“Brad Does Botulism” in Bon Appétit’s Latest Fiasco

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It wasn’t that long ago that Bon Appétit and her test kitchen Series have been the high point of the food media. Their light-filled studios and charismatic hosts and guests have had a huge impact on foodie culture, which has imploded through a series of scandals in recent years. The most important among them: the lack of paid opportunities for people of color and cultural appropriation of white chefs preparing predominantly ethnic foods; the displacement of professional chefs in favor of social media “celebrities”; and former Bon Appétit editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport, who is stepping down in 2020 after brownface photos came to light in 2013. Add to that the fact that Condé Nast employees are organizing in the hope of finally getting a fair wage for all their work.

More is on the public radar, however Bon Appétits test kitchen Star Brad Leone, host of It lives with Brad and self-proclaimed “fermentation expert”. Leone’s show focuses on curing and canning at home. He makes foods like sauerkraut and pickles that people once relied on to get through long, cold winters without dying of scurvy or malnutrition. Knowing how to preserve fresh produce and other foods is a fantastic skill that can save you big bucks and give a taste of summer in mid-February. There’s only one problem; Despite his popularity on Instagram, Brad isn’t great at it and it makes people sick.

Last year, Bon Appétit was forced to remove one of Brad’s videos about how to cann seafood at home, sparking an online outcry from seasoned canners who pointed out that it’s impossible to cook seafood using just a double boiler safe to preserve. The bacteria that cause botulism thrive in a low-acid environment, such as that found in fish bowls. More acidic foods and brines, like those made from cucumbers, are so hostile to bacteria that boiling water at 212° Fahrenheit is enough to safely disinfect food. But safely preserved seafood and meat require pressure canning. The inevitable pressure raises the boiling point of water to 240°, enough to kill even the toughest microscopic bug. Leone’s guest chef, Charlotte Langley, later released a statement on her Scout Canning website, saying Bon Appétit had removed all critical filmed safety measures from the videos released. Leone apologized for the video on his Instagram page and moved on. “I apologize again and will do better as a teacher and student of food,” he said. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to have taken this lesson to heart.

Yes… Pastrami shouldn’t look like this. As you can see, it lacks the traditional pink color because Leone failed to use any appreciable amount of nitrate, which is found in leafy greens and is available in large quantities at food markets for the express purpose of curing meat. He even acknowledges the need for nitrates before casually ignoring them.

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Good god I hate his mustache.

Instead, Brad makes a homemade brine from raw sauerkraut brine, salt, raw sugar, and a few pureed celery sticks — which don’t have nearly enough nitrates to make a difference — and lets the meat soak for 8 days before rubbing and rubbing the brisket to cook . What comes out is likely edible, although the brine isn’t even boiled to kill bacteria. He cooks it to a in the interim safe temperature and it’s probably fine for a few days. Why do I say probably?

Holy shit indeed.

I grew up in a farming family. My grandfather raised beef cows. My parents had a vegetable garden of about an acre that my brother and I seeded and (poorly) weeded. From Memorial Day through Columbus Weekend, we put plants in the ground, picked the fruit, and pulled the plants out again. My mom would spend days pickling cucumbers, turnips, and green beans in 90-degree, humid conditions in a farmhouse cooled by nothing more effective than a box fan. Blueberry, raspberry and blackberry jam as well. Huge pots of boiling water sat on the stove all day, first sterilizing the jars and then sterilizing them again once they were filled and sealed. Jars sat in the dark basement for months or years before we broke them open. We’ve checked for mold, foul smells, bad textures, and finally taste every time. Any jars that appeared to be “off” were immediately thrown away, despite the work that went into making them. Because you don’t mess with listeria and botulism, at least not twice. Despite decades of experience as a home husband, I no longer deal with canned food these days. Even storing eggnog in the fridge for months makes me a little nervous, despite its flammability.

So yes, When the salt content of your brine is high enough and When You store it properly and When If you cook it properly, it’s probably safe to eat. The problem is that there may be hundreds or thousands of people following Leone’s method with their own ingredients. If their brine isn’t salty enough, if there’s too much bacteria, if one of a dozen things goes wrong, someone gets sick or worse. YouTube and Instagram tutorials have all made us self-taught “experts” at something. If that’s a makeup application or Photoshop layers, the worst thing that happens is that someone looks ridiculous. The stakes escalate when food safety becomes an issue. Therefore the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning exists. Reading a dry how-to manual might be less entertaining than a laugh poaching salmon in a jar, but you’re more likely to survive. And when you Yes, really Want homemade pastrami, watch S10, Ep. 20 by Enjoy your meal, in which Alton Brown gives a fantastic and scientific explanation of food preservation, including how to prepare corned beef and pastrami. The most important ingredient? 2 tablespoons saltpeter. Listeria don’t stand a chance.


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Header Image Source: Bon appetit screenshot

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