My new favorite thing is the YouTube channel of J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. Kenji makes charmingly underproduced cooking videos—he just straps a GoPro on his head and starts pulling together breakfast, lunch, or dinner for his family, chatting at you while explaining what he’s doing. You see his kitchen from his POV, which sorta makes it feel like you’re in your own kitchen. He’s a famous food guy, and you’re just you, but both of you have a lived-in kitchen with the kids’ shoes knocking around the baseboards and dogs underfoot waiting for scraps.
Kenji is a bonafide food science wonk, Cooks Illustrated and Serious Eats editor, and James Beard-award-winning cookbook author, etc., and while he wears all these accomplishments lightly, his master-level know-how comes through as he casually explains, say, how to improve your scrambled eggs with a hot pan and curds or how to reverse-sear a steak (a technique he invented!).
But what makes Kenji’s videos extra special is not what he says, but what he does. And how he is. In each video, there’s the recipe, and then there’s Kenji’s manners and methods that you can pick up on while he cooks. Like—how to stage and stack your ingredients as you prep a meal, how to use a food scraper, how to clean as you cook. My daughter Lou especially appreciates that last thing, as the kids’ post-dinner cleanup duties have gotten a good bit lighter since Kenji came into my life.
His most recent video is a next-level instance of what I’m describing. Kenji is showing us how to make Niku Udon, a Japanese Beef Noodle Bowl. That’s the A story. But a kind of B story develops as he cooks, which is that he’s clearly trying to squeeze in making this YouTube video while he’s juggling other responsibilities; namely: being a dad.
At the start of the video, Kenji says he’s going to show us how to make beef noodle bowls, and he also mentions that he has to run an errand with a kid in 15 minutes. And we think: Really? And you chose NOW to make dinner? And also NOW to make a YouTube video about making that dinner? Okay, Kenji. Good luck.
A few minutes into the video, we learn that Kenji’s other kid has woken up from a nap and needs his attention. So now he’s making dinner for the family before rushing out the door, and he’s teaching us how to make said dinner, and he’s managing the needs of two kids at once.
We’ve all been there. This is parenting while cooking, and it happens in every family kitchen almost every night. You’re doing your best to squeeze in things you need and want to do alongside your kid duties. Then more and unexpected kid duties get thrown at you, and now you’re juggling all you planned to juggle plus a couple extra bowling pins and a flaming adolescent.
That’s a special kind of stress, and many is the parent—especially the father, I’d wager—who has lost his cool in moments like this. Many is the parent who turned real nasty real fast and ended up damaging not only dinner, but also their relationship with anyone unlucky enough to be in the house at the same time.
And so the most remarkable thing about Kenji’s Japanese Beef Noodle Bowl video? The reason I’ve watched it multiple times even though I have no noodle bowl plans in my near future? The reason I’m writing about it for 30 minutes right now?
In addition to showing us a neat trick with trimmed scallions (an ice water bath!), Kenji does something that I find even more impressive: he keeps his cool. He shows us how to parent while cooking.
When Kenji mentions his kid woke up and he’s gotta go, we think his dinner plan is ruined. So is his YouTube video. But Kenji saves both—he finishes the dinner two days later, and the video turns out great. It has over 180,000 views 12 days into its life.
No doubt some editing skills helped bring it all together, but I rather doubt that Kenji had to cut out footage of himself yelling at a kid. He seems to know how to roll with the punches. He keeps his cool, gets the beef noodle bowls on the table eventually, and most importantly, appears to have taken care of his kids just fine.
Way to go, Father Kenji. Way to cook, way to YouTube, and way to be a dad.
(This is all pre-amble: I have a lot more to say about losing your cool as a dad, including what a father figure of mine once taught me—perversely, wrongly—about why dads losing their cool is just an ordinary thing kids gotta come to expect. But all that will have to wait for the book.)