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Society & Culture

‘4 Levels’ of Popular Food Videos with Rosemary Trout

November 6, 2019

Rosemary Trout filming an episode of "4 Levels."
Rosemary Trout pictured on set while filming an episode of "4 Levels."

When preparing your Thanksgiving turkey, should you use a dry brine or a wet brine? Are canned tomatoes better than fresh tomatoes for making pizza sauce? And what creates a denser, chewier chocolate chip cookie: room temperature butter or melted butter?

These questions, and so many more, have all been answered in various Condé Nast videos by Drexel University’s Rosemary Trout, assistant clinical professor and program director of culinary arts & food science in the Food and Hospitality Management Department in the College of Nursing & Health Professions.

For over a year now, she’s appeared as a food scientist and a food expert in 12 (so far) videos for Bon Appétit and Epicurious, and those videos have garnered more than 77 million views in total. 

Being in those videos, with those views, has helped Trout connect with people from around the world — and right here on campus. That exposure is key, Trout said, to attracting new students to the enrollment-driven program she directs. Already, two current students — including one from India — matriculated into Drexel’s food science program having recognized her from the series. And she’s used her experiences with filming the videos when preparing her students for post-graduation careers. 

“I feel so lucky to be able to do this,” said Trout. “It gave me a real appreciation on what goes on behind the scenes of making a 10- or 15-minute YouTube video. And my students are definitely interested in learning about the food production side of the media world, and how you can put together a video about food.”

And Dragons outside of her department have made note of Trout’s appearances as well.

“I occasionally get recognized by Drexel people, and they know me from the videos,” she said. “Just yesterday a finance student passed me on campus and called out, ‘Hey! I like your videos!’ It made my day.”

Trout’s online video work started with Epicurious’s “4 Levels” series, in which she appears as the food scientist evaluating how chefs of three different levels (amateur chef, home chef and professional chef) prepare common meals and desserts. She found out about the opportunity last summer through her former colleague and department head A. Phillip Handel, PhD, retired associate professor, emeritus of food science, and she shot two videos analyzing the recipes and techniques of the chefs.

For her first video appearance, Trout filmed “4 Levels of Chocolate Chip Cookies: Amateur to Food Scientist,” discussing how different fats, sugars and types and shapes of chocolate influence the taste and texture of chocolate chip cookies. When it was released last September, it was an immediate hit. So far, it has received about 8.5 million views.

The next video was published last November and focused on spaghetti and meatballs. It’s received almost double that number of views.  

The video with the highest number of views — over 18.2 million — was the hamburgers episode, in which Trout discussed the importance of grinding, handling and shaping hamburger meat, how to get a good sear on the meat (through a chemical process known as the Maillard reaction, which browns food and gives it flavor) and what cheeses are best suited for melting on a patty.

Trout has appeared in “4 Levels” videos released every month or every couple of months. In each video, she offers critiques, advice, explanations and ideas for how cooks of every level can make — and understand — things like brownies, macaroni and cheese, French toast, steak and cupcakes.

“Mostly, these videos are just to have fun with cooking,” she said.

To prepare for these “4 Level” shoots, Trout is sent the recipes in advance so she can analyze the ingredient list and preparation methods. That means researching everything from why it makes a difference to use a metal baking dish to make brownies or what’s the best fat ratio for a hamburger.

Then, she travels to Condé Nast’s studios at One World Trade Center to film anywhere from two to four videos at a time, months before they’re released. She rarely gets to see, or taste, the food, and she doesn’t meet with the chefs either. Instead, she comments on the scientific reactions and information related to the ingredients and cooking methods, and offers the viewers advice on what to do (or what not to do) when making these well-loved recipes.

Last week, Epicurious launched a spin-off series to its “4 Levels” show by releasing a video called “Cooking Experts Answer Your Spaghetti & Meatball Questions.” Trout helped answer fan-submitted questions about cooking techniques and ingredients from the spaghetti and meatballs episode she had appeared in.

Because the video directors, producers and crew behind “4 Levels” work for Condé Nast, and not just Epicurious, it was easy for them to find an expert food scientist for the first season of Bon Appétit’s “Making Perfect” video series, in which food editors worked together to create the perfect homemade pizza.

In the second “Making Perfect” episode, Brad Leone, the host of Bon Appétit’s It’s Alive” series, and Andy Baraghani, senior food editor at Bon Appétit who also stars in the publication’s “Andy Explores” videos, were tasked with creating the perfect homemade pizza sauce — but they didn’t know whether to use canned or fresh tomatoes. They ended up calling Trout for help (via FaceTime) and she told them about the benefits of using canned tomatoes and why hand-crushing canned tomatoes can create a thicker sauce. Ultimately, Leone and Baraghani ended up following her advice, using canned whole peeled tomatoes and passing them through a food mill in their recipe for the perfect pizza sauce.

In the second season of “Making Perfect,” Bon Appétit editors and video stars set out to create the best Thanksgiving feast. Leone and Baraghani were in charge of making the best turkey and cranberry sauce, and they once again made it clear who they reach out to when they need to phone a friend for help.  

This time, they set up a FaceTime call with Trout to ask whether they should use a wet or dry brine on a turkey. And in case viewers didn’t remember her from her previous “Making Perfect” appearance, the video’s stars made it very clear that she’s their go-to food expert.  

“I think we can go to someone I think we both trust…,” Baraghani begins to say in the video, with Leone immediately interrupting to exclaim, “Yeah, Rosemary Trout! You don’t forget that name!”

Rosemary Trout, right, with Molly Baz while filming an episode of "Molly Tries."
Rosemary Trout, right, with Molly Baz while filming an episode of "Molly Tries."

This time, Trout recommended using a dry brine, which brings out the most moistness from drier meats like turkey. Once again, the Bon Appétit stars ultimately ended up using her advice, creating a dry brine to use in their perfect turkey recipe.

Recently, Trout appeared in a new and different Bon Appétit series she hadn’t yet appeared on: “Molly Tries” with senior food editor Molly Baz. In the “Pro Chef Learns How to Make a Raindrop Cake” video that dropped Nov. 4, Trout taught Baz about pH levels. Agar, a key ingredient in the viral, Internet-famous cake, is affected by acidity when mixed with water, and Trout gave a mini-lesson on the acidity of different types of water.

So after conquering two Epicurious and three Bon Appétit video series … what’s next for Trout’s appearances in Condé Nast content?

Viewers, stay tuned.