How does one make Cheez-its in their own kitchen? It takes a rough plan. “The format of the show has remained remarkably consistent since the beginning,” Saffitz tells Quartz. “There's an exploratory phase that transitions into fabrication.” The food to be recreated is purchased ahead of filming, but for the most part Saffitz isn't in the weeds with details. “I don't think past the ingredients before I show up.”
With each episode, there is a clear goal in mind: this test kitchen employee will bake a gourmet facsimile of a Twinkie, for example. Goal-oriented work not only gives you structure, it improves your productivity because it introduces an element of accountability. Saffitz has her subscribers to appease and you have your superiors or your clients.
Before she starts baking, Saffitz deconstructs the junk food in front of her. It is part of the problem solving. “There's a lot you can learn about something by taking it apart,” she says .
Breaking the tasks into smaller parts allows her to attempt and perfect them independently. Looking at your work in chunks helps keep a project organized and achievable.
Rules can help guide an idea. With each show, Claire attempts to improve on the source material by only using natural ingredients. That means using real strawberries and lemons to make Skittles, for instance. But, Saffitz isn’t opposed to bending those rules either. “If I consider a show warrants breaking a rule then I will.” In her Doritos episode, she didn’t dehydrate nacho cheese to replicate the orangey chips. She mixed dry ingredients until she nailed the flavor.
In every episode, Saffitz rattles off the dizzyingly obtuse ingredients that go into the junk food at hand. While certainly humorous, the practice serves other purposes. Maintaining habits in your work provides structure and makes tasks easier to complete. Habits help prepare the mind for work.
Once you have a plan, you need to execute it. When Saffitz finishes her research, she begins in the kitchen immediately. Overplanning can prevent work from getting done. Have a strategy, but then get to it.
Fans of the show know the difficulty of tempering chocolate. Introduced in the Kit-Kat episode, it is the process of melting and cooling chocolate to give it a satin-like appearance and make it snap when bent.
This fussy task appears time and again on Gourmet Makes. Sometimes it frustrates Saffitz, sometimes she accomplishes it with ease. Despite the struggles, though, she makes her way through the careful heating of chocolate. “I don't really have a choice” in persevering, she tells Quartz. “It feels part and parcel with the show. It's not optional.” In other words, you don't have to love the hard parts of a job. But you do need to be comfortable with your approach to it. As Saffitz says, “Pushing myself to do [a task] multiple times, over and again, is making that process less alien.”
Things rarely go as planned in the test kitchen. Saffitz’s methods are a masterclass in trial and error. Her struggle is not played for pageantry like other cooking shows. Rather, it’s evidence of her iterative process and it’s humbling to watch. Not everything you make has to be a perfect, final product.
For Saffitz, doing difficult work builds her confidence. When you succeed or make progress you're “rewriting the narrative you have in your head about why you can't do something,” she says. Doing the work and learning from mistakes is a destigmatizing event.
On Gourmet Makes, it often appears like Saffitz is on her own. And in many ways she is; it's her show after all. Yet she's working in a kitchen full of talented chefs, and she can ask for help at any time. Saffitz says that for her, “the help is so present,” due in part to the collaborative and supportive environment. “Having those people that you trust implicitly is so important,” she says.
Many workers are worried about asking for help because they’re afraid of what colleagues may think or say about them. Without that fear, Claire is at ease in her environment. "Far and away my favorite part of working at the test kitchen are my colleagues," Claire says. Research shows that this sense of comfort makes workplaces more cohesive. When workers share openly with one another, they’re less afraid of humiliation. As Saffitz says, “criticism of a dish is not a criticism of the cook.”
Praise is an effective motivator. Studies show that praise from peers—whether in the workplace or in social settings—encourages people to achieve more. When Saffitz needs that extra boost, she doesn't hesitate to ask for it.
Your colleagues usually can’t help you unless you tell them how. They have no idea what you've been through (maybe you've been stuck for hours on air-frying ramen noodles like Saffitz was) and therefore can’t know how to assist you. Make it easy: Tell them when you need criticism, when you need help, and when you just need them to listen.
Before anyone even tastes what she’s made, Saffitz says she knows if there’s something about it she’s not happy with. Julia Child advises to never apologize for anything you make in the kitchen, but for Saffitz it's the opposite. She'd rather preempt the critiques. “I want to lay it out there from the beginning what I didn't do right.” Setting expectations this way before asking for feedback allows you to share what you'd like to improve, while offering a place for your teammates to be useful.
Saffitz says all of her colleagues understand the test kitchen is a collaborative space. While the work environment is one key, staying focused on the group's goals is another. Beyond being a habit of nice people, their collaboration is intended to help the group meet shared goals. As a result, viewers of Gourmet Makes easily see what a friendly, productive work environment looks like.
Your teammates’ skills are invaluable. In every episode, Saffitz ultimately needs assistance from her colleagues. She says it's easy to lean on them for advice, because they’re all working so closely together. “I turn around and there's Chris [Morocco] or Andy [Baraghani]...I'm so used to having them taste a thing and asking them what they think.” Sometimes it only takes one piece of advice from your peers to find success in your work.
Another teammate, Brad Leone—host of the Bon Appetit show It's Alive—assists Saffitz when it comes to mechanical tasks. “Brad is so talented with his hands that anything involving building any equipment at all is a Brad question.” You're buoyed the strengths of the people around you if you let them help. “Let everyone do what they do best,” says Saffitz. “It's an inefficient use of my time…so I take a backseat role as a project manager and let Brad do his thing.”
It usually takes Saffitz three or more days to deconstruct a piece of junk food into a recipe. Though she’s typically shown feverishly trying to work through her task, she also knows when to go home, rest, and return. “The breaks seem to happen naturally… by the end of the day, I'm pretty tired,” says Saffitz.
Sometimes time away is all you need for a breakthrough. While trying to recreate Skittles, Saffitz remembers sitting at home over the weekend when the gummy sugar-paste known as pastillage suddenly popped into her head. It became the turning point in cracking Skittles' mysterious candy coating. Leaving work thoughts at the office lets your mind relax. Take a day. You too might be surprised by a weekend epiphany.
Before Saffitz hangs up her apron every night, she lays out her strategy for the next day. Even for the chronic procrastinators, a loose agenda tonight will keep you on track tomorrow.
While attempting to make Twix, Saffitz shares her wisdom from her test-kitchen experience: Keep coming back and things will turn out better. “First I get frustrated, and I hate it, then I double-down and get more determined to figure it out,” she says. The key is getting over that initial grief period, so you can move on.
Saffitz’s ability to laugh at herself makes for a lighthearted show, but it also improves her resiliency. Self-deprecating humor has been found to help relieve stress (paywall). It also makes you feel closer to your colleagues. What's good for Saffitz is also good for her fellow cooks in the kitchen and her team behind the lens.
After years at Bon Appétit, Saffitz doesn't let her pride interfere with the work. “Don't get attached to any one idea,” she says. “Nothing is too precious."