Sohla El-Waylly is immensely personable. The chef and YouTube star is not only credited with having an encyclopedic knowledge of all things culinary, but she also makes the most unusual of recipes fun to watch; the more bizarre, the more brilliant, in fact.
Married to Egyptian-Bolivian chef Hamish El-Waylly, Sohla was brought up in Los Angeles by Bengali parents, who owned a Baskin-Robbins store. Her own culinary journey led her from working in Michelin-starred Atera to opening a restaurant called Hail Mary with her husband, before moving on to Bon Appetit magazine as assistant food editor and, since September, hosting her own YouTube show, Stump Sohla.
Stump Sohla is part of the Babish Culinary Universe YouTube channel (formerly Binging with Babish, best known as the show that recreated the Moist Maker sandwich from Friends). Stump Sohla, as its name suggests, requires Sohla to cook a meal with a twist.
The caper in question is decided by a gameshow-style spinning wheel, peppered with bizarre requirements, such as “Make it sad”, “Serve on fire”, “Astronaut food” and “[Prepare it] one-handed”.
This is cooking that’s meant to be watched, not learnt. There are only so many guests who’ll be left at a dinner party that serves beetle-stuffed candy (from the “Make it scary” Halloween episode) or pasta slow-cooked over an open flame (from the “18th-century” Mac & Cheese episode). And immensely watchable it is. Sohla’s tongue-in-cheek delivery combined with her incontestable culinary know-how and twisted recipes are internet gold.
Even if you don't recreate these specific dishes at home, Sohla shares cooking tips and ingredient trivia useful to the novice chef, all with her trademark bone-dry humour. For instance, "Gelatin does not need much heat to dissolve, so ensure it doesn't get over the boiling point, because then it can deactivate...", she explains, adding with a poker face, "and then it will die."
The show is part of a 10-episode contract, but that figure is likely to go up given its popularity.
The 'Bon Appetit' setback
Having joined as assistant food editor at Conde Nast's Bon Appetit magazine last August, Sohla quickly became the go-to person for its Test Kitchen YouTube show. However, she left the role within a year amid a flurry of accusations – from racial discrimination to being underpaid and over experienced.
Multiple fan-made videos prove that Sohla basically ran the whole show, at least behind the scenes, despite often being relegated to the background in the actual episodes and not being paid for them.
Bon Appetit's loss is Babish's gain, though, as the four Slump Sohla episodes released so far have raked up an average of two million views each.
What’s next for Sohla?
Stump Sohla aside, Sohla is guest-judging culinary shows, including Dishmantled. She has written the first of her Off-Script with Sohla weekly columns for Food52.com (titled Chicken & Rice, however the heck you want), and she is also working on a cookbook.