I’ve always loved cooking. No, I’m not very good at it, but the process of turning simple ingredients into dishes I can eat and enjoy is so satisfying to me, both in terms of hunger and accomplishment. So when I moved into East Fairchild during my first day of college, I was somewhat dismayed to discover that the kitchen on my floor wasn’t exactly up to par – we’re talking a microwave, a gross-looking stove and not much else. I tried cooking a few times, and the results were disappointing, to say the least. So, dining hall food it was.

As I mindlessly scrolled through the Internet (as I often do), I stumbled upon a YouTube channel called Binging With Babish, where host Andrew Rea recreates food from movies and TV. Watching someone else cook made me feel like I was there myself – I was transported from my dingy dorm with a shoddy kitchenette to a fully-stocked kitchen, complete with professional film lighting. I watched video after video and, soon enough, I was hooked. To be honest, I can’t remember which Binging With Babish episode I watched first (I’ve watched too many to count at this point), so here’s one of my personal favorites:

Can’t you almost taste the food in that video? I know I can. Binging With Babish was just the beginning, though. After exhausting Rea’s channel, I clicked through dozens of related cooking YouTubers, each with distinct tones and personalities. Here are a few of my favorites:

So much of the content on YouTube relies on personality, but for many of my favorite cooking videos, the food does the talking. Look at this video documenting the preparation of fresh strawberry milk. Just look at it. Is that not the most visually appealing thing you’ve ever seen? I don’t even think I’ve ever drank strawberry milk, but as soon as I saw that video I had one of the intense cravings of my life. Unfortunately, my dorm didn’t have the supplies to recreate the recipe in that video, but believe me, I wanted to.

While we’re discussing narration-free videos: I present J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s first-person, late-night cooking videos. While he has plenty of narrated videos that are excellent as well, these narration-free POVs always stood out to me. Seeing an experienced chef cook his way through the munchies really made my own late-night Burger King runs feel just a little classier. If only BK had Jian Bing…

On the other hand, some cooking videos thrive off the personality of their hosts. Emmymadeinjapan is one of the most relaxing channels on YouTube, all thanks to Emmy’s wonderful, soothing demeanor. I especially love her “Hard Times” series where she cooks recipes from times of food scarcity – Emmy shows respect and reverence to dishes that many chefs might scoff at, and the food always looks delicious regardless of how inexpensive it may be. As an added bonus, the simplicity of most of those recipes make me feel like I could pull them off myself if I had the right ingredients and tools.

And now for my favorite. Also known as “Alex French Guy Cooking,” Alexis Gabriel Ainouz’s videos are some of my favorite content on YouTube. I discovered him through his attempt at mastering Jacques Pépin’s classic French omelet. The beautiful color and texture of his final omelet made me forget that I was eating rubbery dining hall scrambled eggs, even if only for a second. It wasn’t just the gorgeous shots of the food that did it for me, though. Seeing the process, struggles and efforts that went into cooking the food gave me a sense of accomplishment that I missed – the same feeling I had when I cooked in my kitchen back home.

My personal favorite video on Alex’s channel showcases cacio e pepe. Before I opened that video, I had never even heard of cacio e pepe. Basically, it’s a creamy pasta dish that only requires cheese and pepper. As soon as I saw the finished product, I decided I had to make it myself. I watched that video dozens of times until I knew the recipe like the back of my hand. This past Winter Break, I broke out the pasta machine (which neither I nor anyone else in my family had ever used before) and finally got to follow along with one of my favorite videos. And while my end result wasn’t perfect, finally getting to prepare a meal after months of vicariously cooking through YouTube was one of the greatest feelings in the world.

Cacio e pepe pasta / Photo courtesy of David Deloso / North by Northwestern

These are just a few of the many cooking channels I personally love. After cooking constantly throughout Winter Break, I’m back to the dining halls. While I don’t dislike the food there, there will always be something I miss about cooking the food myself. So if you see me in Allison or Plex with headphones in, staring at my phone screen, I’m probably imagining I’m somewhere else, eating something else. It seems silly, but it really makes me feel like I’m at home.

So now, I’m going to eat dinner at Plex East (the best dining hall on campus, hands-down), but maybe I’ll pretend that the pasta I’m eating is cacio e pepe.