'Henry's Kitchen' And The Art Of Bad Cooking

Comedian Henry Phillips has been failing in the kitchen for over 12 years, which is no small feat.

The best cooking show on the internet doesn't feature good food, or even palatable food. It doesn't offer useful tips, nor any general culinary insight whatsoever, and there is not a confident, charismatic host at its center—instead, it's a master class in the art of bad cooking. This is "Henry's Kitchen," and it's been a YouTube darling for more than a dozen years.

Henry Phillips is a comedian you might recognize from the 2009 movie Punching The Clown, a hilarious yet somber look into showbiz and the life of a road comedian. In most of his video projects, Phillips plays the painfully lonely everyman. Watching him usually evokes some sort of gloomy catharsis, and there's nothing more relatable than poorly made food.

"Henry's Kitchen," which debuted in 2011 and is still going strong, is a parody of YouTube cooking shows and the usual suspects who helm them. These series—which have been more or less dethroned by quickly digestible Instagram Reels and TikTok videos—tend to be long, drawn out, and dryly informative. Phillips convincingly mimics the uncomfortable silence, dead air, bumbling, and stumbling often found in cooking demos, with none of the picturesque results that the medium typically aims for. Each episode of "Henry's Kitchen" is a masterpiece, with Phillips nailing every aspect of culinary failure.

Bad cooking, by the way, means more so much more than just producing a nasty meal. These videos capture a wide scope of failures and inadequacies: lack of confidence, improper tools, deficient techniques, and an apparent lack of knowledge of how anything is supposed to taste. Even the ambiance is artfully terrible: The overhead lighting is dim, the background music is melancholy, and each video ends with bleak glamor shots of sloppy, overcooked food. The real gut punch, though? That food probably reminds you of something you've cooked. We've all been there.

As host of "Henry's Kitchen," Phillips is totally stiff, like he still hasn't figured out how to be himself on camera. Usually, at the beginning of a video, he'll just stand there for a few seconds, not sure what to do or say. Right from the jump, you get the sense that his timing is off, and an all too important aspect of cooking is timing. His demeanor says that he's not the guy to teach you anything—but away he goes, conducting a tutorial on how to make chili, French toast, or even sushi.

The props for "Henry's Kitchen" are amazing; the kitchen equipment looks like it belongs to a college student going on their sixth year of undergrad. Tiny strainers, rusted measuring cups, and flimsy plastic utensils all play prominent roles, and they're all put to unsettling use: Phillips uses a cheese grater to drain his pasta because he doesn't have a strainer. His plastic cutting board often slips and slides while he chops, and usually the board itself is just far too small, as seen in this buffalo cauliflower cauliflower pizza video. There's absolutely no room to chop, which is dangerous, but for some home cooks it's like looking in a mirror. How many of us have overcrowded a pan or cutting board and thought, "Eh, it'll be fine"?

Though Phillips' host character clearly likes to cook, he seems straight up terrified to be doing it on camera, almost as if he's been forced to host the show. "Let's let our ingredients cool down a little bit before we plate our ingredients onto a plate," he awkwardly mumbles in one video. A sentence so awful it's sublime.

"Henry's Kitchen" offers zero insight in the cooking process. Nothing. Raw flour is added to everything, like in this video for a Hawaiin loco moco, where Phillips adds flour to chicken broth and raw mushrooms. In the same unwashed pan (Jesus Christ), he destroys an egg yolk on his first attempt, then perfectly burns the sunny-side-up eggs. The yolks are runny and raw, and the whites are completely charred and stuck to the pan.

"And then you want to very delicately lift the eggs off the pot starting with the corners," he says, as he mauls the eggs with a pink dollar-store-grade rubber spatula.

It's been more than 12 years, yet the videos still find ways to be mesmerizing. It's still unclear, for example, if Phillips understands what gluten is. "I'll be using a plant-based meat product to keep it gluten-free," he states in a recent video, implying that raw meat contains gluten. For the loco moco, he burns both the white rice and the alternative meat. Those pans are going to take hours of soaking and scrubbing to get clean. Each spill and burn is a meticulous choice meant to infuriate, sadden, or otherwise fascinate the viewer.

In the end, "Henry's Kitchen" isn't really making fun of anybody. If anything, there's a real human quality to the videos; he makes the viewer more empathetic to your average home cook, those people who are just doing their best. There are plenty of TikTok stunt videos meant to rile people up with bad recipes and hacks, but they miss the mark—bad cooking is, in fact, an art form. Nobody has ever nailed the medium like Henry Phillips. He was ahead of his time.

I have to believe that Phillips is actually a very good cook. The fact that he knows exactly what bad cooking looks like indicates some deep knowledge of what good cooking looks like. As host of "Henry's Kitchen," though, he's so convincingly awful that he leaves some room for doubt. It's a mess, and it's one that audiences can't pull themselves away from; many even pay for the privilege of witnessing the carnage.

As one commenter put it, "Always a good night with a new Henry's kitchen."

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