My eyes begin to grow heavy as I sink deeper into the couch. My living room, illuminated by a few candles, is quiet, save for the sounds of a gently crackling campfire and scallions being chopped on my TV screen, slow and serene. The soundtrack is sending me, and I’m entranced by the image of glistening raw oysters sitting on mounds of course salt, teeming with the anticipation of being topped with herbs and butter. This YouTube video is more than food porn. It’s visual and auditory Xanax.
“Quiet cooking videos” are a hybrid of classic ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) — a compilation of sounds and visuals that act as a stimulus for relaxing, tingly or generally pleasant sensations — and straight-up cooking instruction. The first ones to go super viral were POV-style “cooking in the forest” videos that feature a guy prepping and cooking juicy burgers with the woods as his kitchen. The simple yet genius concept, popularized by YouTuber Almazan Kitchen, has been widely adopted by content creators and chefs all over the world.
Not everyone reaps benefits from ASMR, but as an Anxiety Girlie, I’ve been hooked. The videos are extremely soothing, especially when I’m trying to declutter my mind enough to fall asleep. Because anxiety can manifest both emotionally and physically, watching or listening to ASMR can help lower your heart rate and reduce agitation in high-tension moments, explained Dr. David Klemanski, a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at Yale University. There’s still very little research on ASMR in general, but Klemanski feels hopeful about its use as one tool, among others, to help people feel calmer.
“Another thing a video like this could be doing is inducing mindfulness,” he told me. “Because when people are immersed in it, they’re training their brains to pay attention to what they want it to, in that moment.” This is huge for people who tend to fixate on past or potential problems versus staying in the moment (Hi, it’s me).
The quiet cooking ASMR videos, in particular, can be doubly rewarding for people who love preparing food. Klemanski points to potential activation of our mirror neurons here, which are essentially the type of brain cells that respond, kind of vicariously, when we see someone else do something. “I’m wondering if, while watching these cooking videos, people not only are relaxed by the sounds, sensations and music — but if there’s a learning component as well,” he said. Imagine coming away with the tinglies and a deeper knowledge of how to perfectly sear a branzino? Winning.
Klemanski also told me that quiet cooking videos can be a form of positive, momentary escapism for many people. That’s absolutely the case for me. I had a long phase of falling asleep to cooking-in-the-forest videos, then had a cake-frosting stint at the height of the pandemic, and most recently have been mellowing out to videos from The Silent Chef series, created by chefs John Fraser and José Andrés. The oyster-prepping video, which has a gleefully soporific effect on me, is one episode of their “food storytelling” adventures.
I believe the grassroots quiet cooking movement has evolved over the years because of the intentions behind it. The Silent Chef videos are on Calm.com’s YouTube for a reason — and I suspect it ties back to what Klemanski says about mindfulness, which he describes as “simply paying attention without judgment.”
At first, many online food personalities began creating stripped-down cooking tutorials without any intros, rambling hosts or background music. “The only sound is food getting chopped and cooked,” wrote Slate writer Madeline Raynor, in a story about the trend. “The result is an informative and succinct cooking show perfect for people who learn by watching but don’t want all the extra noise.”
Then, the focus began to shift from instruction to sensory pleasure. One of my favorite ASMRtists, Gibi, partnered with Blue Apron a few years ago for a cooking series that prioritized ASMR. Brands began to see the potential — and the audience for quiet cooking videos grew.
The Silent Chef’s videos, which recently dropped, are crafted to caress viewers with the virtual experience of foraging and the soft sounds of dewey tomatoes being plucked from the vine. But the food prep is where the real magic happens. There’s something about watching dough being kneaded that mesmerizes me. “The Great British Baking Show” always sped through it too fast for me.
Ultimately, these videos provide a point of focus — and tingles, and even endorphins — that can drive us into a meditative state we may or may not realize we’ve achieved. (Keep in mind that people with a complicated relationship with food may not have a positive response, at least at first.) It’s like sneaking veggies into a toddler’s meal by blending them up and adding them to mac and cheese. I’m not implying I’m a toddler, but watching food ASMR beats the hell out of sitting cross-legged and trying to “be present.”
But like everything we use to cope, beware of the side effects of watching quiet cooking videos. Do not consume with weed. You might find yourself in the kitchen, serenely chopping toppings for a large mound of nachos that you have no business eating at 2 a.m. on a Tuesday. Screw it, though. It’s all in the spirit of paying attention without judgment.