Welcome to Net Positive, a series about nice places and things on the world wide web.
Hey, listen, here’s a good guy online: Chef John, from Food Wishes.
For years of my life, I thought that the best recipes came from the most stylish chefs, with the most decadent graphics and fake adjective-y descriptions. I guzzled down Food52 walkthroughs that tried to sell me on pots and pans I couldn’t afford, and even now, I’m occasionally entranced by the odd Emily Mariko video on TikTok in which the California-based influencer will wordlessly cook meals using a ceramic knife and the commenters will say something like, “this is the only thing that keeps me from killing myself.” But these recipes never teach me anything and more importantly, they rarely, if ever, solve the problem of cooking: hunger. When I’m hungry, I don’t think, “I want garlicky jammy lentils with endive biscuits” or whatever the recipe du jour is. My desires are simple, unscientific. I want food.
Enter: Chef John on YouTube. I have to be honest now. I learned about Chef John from guys. On more than one occasion, a guy said, “Oh, this is a Chef John Recipe.” In the comments of one of Chef John’s live Q&A’s, one woman says, “Thank you for teaching my husband to cook!” (“You’re welcome!” Chef John says in response.) This is not Bon Appetit, which is doling out botulism, or a CNN+ show, or a silent, beaming woman on TikTok. This is a man on YouTube whose face you almost never see.
Who is Chef John? His name is John Mitzewich, he is 58 years old, and he lives in northern California. He has a mustache (retro) and glasses (sometimes) and a wife (lovely). He once worked for a culinary academy, and now he gracefully shares his videos for free on his channel Food Wishes, which boasts about four million subscribers. The channel is named as such because he grants the recipe wishes of his viewers. Beautiful! The recipes are then aggregated to allrecipes.com, where they’re written out sans charming Chef John narration or playful Chef John piano accompaniment.
Chef John is the Julia Child of our time. Funny, easygoing, detailed without being too fussy, happy to cook and eager to eat. Chef John comes with little glitz and fuss. “This isn’t Food Network,” he reminds his viewers from behind the camera. In most videos, you don’t see much of him besides his hands and the errant reflection of his face in a metal mixing bowl. He speaks with an upbeat, lilting voice — one he established early in his video-making career to keep the viewer from getting bored — and the videos rarely extend past ten minutes.
Through Chef John I have learned how to best poach chicken and make French vanilla ice cream. He does meatless cooking, seasonally appropriate cooking, cooking from other cultures and traditions. Chef John is at his best and most experienced when it comes to traditional “American cuisine,” and he approaches more advanced international recipes with more humility than, say, the creator of “the stew.” He admits, willingly, when a recipe is not exactly in his comfort zone, but does his best to work his way through it as respectfully and nobly as possible. And because it’s Chef John, it usually turns out all right.
Despite being a — and I say this with respect, sort of — a “YouTuber,” Chef John shirks all trappings and annoyances that come with that platform. “I think everyone already knows if they want to follow or subscribe to a channel, I don’t have to say it,” he says in a Q&A. There’s no shilling, no selling. In 2010, he was the most-subscribed to cooking channel on the platform; he’s been long since eclipsed by cupcake influencers and the guy who is always cooking stuff for too many hours. Chef John’s videos are produced solely by him and his wife. There’s no big crew, no running gags. No close-ups of an egg frying or a knife scraping a crispy treat. He’s not trying to sell you on anything other than maybe a $5 monthly to get access to more videos, but you won’t see any trendy baking sheets or nouveau whisks. Chef John walks you through the meal, plates it nicely. Did Chef John teach boys about plating? Who’s to say for certain.
The lack of pretension, the normalcy of it all: this is the Chef John trademark. The comments sections of his videos are nowhere near the level of pedantry found on New York Times Cooking’s comments. On a recipe for zucchini bread, a commenter writes: “Chef John changed my life. Not only [have] my cooking skills improved, but I am also becoming a better person just by watching his videos. And my friends and family have a much happier life eating delicious foods inspired by Chef John's recipes.” Chef John speaks in the third person, like the Queen, I guess, but in a way that feels much nicer. It’s a walkthrough. It’s PBS. It’s school. It’s Chef John.