My Inner Chef Reborn: YouTube Foodies

I’m about to commit the ultimate blogging sin, covering something that’s off the main topic, which is writing (books, screenplays, movies and music). But at this point the blog is experimental. When a lot of people click on a post (and especially when you like, comment and subscribe) it’s nearly always a surprise. “Oh, they liked that, “ is the feedback. Less views tells another story and the balance between these steers the developing content.

So this is the part where I tell you a story.

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I like to cook and have a huge collection of cooking tools and books (for a single person). I can wile away an afternoon reading recipes- digging rabbit holes and sponging up tips for days to come. In my early years I was a waitress. Ugh, and yet. The clamoring pots, steamy water, colorful ingredients and fragrant dishes commingled with the chatter of clientele – an improvisational symphony for the senses. There was a kind of romance in it.

During time off I studied music and learned to bake perfect yeast bread. It was therapy – measuring, kneading and shaping the loaves. And the crunch of a golden buttered crust, catharsis. This grew into making quick breads and desserts and then forays into mains and sides. When my recipe box was proofed and overflowing I hung up my apron and walked away, except to cook for others. Then along came YouTube.

My viewing habit has morphed into a mini-obsession and sent me back into the kitchen to start cooking again. Hallelujah! The best aren’t the network ones, with perfect kitchens, perfect people and scripted patter. It’s the real people YouTubers that sing. And the more I watch, the better it gets. You know the drill. “Since you liked this, you might like that.” Now the rabbit holes are tunnels digging deep into culinary art.

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This new obsession began with an array of grandma’s endearing clips and pretty Asian girls cooking in crowded apartment kitchens with bad lighting and sound. Then things got more interesting with Chinese Cooking Demystified, a show filmed and produced by Chris Evans (an American expat living with his girlfriend in Shenzhen, China). Check out this episode https://youtu.be/NrGGVB2qVHQ

This is a truly authentic Chinese cooking channel in ear pleasingly perfect English. The video and editing are above average. Chris seldom appears on camera. His girl is the “On camera Talent” (most of the time) and she’s a translator so her English is good too. It’s a sweet show but not big on personality. They are hyper focused on the recipes and complex methods. This is a one-of a kind channel – for the serious cook.

Then there’s Pro Home Cooks, a refreshingly up-beat, fast-paced and beautifully edited channel that covers the heck out of the tips and tricks category with healthy, 15-minute meals that look amazing. The show’s creator/chef, Mike G., has a substantially successful channel and an entertaining brand. He sometimes takes us to the market to shop or out to the garden for fresh herbs. He’s a genuine American foodie who is way into organic. Here’s an example: https://youtu.be/G5NEwx6KqPM

Chef Jet Tila is nice and solid but he works for Food Network so his semi-celebrity status and presentation sells – at the cost of spontaneity and entertainment value. In my book, Marion’s Kitchen has tastier, more elegant stir fry and take-out style foods. She looks great – even though it’s hard to imagine dressing up like that to cook stuff that’s so obviously messy and splatters. It’s consonant dissonance. Is it visual umami? Maybe, but I think she doesn’t know what she doesn’t know.

Ethan Chlebowsi is also doing quite well on YouTube with almost 800,000 subscribers. He’s a red headed young man cooking out of his apartment. His videos are fast paced and fun but his signature is his scientific mind. Ethan analyzes everything and does a lot of research, which he shares not just by giving verbal attribution but by doing a split screen that breaks it all down. To date most of the stuff he cooks is elevated pizza, sandwiches and take-out style wrapped food. Check out this clip on the science of barbecue https://youtu.be/EEpxXz_5kFE

It was only today that I found Basics with Babish. He cooks from an amazing home kitchen in Brooklyn and graduates to first in class. Babish is a pen name for Andrew Rhea. He is, hands-down, the best cooking channel on YouTube that I’ve found so far. He also has Binging with Babish (much of which is movie and TV themed).

Babish is up to nearly 10 million subscribers as of today and, coming from a career in the film industry, he puts it all together in a complete package. The videos are beautifully shot and edited, America-centric recipes (read multi-cultural) but not too over-the-top (except maybe the Peking Duck episode). He’s funny in an urbane New Yorker way and a talented writer. Of course I love him. https://youtu.be/bSYdABrPrtM

So I’ve dusted off my sauce pans, sharpened my knives and started cooking again thanks to the entrepreneurs of YouTube Chefs. Hats off to you all! Rare, original and well done.

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