Bambi Banks-Couleé
Bambi Banks-Couleé Credit: Freddie Collier

Bambi Banks-Couleé is resplendent in a bridal-white jumpsuit with spaghetti straps festooned with fringe as she introduces the episode. In case you didn’t catch the drift of the chyron in the bottom left corner that announces her as “the HBIC of THC,” she tells you outright: “I’m not just baking—I’m baking baking.”

Welcome to the cannabis-infused world of Bambi Bakes, an online series now in season two following a three-episode “pilot season” that debuted in December. Bambi Bakes features Chicago performer and host Banks-Couleé sharing her kitchen with cannabis home bakers who provide cooking demonstrations of marijuana-infused fare (cosponsored by Dispensary 33), followed by living room talk show time with special dining guests (who often have just polished off some of the episode’s highlighted recipes). Banks-Couleé produces the show, uploaded each Tuesday to YouTube under the banner Moving Standard, a queer-owned digital content production team she built with working partner and friend Jacob Stanton, who also directs the episodes. The guests on Bambi Bakes thus far have included fellow members of Banks-Couleé’s performance community: Banks-Couleé’s drag mom Shea Couleé and superstars Dida Ritz and the Vixen are featured on season two’s first episode, which first posted at the end of May.

Stanton describes the show as much more than just a drag talk show or a series of cooking videos. When I asked him about the show and Moving Standard’s mission last month, he said “[Last year] I asked myself, how do we pivot in a COVID era and also what have I really been wanting to do? And that’s making unapologetic media that is political; that incites positive action and sort of tricks people into conversation. Maybe teaching a few adults to learn isn’t a bad thing.” Banks-Couleé ends many of the episodes with the tagline “Join us for more guests next week as we decolonize weed from the kitchen to the couch,” which hopefully gives most viewers an idea of the politics and intention behind what they’re seeing.

Banks-Couleé’s journey as a performer started in Houston, where she trained in musical theater as a high school student, and then continued on in Chicago after she moved here to study at the Theatre School at DePaul University. She was part of a crowd there that included both fellow alums Stanton and the actress and comedian Asia Martin, whose credits include Second City and an episode of The Chi, and who recently participated in Viacom/CBS’s competitive comedy showcase fellowship program. Martin helped craft and script the segment format of Bambi Bakes and both Stanton and Banks-Couleé consider her contribution invaluable to the newer episodes.

Banks-Couleé points to a conversation during her time in theater school that shaped her view about creating art: “Even in my young state of drag, I always knew that I wanted to produce my own creations. I met this amazing professor in my senior year who gave me this advice that stuck with me. He said, ‘You are going to be so much happier when you can produce your own thing, when you can produce your own art.'” And Banks-Couleé’s drag career has followed suit: she is often responsible for both creating and hosting the nightclub shows she hosts at bars like Lake-view’s Hydrate, and she was a driving force behind Chicago’s first drag festival, Chicago Is a Drag, which made its debut in June 2019 in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the riots at the Stonewall Inn, and continued in a digital format for 2020.

“I think the best thing that came out of quarantine was finding my passion for producing media digitally and I’m excited that we’re finding ways to incorporate the digital side into how we’re all producing live shows,” Banks-Couleé says. “Work like ours and the work of companies like TransIt Productions [who film and edit Bambi Bakes] and other queer media companies are going to keep digital drag alive and I’m very excited about that. We need more of this content especially outside of the mainstream venues.” In fact, “She Did That” (one of the segments of the “couch” portion of Bambi Bakes episodes) helps to clue in viewers to digital content that they may not be aware of from episode guests, as Banks-Couleé watches favorite stage performances of her guests while they talk about their favorite memories from those events. These are often shorter videos that are available online, like Dida Ritz performing at a Black Girl Magic show, but it’s a treat to hear from performers about their process and see them review their own dance moves.

Episodes of Bambi Bakes live on Moving Standard’s YouTube channel, and include recipes from Lorraine Nguyen of Cần Sa micro-bakery (a savory serving of infused buns with baked cheese) and mushroom tarts with sauteed red onion by performer and host Lucy Stoole. Stanton is especially excited about an upcoming episode featuring performer Ramona Slick’s Pink Lemonade Bars (“they’re just incredible,” he says).   v