Hannah Hart is wasted. Before turning on her camera, the YouTube host consumed an unknown but probably alarming quantity of red wine, and she's now attempting to make a homemade potato chip she's charmingly (and drunkenly) dubbed a "single Pringle." During the six-minute recipe tutorial, Hart randomly throws ingredients into a bowl and accidentally shatters a wine glass atop her creation. But for Hart, it's all part of a day's work while filming an episode of her three-year-old YouTube series My Drunk Kitchen, a gig that comes with its fair share of awkward moments. "I mean, do you want to sit there and watch two hours of yourself, drunk?" Hart laughs. "It's not fun at all."
Hart launched My Drunk Kitchen on a whim in March 2011; that debut video, titled "Butter Yo Shit," has racked up more than 3.5 million views. Hart's YouTube channel, MyHarto, has more than 1.8 million subscribers, which has led to the publication of the My Drunk Kitchen cookbook (in 2014) and celebrity guest stars like fellow comedienne Sarah Silverman. "I think that it continues to feel like a daydream," Hart says. "This is all something I've been doing for fun. It all has been just growing and growing, and then, every day it's something new and something different."
Food Network executives once plucked their stars out of professional restaurant kitchens — like early stars Emeril Lagasse and Mario Batali — or from the blogosphere, as The Pioneer Woman Ree Drummond can attest. But the 46-year-old Drummond, the lifestyle blogger turned cooking show host, is arguably the network's last true breakout star — her Food Network show launched in 2011, with best-selling cookbooks following shortly thereafter. As the network recycles its lineup of hosts — with Guy Fieri, Alton Brown, and a slew of celebrity chefs often appearing on several shows — there appears to be no true successor to the FN throne in place. But tomorrow's biggest food personalities might already be making names for themselves on video-uploading site YouTube, which, according to the site's numbers, has more than one billion users.
Some of YouTube's culinary uploaders are already breakout stars. YouTuber Rosanna Pansino bakes themed treats in her show Nerdy Nummies, which boasts 3.49 million subscribers — a number that places her on par with mega pop star Justin Timberlake's YouTube reach. In 2014, BusinessInsider estimated Pansino made nearly $200,000 in ad revenue off her channel, most likely boosted, in part, by YouTube featuring her in a national ad campaign. Harley Morenstein, the host and co-creator of YouTube channel Epic Meal Time, started uploading videos of his friends' over-the-top stunt foods in 2010. Video games and branded merchandise soon followed, and in early 2014, EMT inked a television deal, debuting Epic Meal Empire on the FYI Network in July of that year.
Hart is making waves, as well. Last year, along with friends and fellow YouTube celebrities Grace Helbig and Mamrie Hart (no relation), she starred in Camp Takota, which was produced by RockStream Studios and released online. And earlier this year, Hart — along with Morenstein — was named to Forbes' 2015 30 Under 30 list, joining the likes of Emma Stone, Zach Efron, and Keira Knightly on the magazine's list of influential entertainers. While she's branching out into other forms of content, Hart says she'll continue to "dance with the one that brought" her to the public's attention. "Kitchen's never going away," Hart says. "I don't care what happens in life. I could be accepting a reward, or I could be returning to a day job, and I would still make episodes of My Drunk Kitchen — because it's fun and why not?"
The Recipe for YouTube Success
While Hart makes it seem easy, success in the culinary YouTube world is hard-won. According to YouTube's numbers, more than 300 hours of video are uploaded by users every minute, while "hundreds of millions of hours" worth of video are watched on the site every day. But for many amateur cooks, YouTube grants them immediate access to a rapt audience that's not necessarily concerned about culinary credentials. The "average joe" accessibility might be exactly what viewers want: Compare Pansino and Hart's numbers to those of acclaimed chef Mario Batali, who despite a large television presence and restaurants in multiple cities, has just 19,000 subscribers on YouTube. Chef Jamie Oliver, famously an early YouTube adopter, boasts 1.38 million subscribers, about on par with Hart. Instead, in the YouTube space, cooks identify personality, authenticity, and actively engaging with their audience as must-haves for success.
Raiza Costa, host of the baking show Dulce Delight, swapped a career working in art galleries for her pastry channel, which currently has 152,000 subscribers and has racked up 15 million views total. Costa, who has a degree in fine art, peppers her show — and its recipes for patisserie classics — with bright colors, pop music, and her bubbly personality, baking everything from macarons to chocolate tarts (the latter being her most-watched video, with 1.39 million views). "All of the cooking shows [already] out there didn't represent me," Costa says of her inspiration to launch Dulce Delight four years ago. "It was all very boring, 'Do this recipe,' but [without] explaining why they're taking these certain steps. I decided to make a cooking show that would represent me: Not boring, not lame, showing things that can go wrong — and that's okay, because we're not perfect." Costa's artistic background emerges: In the recipe development phase, she makes watercolor sketches of each dish (shown, right), visualizing each treat's colors and layout before diving into the baking. "I think the aesthetic of everything we do in life impacts the way we see it and the way we absorb it," she says.
YouTube's French Guy Cooking, aka creator and host Alexis Gabriel, also stresses that he's not a professionally trained chef. "I was, at first, definitely more into food than into cooking," he says, noting he seriously got into cooking just a "few years ago." But Gabriel's natural delivery — in yes, a French accent — and "love" for his viewers results in recipes for sous-vide steak and omelets three-ways, netting him 59,000 subscribers. A crepe video done in tandem with Jamie Oliver, who selected Gabriel to be one of the members of his YouTube hub, netted more than 96,000 views. "At some point in life, you want to make something in which you truly believe you can make a difference," Gabriel says of his career switch to YouTube personality. "I know my weaknesses, but I also know my strengths, and Youtube seemed to be at the crossing of my skills. So, I left everything else, and started my own cooking show to share this passion as best as possible with everyone."
Hart, Costa, and Gabriel all self-produce and shoot their own shows. Costa notes that including pre-production, recipe testing, shooting, animating, and editing, each episode takes her about six days to make, including eight to 10 hours of "running back and forth" between the front and back of the camera during filming. "Today, I consider myself a filmmaker more than a chef, because the amount of work that goes into the videos is insane," Costa says. Hart notes that each six-minute episode starts with more than two hours of footage that must be edited down.
But some YouTubers launched programs with the help of official YouTube channel partnerships. Joshua Greenfield, co-host of Brothers Green Eats, which has 97,000 subscribers, says the show featuring himself and his brother Mike happened by accident. "Our roommate was a filmmaker and took an interest in our cooking, so it was really just a window into our lives, music, food, humor," Joshua says of the early episodes, which featured "just some friends hanging out" and cooking. "Next thing you know, we are being approached by a YouTube-licensed channel to host the first official cooking series through their new funded channel initiative." YouTube's Hungry channel — which is now defunct — launched in summer 2012, featuring The Brothers Green and other original shows like Drink Inc. and Casserole Queens.
After arriving with much fanfare, YouTube's Original Channel Initiative, which funded Hungry and dozens of other channels, quietly ended in late 2013; some placed the cost of the failed experiment as high as $300 million. Greenfield says the timing allowing the duo "the opportunity to break away and do our own thing on our own terms." Recent episodes of Brothers Green Eats have stressed the casual nature that launched the pair's YouTube career: The guys hang out in their own kitchen, leaning on counters as they wordlessly walk viewers through tutorials for "Ways to Get Creative" with ingredients like pizza dough and coconut milk. (The simple instructions usually come via illustrations on the videos.) "Sometimes I have a dream about a recipe, wake up, go the grocery store, buy the ingredients and start filming just to see what happens," Greenfield says of the brothers' current shooting strategy. "Other times we may come up with something while cooking a meal and then shoot the video a few days later, and other times still we have an idea we want to try, we test it out and then the second round of testing happens on camera. It's rare that we try to perfect something and then film it; we always want there to be some sort of new discovery happening on camera."
Translating YouTube Hits to Other Opportunities
For some of these YouTube cooks, their online fan base has helped them parlay their viewership into appearances on "traditional" television. After much urging from her fans to apply, Costa briefly appeared on season three of FOX's amateur cooking competition MasterChef, making it through the audition round but eventually getting cut before the elimination episodes began. "It was a nice experience to be a part of a big production," she says. "[But] after I participated in a show with hundreds of people in the crew, I realized that the only way to be creative in this field is having a small crew, basically." Costa cites the creative freedom inherent with conceptualizing and editing her own YouTube program — but just last week, Costa wrapped up shooting a Brazilian version of Dulce Delight, which is already airing on Brazil's Globo TV. Globo signed Costa to a 20-episode first season that effectively translates her YouTube show into Portuguese; Costa says the Brazilian show features entirely new recipes but keeps her colorful aesthetic intact. New episodes will run on Globo through June.
The Greenfields, meanwhile, are currently working with MTV International on a hybrid "cooking/music" show, although Joshua remains mum on the details. "The show has been officially picked up and we've shot an entire first season; it's set to air internationally in a few months," Greenfield says. Gabriel has also shot a pilot for French television, and he's similarly keeping the details close to the vest, only revealing that "the pilot will be about regional French food, products and people. I want my viewers to discover what France really is behind those chef's whites."
Hart, who caught up with Eater in between takes for another unaffiliated web series, has branched out into other forms of entertainment, setting up an official production studio complete with a kitchen set. (It's the blue-painted kitchen that's showing up in her most recent "My Drunk Kitchen" episodes.) With friend and fellow YouTube personality Grace Helbig, Hart's currently shooting a remake of the '70s TV series Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, to be released online by Legendary Digital Media. (She plays a wannabe superhero.) She's been increasingly posting videos not related to cooking or drinking. Hart's other channel, YourHarto, delves into deeply personal topics; most notably, her 2012 video series about coming out has collected millions of views. From outside the confines of MDK, Hart has launched a community of fans who self-describe as "Hartosexuals," and she met many of them in person during a multi-city live tour last year.
But while she says she'd welcome another cookbook opportunity or tour, Hart is ambivalent about making the switch to traditional food television. "My Drunk Kitchen isn't just about the cooking, and it's also not just about the drinking, and it's also not just about the message," she says about bringing the show somewhere like the Cooking Channel. "It's this happy little blend, and it's hard to say whether or not I'd be interested in doing something on TV, because TV is super-limiting. It's a lot of people spending a lot of money, so there's a lot of rules attached." Instead, her growing MyHarto channel plans to branch out, offering more scripted content and video "longform."
Costa agrees, noting she's been in conversations about a potential television show for about a year. "I'm tough on my creative side," Costa laughs. "If they want me to do the same thing everyone else already does, there's no point to be doing it. I want to bring something new to people. I want people to feel inspired, and I don't want to be that perfect TV host where I have to make it look like I know everything. I don't know everything, and things go wrong, and I think people connect to that." She laughs. "I want my TV show to be so real that it's not even called a reality show — it's a super-reality show." Stay tuned.
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