Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Emily Kim’s explanation of how to cook kimchi has been viewed nearly 300,000 times.
Emily Kim’s explanation of how to cook kimchi has been viewed nearly 300,000 times.

You Tube turns amateur chefs into food celebs Add to ...

Emily Kim stands over a kitchen sink with her sleeves rolled up, clutching a halved cabbage that's larger than her head.

"I'm going to put it in the dip - in the water," the 52-year-old chirps with an accent that betrays her South Korean roots. "They need to take a shower before getting salt."

For the 275,302nd time, Ms. Kim is explaining how to make the Korean specialty kimchi (pickled cabbage) on YouTube.

<object width="425" height="344"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/IeBR91ypxk4&hl=en_US&fs=1&"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/IeBR91ypxk4&hl=en_US&fs=1&" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="425" height="344"></embed></object>

The hit counter on Ms. Kim's video will no doubt continue to climb these days as many who are clueless in the kitchen make New Year's resolutions to learn how to cook.

But the master they'll be turning to is an amateur.

Ms. Kim's nine-minute tutorial - shakily shot on a camcorder with tinkling piano added in post-production - was filmed in her former home in Toronto (she now lives in New York). She uploaded it to her YouTube channel - Maangchi's Korean Cooking Show - in June 2007.

She never trained in a culinary institute. She picked up cooking tips from watching her family and by experimenting in the kitchen. Yet she boasts nearly six times as many YouTube channel subscribers as Martha Stewart.

Ms. Kim is just one of many amateur chefs who have reached celebrity status on the video site. Home cooks, often confused by complex recipes and frustrated by their inability to interact with their instructors, have kicked Martha, Emeril and Jamie to the curb in favour of more "authentic" - if informally trained - cooks.

Toronto bank employee Deborah Kuo, 27, spent hours watching the Food Network with her roommates when she was in university. But Maangchi's Korean Cooking Show - which has 64 videos - has since become the must-see-food-TV in her life. "Nowadays, when you watch the Food Network, it's very plated, extremely artistic," she says. "With [Ms. Kim's]stuff, it's home food. It's food that's familiar to a lot of people."

Since finding Ms. Kim's YouTube channel about two years ago, Ms. Kuo has mastered, among other things, hot-and-spicy tofu stew - a crowd-pleasing dish she says she can whip up in about 15 to 20 minutes. When she stumbles through a recipe or is unsure of certain culinary techniques, she simply e-mails Ms. Kim. And she always gets a response.

"Some of my fans, they've become close friends," says Ms. Kim, who posts a new video every two weeks. She says she can spend up to 10 hours a day editing her videos and responding to viewer e-mails and comments.

It's a similar level of accessibility that has made Rob Barrett, a father in Eden Prairie, Minn., so popular. Mr. Barrett's YouTube channel Cooking for Dads began with a simple goal: "Every dad should have three or four dishes they can make and they should be legendary," he says.

<object width="425" height="344"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/XqPb0QTCm5U&hl=en_US&fs=1&"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/XqPb0QTCm5U&hl=en_US&fs=1&" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="425" height="344"></embed></object>

His tutorials (the most popular are Coke-marinated steak and prime rib) have inspired dozens of enthusiastic e-mails from men who say they were helpless in the kitchen until they found someone who could speak their language. Instead of using traditional measurements, Mr. Barrett suggests that viewers use "three handfuls of cherry tomatoes" or "an inch of butter."

"If you've gone to culinary school for five years, you don't realize that the language you use isn't accessible to the rest of the world," Mr. Barrett says.

Mr. Barrett's appeal isn't limited to men. Joan deVastey, a 50-year-old mother of three in Delran, N.J., says she much prefers Mr. Barrett's videos to the cookbooks she grew up with. "With words, there's so much room for error if you don't describe it in an engaging style," she says. A tutorial for apple cider flatbread is a recent favourite of hers.

The more successful of the home-based YouTube chefs can cover their modest production costs and make a profit by selling sponsorships, DVDs and ads on their websites. The down-to-earth nature of cooks such as Ms. Kim and Mr. Barrett is one of the major reasons why they are gaining ground on the brand-name pros on YouTube, says Stephan Hengst, a spokesperson for the Culinary Institute of America.

"There's something to be said for relatability in the videos," Mr. Hengst says. "Frankly, watching Martha Stewart do something, she doesn't really answer too many questions because she thinks she's the expert."

But just like Ms. Stewart and other pros, the YouTube chefs still have to meet the demand for quality instruction that leads to a delectable final product.

"It's up to the consumer to decide who they trust more. Once you've had a bad experience with a cook or a cookbook or magazine or whatever it is, you might reconsider making any of their recipes again," Mr. Hengst explains.

Stay-at-home moms Anuja Balasubramanian, 41, and Hetal Jannu, 39, from Frisco, Texas, are well aware of that pressure. They do all the filming and editing for their Show Me the Curry YouTube channel, but it's the cooking that takes up most of their time. "There's lots of R&D that goes into these recipes. We have to have them absolutely precise," Ms. Balasubramanian says.

<object width="425" height="344"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/8HB7ywgJuTg&hl=en_US&fs=1&"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/8HB7ywgJuTg&hl=en_US&fs=1&" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="425" height="344"></embed></object>

The women will sometimes spend hours in the kitchen tinkering with portions of spices such as coriander and cardamom before they set up the video camera to film the preparation of a dish. "We've made the mistakes. We learned it on our own. A lot of times we pass on those little tidbits of knowledge to our viewers," Ms. Jannu says.

Ms. Kim also says the time she invests in her YouTube channel can be exhausting, but viewer feedback fuels her.

In one unforgettable e-mail, a young Korean woman wrote that, after her mother passed away, she watched Ms. Kim's video tutorial for soybean sprout soup - a dish she'd grown up eating - and prepared it. Upon smelling the soup from the kitchen, Ms. Kim recounts, "her father got out of his room and said, 'Oh my God. I feel like your mom came alive.' Isn't that nice?"


Recipes for real people

Show Me The Curry

9,733 subscribers

Most-viewed recipe: Spicy Scandal Chicken Curry (256,316 views)

Maangchi's Korean Cooking Show

18,885 subscribers

Most-viewed recipe: Kimchi (277,505 views)

Cooking for Dads

2,816 subscribers

Most-viewed video: Coke- or beer-marinated steak (204,583 views)

Dakshana Bascaramurty

Report Typo/Error

Follow on Twitter: @DakGlobe


Next story




Most popular videos »

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular