On occasion, I manage to sound like nothing so much as a parody of myself. “So I was reading this essay the other day,” begins one of my favorite windups. Or, “I was listening to a podcast this morning, and…” I fall back on preambles like these as a kind of lazy shorthand, a minimally demanding strategy for explaining what might otherwise appear a sudden and unaccountable fascination with process theology—or with that one time L. Ron Hubbard did sex magic. In any case, it’d be hard to overstate how many conversations I’ve started with some version of this refrain. Whenever I catch myself doing it, it’s always with a vague chagrin.
Recently I’ve had fresh reason to experience that chagrin. But where my tendency toward self-parody has, till now, limited itself to established interests, this latest refrain emerged from a context I had not previously cared about: cooking. And I know it’s achieved the rank of a refrain because my wife Jes greets it with the same look of smiling exasperation she typically reserves for my harangues on Scientology-adjacent hanky-panky.
“So I was watching Babish the other day, and he says…”
Those who know, know; those who don’t click on the links in this paragraph. Launched in 2016, Binging with Babish is a popular cooking show created and hosted by Babish, pseudonym of filmmaker and home cook Andrew Rea. Averaging eight to ten minutes per episode, the series features step-by-step instructions—narrated in Babish’s velvety voiceover—about how to cook famous and sometimes infamous dishes from film, TV, and video games. The unfortunately named “moistmaker” from Friends is a sterling example. Others include Chilean sea bass from Jurassic Park, Eleanor’s nachos from The Good Place, and the cake from Portal. Nor does Binging with Babish limit itself to the strictly edible. Taking inspiration from The Simpsons, a recent episode depicts Babish’s semi-successful attempt to transform a root-beer-and-Cheeto pasta into a dish that a person—not a wise person, but a person—might be willing to try.
I can’t claim to be an early member of the Babish bandwagon. Belatedness has always defined my relation to pop culture, and web shows—even six-year-old web shows with more than nine million subscribers—are, apparently, no exception. Still, since 2021, when I first stumbled across Binging with Babish and its spinoffs (collectively called the Babish Culinary Universe), I have become a quietly committed acolyte. I’ve worked my way steadily through the back catalog. I’ve jotted down notes, mimicked techniques, adapted recipes. As a joke, Jes bought me my own Babish-brand tiny whisks—a running meme on the show—and these I’ve put to good use. In fact, prior to Babish, I was, if not a bad cook exactly, then at least an indifferent and inefficient one. Most nights, my contributions to dinner consisted in little more than drinking bourbon, riling up the dog, and singsonging my way around the kitchen while Jes struggled in vain to chase me back to the cutting board.
These days, however—well, these days I suppose I’m still inefficient. It’ll take more than a slickly produced cooking show, even one narrated in a voice I wish could read me bedtime stories, to cure me of my distraction. That said, I am less indifferent to home cooking. I care more. Indeed, thanks to the hundred-plus episodes I’ve shotgunned over the course of a handful of months, I’ve even picked up some of the lingo, though this I’ve done with, admittedly, mixed results. While words like fond, roux, and laminated dough mean something to me now, that newfound knowledge, when combined with my pedant’s regard for citation and a certain fondness for unwittingly repeating favorite refrains and preambles, means that I know just enough to be a danger to myself.
“Benjamin,” as Jes said recently, stepping back from the sauce she was preparing to brandish a tiny whisk in my direction. “So help me. One more thing from you about what Babish would or wouldn’t do, and I’m hurling you out the window.”
Ben DeVries (’15) graduated with degrees in literature and writing. He and his wife Jes, a fellow Calvin grad, live in Champaign, Illinois, where Ben is looking to add some letters behind his name. On the academic off-seasons, he reads fantasy and works as a glorified “go-fer” at the Champaign Park District. He’s been known to make a mean deep-dish pizza.