Online Julia Childs serve up cooking advice, expertise
By Rachel Rodriguez, CNN March 12, 2010 9:28 a.m. EST
(CNN) — As the Disney film “Ratatouille” taught us, anyone can cook. Thanks to the Internet, anyone can have a cooking show, too.
Home cooks all over the world flock to YouTube, WordPress and the like to share their recipes and experiences. Food blogs and communities like Epicurious and AllRecipes explode with content, from the “semi-homemade” recipes popularized by several Food Network shows to demonstrations from trained cooks and expert bakers. They’re a diverse group — world travelers, stay-at-home moms, even restaurant owners — but they share a passion for creating and sharing fabulous dishes.
Hosting your own Internet cooking show doesn’t come with all the perks of the Food Network or PBS. There’s no production team, no personal assistants, no cameramen (unless you count the occasional supportive friend or spouse who gets roped into the project).
“The camera was sitting on a stack of books and an upside-down mortar and pestle bowl,” says Amanda Morris with a laugh. She recently filmed herself making spicy spaghetti with fennel and shared the video with CNN iReport. “The same one that I crushed the fennel seeds in!”
Of course, there’s also no paycheck. Food bloggers and cooking video hosts say, rather, that they’re motivated by the chance to share their expertise and culture. Amanda Martin, for example, says she and her husband started EatLikeARabbit.net “to show people what our lifestyle is all about.”
“Vegetarianism isn’t as scary as folks might think,” she says.
With simple advertising options like Google AdSense, which automatically displays relevant ads on a Web site and pays the owner, bloggers can offset the costs of operating the site and making the videos even though they’re not turning much profit.
Well, except for the few lucky online chefs who’ve managed to make their hobby into a full-time, paying gig.
Hetal Jannu and Anuja Balasubramanian’s online cooking show is a full-time job. The pair began filming their cooking adventures for fun three years ago and their project blossomed into the Web site ShowMeTheCurry.com. Both stay-at-home moms, they started when their kids went to school.
“We both love to cook, so it was just for fun,” recalls Jannu. “Our first couple of videos, it was just our husbands helping out with the camera work. And we just did it! We put it out there, and all of a sudden, we got all this attention.”
The pair posted their videos, which detail how to cook Indian and Indian fusion dishes, to YouTube. They started getting thousands of hits each day and eventually built their own ad-supported Web site.
“There are so many people who want to learn to cook Indian food, but it’s intimidating,” explains Jannu. She thinks that’s a main reason behind their success. “When they see it [in a video], it’s so much easier than reading a recipe.”
There’s another appealing side to online cooking shows: the community.
“Thank goodness for bloggers,” Claire Blaustein mused on her cooking site,
TheBarefootKitchen.com. When a batch of cookie dough she’d whipped up was too crumbly to be used despite all her usual tricks, she turned to other online chefs for advice.
“I remembered — others had gone where I had not yet tread! They would help me!” she wrote on her blog. Two other bloggers had baked the same recipe just a few days earlier as part of a multi-blog challenge called “12 days of cookies,” and they’d also had problems with crumbling dough. Blaustein made a quick trip to their blogs and instantly had her solution.
“A few tablespoons of milk later, and it seemed I was back in business,” she says.
“If you’re watching, say, Food Network and you have a question, you can’t really call them up or get in touch with them,” says Jannu. She thinks the ability to connect with her and Balasubramanian is a big part of their Web site’s attraction. “The biggest benefit of the online community is that even though we have a video out there, people have questions, and all they have to do is write to us or comment on the video. And we make a point to answer every question we get.”
But that doesn’t mean online cooks shun the more traditional TV cooking shows. Many find the rise of cooking shows and their increasing diversity in recent years inspiring.
Lisa Hechesky has been cooking since she was 12, but says she only recently found a TV cooking show that “spoke to me: Food Network’s ‘Good Eats with Alton Brown.’ ”
“It was the first time I’d ever seen a cooking show that actually explained how to cook rather than just giving a recipe,” she says. Hechesky is especially interested in smoking meats and fish. She gives Brown credit for teaching her how to do it correctly. She’s so grateful that she now runs the fan site and cooking blog AllAboutAlton.com, and she shared her technique with CNN iReport.
Morris says TV chefs’ daring personalities motivate her to take risks in her own kitchen and beyond.
“Paula Deen seems so friendly and gregarious and knowledgeable, and she’s strong and fearless,” Morris says. “She just doesn’t take anything from anybody, and she brings that to her show and her writing. And Anthony Bourdain, same thing. He just seems fearless, in the kitchen, when he travels. I strive to be that fearless.”