Growing up I used to sit on a stool in the kitchen and watch my mom bake. Besides the occasional task I was given by her, to measure something, or perhaps grease the cake tin, this experience was almost spiritual. There was something about watching someone create something from start to finish that satisfied me in numerous ways. The saying of ‘’eating with your eyes first’’ truly did apply in our kitchen. After moving away from home I was however struck by the harsh reality of dishes piling up in the sink and tragic events like dropping my sourdough starter all over my kitchen floor.
It was only then when I realised I missed the visually pleasing aspects of watching someone cook. It felt like I received a warm hug when I saw this captured by the Korean YouTube channel Cooking tree 쿠킹트리. The channel features ASMR-like videos following the start to finish process of creating baked goods like crepe cakes and egg tarts. The baking process is captured mainly in midrange to closeup shots, where sounds like whisking eggs or cutting hard butter are enhanced, to romanticise baking and its relaxing qualities. In contrast to the soft yet immersive sounds, the often harsh sounds of hand mixers or other baking equipment are mellowed out to carry through the soft atmosphere. Cooking tree elaborates this soft, friendly atmosphere they’ve created by placing a figure of Sylvanean Families in the frame, almost as if they are a friend observing the baking process with us.
The channel centers around the satisfaction of baking, without showcasing the mishaps or the mess created outside the camera frame. Their slogan: ‘Enjoy cooking!’, is short and sweet and summarises it perfectly. Along this cleanliness, the videos feature repetition, for instance seen in their crepe cakes where the same action can carry on for nearly three minutes. The combination of texture, sound and repetition turn baking into a spiritual experience.
”Under the general ASMR category is a much beloved sub-strata of cooking videos, mostly Korean and Japanese, that manage to distill the act of cooking to its most aesthetic, soothing, and “tingly” quintessence. No annoying chef-hosts barking orders, no distracting music in the background—just gorgeous visuals paired with natural ASMR-quality sounds.”Nana Ozaeta in Metro Style
This satisfying, romanticised manner of creating content is something present throughout Asian social media. The videos are released mainly in Japan and Korea and are known to feature a clean aesthetic where all colors are complementary and all textures are soft and airbrushed. Cooking tree is a leading channel in this specific section of ASMR with over four million subscribers and videos with as much as eleven million views. The channel features typical characteristics of Korean aesthetics of simplicity and formality. When these approaches to aesthetics intertwine with the process of preparing a meal, eating becomes almost a religious experience. The focus on textures and sounds heightens the anticipation to see the final product.
This focus on anticipation is something I also personally encountered last week in a small ramen shop in Amsterdam called Ramen Kingdom. The restaurant features a self-service ordering system, after which you take a seat in separate eating pods, all of them facing the kitchen. No matter your company, you will sit separately, with your focus directed to the chef in front of you, who prepares your ramen and does a beautiful job on the assembly. Once served, the ramen is warm, hearty and fills your pod with an incredible scent. You’re encouraged to completely disregard the classic notion of a conversation during dinner and instead taste and appreciate your food in an unconventional way. It reminded me of Cooking tree where we are not distracted by the surroundings, but rather let our attention take us to another mindset of appreciating digital content. It proved to me how aspects of digital media reoccur in the world as we know it to enhance our senses and elevate our level of satisfaction.