“I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. As a kid, I was overly studious, overly serious, very academically driven. It was important to me on a cellular level to do well. And then I went to college at Harvard, and I relaxed a little bit. I was into writing, but I also liked doing things with my hands. When I think about why I ended up in food, it makes sense in retrospect. It’s creative, it’s working with my hands, but there’s also something very rigorous about it.
For a while I thought I would work in museums, so my first job after college was an internship at the 9/11 Museum. I quickly found out that I did not want to do that. So I signed up for culinary school, and directly following culinary school, I went to graduate school at McGill. A professor there did a lot of food studies, so I thought that maybe I could combine my love of cooking with my love of learning, and make it an academic focus. Then, about halfway through my program, I realized that I would rather be cooking than learning about it.
I got the opportunity to work at the BA [Bon Appétit] test kitchen as a freelance recipe tester. The way that it works is that there are editors who are concerned with the words on the page, and then there are food editors who are working in the test kitchen developing recipes. There’s a tasting process, a testing process, and once the recipes are signed off and approved by the other editors, it goes to a position called a cross tester, and that was my position. The cross tester’s job is to make the recipe straight through, and to flag anything that was unclear, if something was off, or if it just didn’t work. It’s kind of the last line of defense against errors and inconsistencies.
That was during the era of peak-Ottolenghi. I would make recipes out of the Ottolenghi cookbook, and since Food52 had also launched, I’d look at a lot of their recipes, too. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was recipe developing. I was always starting with an idea of what I wanted something to be, and then I’d go back and do the research—like, what does that recipe say? What does this Julia Child recipe say? And then I’d put together my version, culling all the elements from recipes that looked good, and then tweaking it. That had been my process for a while, and then I got to a point where I realized that it was the same process for recipe development. So it came naturally. I did a trial where I cooked some of my own recipes [for BA], and they let me do that for a month, and then another month, and then another.
It became a natural progression—basically, I got really lucky with timing. An Assistant Food Editor job opened up, and it just grew from there. I went from Assistant Editor, to Associate Editor, to Senior Associate Editor, to Senior Food Editor—I was in the test kitchen for five years. My goal as an editor was to be an editor. I didn’t even think about video. But as the company’s video strategy developed, there were a lot of ideas to utilize the test kitchen space. Gourmet Makes was originally supposed to be with a pastry chef, and that chef was going to make a Twinkie from scratch. But for reasons I won’t venture to guess, the people putting the show together were like, ‘Well, let’s just have Claire do it.’
We did Twinkies, and then Gushers, and then Cheetos. When I’m trying to recreate those foods, it’s always a question of, do I keep going down this path and make it work? Or do I have to back up, reverse course, and try something else? With the Kit Kats, I went too far and couldn’t start over. The Oreo was also really good. I remember tasting the homemade Oreo and thinking, ‘Wow, it really tastes like an Oreo,’ and then trying the original Oreo and thinking, ‘Oh, it tastes kind of bad.’ The best possible outcome is when the homemade version tastes the way you thought the original tasted when you were a kid. That’s like peak nostalgia. It’s definitely given me a small window into the American snack food industry. More often than not the first ingredients are sugar and corn syrup. I always say to our director and camera guy, because we’re all kids of the ‘90s, that I don’t know how we survived.
If I’m recipe testing all day for my cookbook, and everything I’ve eaten has been sweet, then all I want at the end of the day is crunchy lettuce and something salty. I don’t cook much for myself anymore, now that I’m working on the cookbook. It’s a baking book, and it’s taking me longer than I thought because I have one oven, and everything has to get in line to bake. It’s set to come out in fall 2020, and I’m sure it will, because I can’t keep on doing this. [Laughs]
My beauty routine has changed a lot since I turned 30. But also, being on camera more has made me dial in on my skincare and makeup routine. I have acne-prone skin, and washing my face with cleanser in the morning, using witch hazel to tone, and washing twice at night to take off all of my makeup has really made a difference.
In the morning, I try to work out. I have Central Park right here, so I usually go for a run. Then I come back and shower, and sometimes I’ll use the Clarisonic in the shower if I’m really sweaty. After, I spray myself with Heritage Rosewater that I got at Whole Foods—I buy a lot of stuff at Whole Foods for my beauty routine. Recently I started using Honest Beauty Oil, which I really like. I never moisturized with oil before, but I think I’ll never go back. It feels so good, it absorbs really quickly, and it feels like real hydration. Then I’ll put the Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen on, because it’s a good primer. It’s super light, and it has a matte finish.
At night, I’ll rinse twice with Milky Jelly cleanser, and then I do P50. My friends told me about P50 a year ago. I went to a bachelorette party, and every single person talked about it for 45 minutes. Everyone has different skin, and everyone responds differently, but I think it has helped make my skin smoother, more even, and brighter-looking. I’ll put Embryolisse over the P50 sometimes, but it’s mostly been replaced by the oil. And then I really like the little Drunk Elephant lip mask at night, and the Drunk Elephant Shaba Eye Serum. It’s their all-purpose eye stuff.
I have makeup that I can do in 15 minutes, 10 minutes, or five minutes, depending on what I’m doing that day. On a day when I’m shooting, it’s 15 minutes. Five minutes is when I’m running around that day, and it’s no big deal. On a day that I decide to put on a little makeup, I start with the Blemish-less Foundation Primer. I’ve been using the Laura Mercier primer and tinted moisturizer together for a bunch of years, and I’ve found nothing better. It’s just so light, and it really evens out my skin tone. I’m shade Porcelain. Then I’ll wear a little concealer, the Nars Radiant Creamy Concealer in Vanilla. I use a Beautyblender for my concealer sometimes, and I like it because it pulls off excess [product]. Then, I really, really like the RMS Lip-2-Cheek, which I use as blush. This is Smile, and I like it because it also feels like performance makeup. I read a tip that said to never put blush below your nose, because it ends up looking ruddy. So I just put it on the apples of my cheeks. A tip that I picked up from watching Eva Chen’s Instagram stories is to put on the Laura Mercier Translucent Powder with a smaller brush. This is a Glossier brush, and I just use it in spots where I get shiny, like between my nose and mouth, and on my chin and forehead. And then it’s not a super matte look.
It was part of this thing around the 2016 election where I felt like I had better things to do than trying to hide my hair color.
Then I’ll do Glossier Boy Brow in Black. That’s not really a five-minute thing, that’s more of a 10 or 15. My mascara is always Covergirl Lash Blast Clump Crusher Extensions—it’s inexpensive and excellent, and it really separates and lengthens. Sometimes I’ll also work in a more expensive, high-end mascara, and do both of them. I like the Kevyn Aucoin Expert Mascara, which is really, really good.
If I’m shooting, I’ll add a little highlighter—I like the RMS Luminizer. It’s super natural-looking. I used to think that I couldn’t wear highlighter because I’m so pale, but I like that. I’m not a big eyeliner or eye makeup person. I also have a problem with lip color, because I feel like I rub it off very quickly. And I also don’t love the feeling of stuff on my lips. If I’m going to a wedding or something, I like the Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics Lip Tar in Meta. That’s fine, because you can put on a tiny bit, and it’s sheer. It goes on as almost cabernet or something.
My hair is dry, and I’m trying to replace a lot of my products with stuff that feels more natural, and less chemical-y. I replaced all of my shampoo and conditioner with New Wash. It’s very expensive, but a little goes a long way and I love the smell. Sometimes I’ll put product in after I wash, but most of the time I’m running out of the house and I don’t even bother. Today, I used a hairdryer. My hair is naturally wavy, so on shoot days I’ll do a blowout. I use a round brush, and this really old but effective Twin Turbo 3200 something. It’s old! The key to a blowout is strong arms, which I don’t really have. And just making sure it’s super, super dry, because of the humidity. But I think the real key is not drying your hair all the time, so it responds well.
I started getting streaks when I was in college. I went to the woman who cuts my hair and told her that I couldn’t afford to have it colored professionally, and that I wanted to do it myself. So she set me up. She told me which dye to use, and I got the developer, and I did it at home. And then I just got tired of it—it took a long time, and I felt like I didn’t need to be spending time coloring my hair every three weeks. It was part of this thing around the 2016 election where I felt like I had better things to do than trying to hide my hair color. I let it grow out, and I’m so happy I did. I like it so much more, and it’s so low-maintenance. I do think it’s become a thing on videos—it’s very recognizable, which was not at all planned.
BODY + FITNESS + FRAGRANCE
I ran the New York City Marathon in 2017, and I got really into epsom salt for my muscles. I love Whole Foods lavender or eucalyptus epsom salt—I put half the bag in one bath. I try to run five days a week. During the week, I’ll run for maybe 45 minutes to an hour a day—the pace and distance varies. At the time when I ran the marathon, I had never really done anything that felt like a physical challenge, and I feel like that changed things for me in my life. Once you do that, you have muscle memory, so it makes everything easier after. It was an incredible thing to see, as a person in my 30s now, to feel like my body is stronger and changing in positive ways. I don’t know what I would do without running. I hate yoga, but I run—that’s what my yoga is.
I really like Kiehl’s Musk, but I don’t wear scent every day because when you’re cooking, it can be very distracting. I just use Dr. Bronner’s soap—I really like the eucalyptus for my body. Whole Foods, very simple.”
—as told to ITG
Claire Saffitz photographed by Tom Newton in New York on June 5, 2019.