Chef Sohla El-Waylly, known for her blunt bob, witty sense of humor, and ability to effortlessly temper chocolate (trust me, it’s harder than it looks) is back with a new show. This time, El-Waylly has joined chef and internet personality Andrew Rea with her own web series on his wildly successful YouTube channel, “Babish Culinary Universe” (formerly named “Binging with Babish”).
El-Waylly’s new series “Stump Sohla” premiered Sept. 24 and is currently set for 10 episodes. On the show, Rea spins a wheel with a variety of challenges that may or may not stump El-Waylly as she attempts to cook a classic meal. So far, El-Waylly has made 18th-century macaroni and cheese, a seven-course tasting menu using only items from a convenience store, and both soup and ice cream lit on fire. Combined, her three videos have garnered more than six million views in the three weeks since the series premiered.
For El-Waylly, a former assistant culinary editor at Bon Appétit magazine (no relation to USF’s contracted food service provider) who would appear on the publication’s popular YouTube channel as part of the Test Kitchen staff, this show is her return to food media on her own terms. “Stump Sohla” arrives on the heels of a summer in which El-Waylly, a Bengali American woman, fought for equitable pay and fair contracts for herself and her fellow co-workers of color at Bon Appétit after allegations of racism against Bon Appétit’s then-editor in chief were brought to light on social media.
In the wake of the killing of George Floyd and nationwide calls for racial justice, the magazine, which is owned by publishing giant Condé Nast, underwent a public reckoning after pictures of its then-editor in chief Adam Rapoport and his wife Simone Shubuck donning “brownface” resurfaced on Twitter. The post, which had been uploaded to his wife’s Instagram page on Oct. 31, 2013, showed the couple dressed to fit stereotypes of Puerto Rican people, accompanied by the caption “#TBT to me and my papi.”
Calls for Rapoport to resign from his position at Bon Appétit flooded social media and were heightened after El-Waylly joined in, publicly calling for his resignation on her Instagram stories that were posted on June 9. El-Waylly said she felt as though she was being underpaid and undervalued by the publication because she was a woman of color, writing, “I am 35 years old and have over 15 years of professional experience. I was hired as an assistant editor at $50 K to assist mostly white editors with significantly less experience than me.” She also noted that she hadn’t been paid additionally for any of her video appearances — white Test Kitchen staffers benefited from extra compensation — and had been “pushed in front of video as a display of diversity.”
El-Waylly’s 15 years of experience is expansive and includes time studying at the Culinary Institute of America, working at prominent restaurants Pok Pok, Momofuku, and Atera, and running her own restaurant, Hail Mary, with her husband Ham El-Waylly. It is clear that Sohla El-Waylly, who occasionally appeared to assist the channels’ white video stars, was not only underpaid for her work at Bon Appétit but also woefully undercelebrated.
Following El-Waylly’s allegations of workplace discrimination, many of her fellow Bon Appétit coworkers publicly voiced their support for her and acknowledged a culture in which white staff were favored over staff of color. Additionally, her coworkers shared stories about how they too had been underpaid or completely unpaid for their video appearances or, among white staff, how they had passively aided in the continuation of the racist and problematic workplace that secretly encapsulated Bon Appétit.
Shortly after, Rapoport stepped down as editor in chief of Bon Appétit. Matt Duckor, head of video for Condé Nast, also resigned after racist and homophobic tweets of his resurfaced. Bon Appétit quickly published an apology via email and an Instagram post addressing their past undervaluation of underrepresented minority staff at the magazine. The publication expressed their intentions to accelerate career advancements for their hires from minority backgrounds.
But in a recent Vulture article, Sohla revealed that even though she had negotiated a fair contract with back pay for videos she had appeared in during her time at Bon Appétit, she decided to no longer appear in Bon Appétit videos because she knew many of her coworkers were not receiving the same opportunities she was given. She said she would not stay quiet while institutional racism in the restaurant industry went unaddressed.
After dealing with months of empty promises from Bon Appétit, El-Waylly’s return is nothing short of a message of triumph. El-Waylly’s fans finally get to see her back on screen doing what she loves most while getting the celebration and recognition she was not given at Bon Appetit. “Stump Sohla” at its core is an appreciation of El-Waylly’s culinary expertise, allowing El-Waylly to show off the mastery of her craft while also highlighting her quirky personality and impressive creativity. El-Waylly’s love for fire and love of challenges, even ones not given to her by Rea, is often highlighted in the show.
But “Stump Sohla” also benefits El-Waylly in the form of monetary compensation. She told Jung, “I just really don’t want to be a prop. If it does well, I make more and everybody makes more. It’s a deal that works well for everybody,” in reference to the show’s YouTube revenue profit model.
In addition to “Stump Sohla,” El-Waylly recently began writing a column and starring in a subsequent video series for Food52 called “Off-Script with Sohla,” in which she breaks down classic meals for audience members to prepare in a variety of ways.
In the face of calls for racial equality by people of color across the country, El-Waylly’s return feels like a beacon of light in a year characterized by uncertainty.