In this Oct. 7, 2020 photo, chef Sohla El-Waylly prepares Swedish meatballs during a taping of “Stump Sohla,” in New York. El-Waylly became a familiar face on YouTube as a standout on Bon Appetit’s test kitchen channel. But during the nationwide racial reckoning following the police killing of George Floyd, she was among members of the test kitchen who accused the channel’s owner, Conde Nast, of discriminatory practices. She departed Bon Appetit in August after failed negotiations. Her new show is her own, pushing her to deploy her talent, charm and encyclopedic culinary chops to solve challenges. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

In this Oct. 7, 2020 photo, chef Sohla El-Waylly prepares Swedish meatballs during a taping of “Stump Sohla,” in New York. El-Waylly became a familiar face on YouTube as a standout on Bon Appetit’s test kitchen channel. But during the nationwide racial reckoning following the police killing of George Floyd, she was among members of the test kitchen who accused the channel’s owner, Conde Nast, of discriminatory practices. She departed Bon Appetit in August after failed negotiations. Her new show is her own, pushing her to deploy her talent, charm and encyclopedic culinary chops to solve challenges. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

‘Babish’ expands as pandemic boosts YouTube cooking shows

Daily views of videos with “cook with me” soaring

NEW YORK — Mac and cheese, 18th-century style. A seven-course meal using only ingredients from a convenience store. A meal that is literally on fire.

Four episodes into her new YouTube show, “Stump Sohla,” part of the expanding “Babish Culinary Universe” channel, Sohla El-Waylly has yet to be stumped by a food challenge.

El-Waylly became a familiar face on YouTube as a standout on Bon Appetit’s test kitchen channel. But during the nationwide racial reckoning following the police killing of George Floyd, she was among members of the test kitchen who accused the channel’s owner, Conde Nast, of discriminatory compensation and other practices. A Conde Nast representative said race wasn’t a factor in setting pay.

El-Waylly departed Bon Appetit in August after failed negotiations.

Her new show is her own, pushing her to deploy her talent, charm and encyclopedic culinary chops to solve challenges.

“My creativity comes from being put in difficult situations,” El-Waylly said during a break in shooting an upcoming episode.

The series riffs on a game show, with a spinning wheel that determines which challenge El-Waylly will take on.

In the second episode, in which she relies only on items purchased at a bodega to create a tasting menu, El-Waylly pours hot water over potato chips to rinse off the fat and make a mashed potato-esque puree. She expects it to “be gross.” But as she tastes it, a look of sheer satisfaction comes over her face.

Leaving Bon Appetit for an independent YouTube channel could be considered risky, but the payoffs were noticeable almost immediately. The three months it took to create the whole “Stump Sohla” series was about how long it would take to produce one Bon Appetit video, El-Waylly said, given the hurdles of working at a large company with corporate red tape.

Now, she says, “you can just have an idea and go with it while you’re still excited.”

Her show is the first addition into the expanding “Babish Culinary Universe”, a rebrand of Andrew Rea’s popular “Binging With Babish” channel. Just weeks after it started, “Stump Sohla” is driving an average of 2.3 million views per post, and added 30,000 new subscribers to the channel in one day, according to YouTube figures.

“Binging With Babish” started in February 2006 as a cooking program that recreates meals from pop culture and TV shows (the name pays homage to a “West Wing” character). Over 14 years, Rea had a slew of viral hits. The Moist Maker, a Thanksgiving leftover sandwich from “Friends,” put him on the map, Rea said. The simple Italian pasta dish featured in “Chef,” more than 8.6 million views. And the titular dish from “Ratatouille” is his most-viewed video, with more than 24.4 million watches.

“We’re doing everything we can to not let the pandemic interrupt our growth,” Rea said. “Because I think now more than ever, not only are people turning to YouTube for entertainment, but also just for escapism.”

Since the pandemic stopped life in its tracks in mid-March, the average daily views of videos with “cook with me” in the title have increased by over 100%, according to data provided by YouTube.

Earnest Pettie, who leads YouTube’s global trends research, said that food trends at the beginning of the pandemic included sourdough bread, then Dalgona coffee, Basque burnt cheesecake and, now, “island” cakes. The recipe for a successful YouTube channel, he said, is including people in a social conversation that teaches them something new or helps them feel better about themselves.

But the most important ingredient is authenticity — an “it” factor that can’t be manufactured, Rea said. It’s the difference, he said, between YouTube content and a television cooking show where all you see is “this beautiful, perfect person making beautiful, perfect food on their first try.”

And that was what Rea said drove him to direct message El-Waylly on Instagram in June, and ultimately decide she was the perfect person to help him expand his digital food network.

“We’ve been waiting for the opportunity to find somebody new for the channel that was a great fit for our culture and philosophy of being goofballs and having fun while being entertaining and informative, and she embodies that and so much more,” Rea said.

After leaving Bon Appetit, El-Waylly initially announced she would still create digital and magazine content for the brand. But last week she said on Instagram that she ended her “relationship” with the brand. Several of her fellow test kitchen colleagues have also left.

The highly publicized internal turmoil at Bon Appetit sent the brand into a tailspin that included a four-month absence from its YouTube channel, which it started adding new content to this month.

When asked if El-Waylly’s exit from Bon Appetit and the void left by its hiatus was an impetus for Rea’s expansion of his channel, he said no, adding “that’s not really how YouTube works.”

“People decide what they want to watch and who they want to lift up,” he said.

Rea has long had a devoted following on his channel, which YouTube data shows is among the top food programs on the platform, with more than 8 million subscribers and over 1.5 billion channel views.

He has been building out the channel’s offerings for years, adding a beginner-friendly show called “Basics With Babish” in 2017 and expanding into lifestyle content two years later with “Being With Babish.” It features Rea travelling across the country connecting with fans.

That evolution, and frequent crossover episodes with other YouTube personalities and celebrities, gave way to Babish Culinary Universe — a name Rea says was suggested by fans as a nod to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

A crossover El-Waylly wants to make happen? A collaboration with Sean Evans’ popular “Hot Ones” series, where guests eat increasingly spicy chicken wings while being interviewed — but she wants to make all the hot sauces herself.

One of the lessons Rea says he has learned over his YouTube career is to always film every time you cook. He noted that the audience really responds to his process — namely, his mistakes.

“I want people to see it’s OK to make mistakes because they’re learning opportunities,” he said. “Everything that I am and everything that I have been able to do is the product of me being able to learn from and grow from my mistakes.”

That is what he hopes will be part of his legacy — and something he wants to focus on in a memoir he’s thinking about writing.

When asked what he’d call it, he stopped, thought for a minute and said, “I Done F——- Up.”

By The Associated Press

cooking

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leaves the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Conservatives push for parliamentary committee study into failed vaccine deal

OTTAWA — The federal Conservatives are calling for a parliamentary committee to… Continue reading

(Red Deer Advocate file photo).
Red Deer County seeks public feedback on draft budget

Minimal impact on ratepayers was the goal

(Advocate file photo).
RDC’s The Nutcracker is being videotaped for online viewing

COVID-19 presents challenges for live performance

Trail RCMP report three impaired driving investigations. Photo: Black Press file
New drunk driving rules allow police to impose tougher penalties immediately

New impaired driving regulations started on Tuesday

(Lacombe Express file photo)
Lacombe County holds the line on taxes

Staff hiring freeze planned for 2021 to make up for lost oil and gas revenue

Idyllic winter scenes are part of the atmosphere of the holiday season, and are depicted in many seasonal movies. How much do you know about holiday movies? Put your knowledge to the test. (Pixabay.com)
QUIZ: Test your knowledge of holiday movies and television specials

The festive season is a time for relaxing and enjoying some seasonal favourites

Toronto police respond to an incident at St. Michael’s College School, in Toronto, Nov. 19, 2018. The trial of a teen accused of sexually assaulting two students at a prestigious Toronto high school is set to resume today. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tijana Martin
Trial resumes for teen accused in St. Michael’s College School sex assault case

Defence lawyers for a teen accused of sexually assaulting two students at… Continue reading

Minister of Health Patty Hajdu responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. The Trump administration is keeping silent about Canada blocking its plan to import prescription drugs from north of the border. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trump admin silent after Hajdu pushes back on U.S. plan to raid Canada’s drug cabinet

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Trump administration is keeping silent about Canada blocking… Continue reading

Quebec City mayor Regis Labeaume, right, speaks at the inauguration of a memorial to the 2017 mosque shooting, Tuesday, December 1, 2020 in Quebec City. From the left, Luce Pelletier, artist who designed the memorial, MP Joel Lightbound, Boufeldja Benabdallah, and MNA Joelle Boutin.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
Quebec City’s memorial to 2017 mosque shooting victims symbolizes defeat of hatred

Quebec City has inaugurated a memorial to the victims of the 2017… Continue reading

A scene from last year’s Light the Night fundraiser at the Stettler Town and Country Museum. This year’s rendition is on a drive-through basis only, but it still promises to be a not-to-be-missed seasonal highlight. (Independent file photo)
Stettler Town and Country Museum hosts ‘Light the Night’

This year’s rendition is drive-through only, but will still prove to be a dazzling display

Opinion piece
Opinion: A down payment on recovery, details to come

Just to be clear: Justin Trudeau’s government has not acquired the ability… Continue reading

(Black Press File Photo)
Rimbey woman gathering Christmas gifts for seniors at Valleyview Manor

Margaret Tanasiuk says she doesn’t want anyone to feel forgotten on Christmas morning

Mike Miltimore, seen in Kamloops, B.C., in an undated handout photo, says the Gretsch electric guitar that a woman brought into his store is from 1955 and similar to one played by country music legend Chet Atkins before he developed his signature series of guitars. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Mike Miltimore
Guitar made in 1950s worth more than B.C. family imagined

KAMLOOPS, B.C. — When Renee Latheur decided to take an old guitar… Continue reading

Lewis Hamilton won the German Grand Prix after Sebastian Vettel crashed while leading near the end. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Hamilton positive for COVID-19, will miss F1’s Sakhir GP

SAKHIR, Bahrain — Seven-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton has tested positive… Continue reading

Most Read