mirror glaze on a cake that way.) The channel isn’t much for authenticity, if you put any store by that concept, but its features are fun as it compares recipes for the same dish from various celebrity cookbooks and has chefs of varying levels present their recipes for things like onion rings and donuts.

Meanwhile, Gustavo Tosta, a Brazilian native who has made his home in Florida, has established a channel called Guga Foods. While he does a fair amount of shilling for his own product lines of cookware and spice rubs, his show is worth seeing for the wacky experiments he does with food, including dry-aging steak in a thick coating of peanut butter, which worked well for the meat at the cost of permeating everything else in his fridge with the scent of peanut butter. He also successfully cooked a steak with a clothing iron and reported, “You will not be able to use the iron on your clothes after [this]. Your clothing iron will become your meat iron.” The adventurous spirit on his channel and others is why YouTube is where it’s at for food TV.

Read about Dixie’s Tupperware Party coming to Bass Hall in Stage.

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