Andrew Rea isn’t afraid of making mistakes. In fact, the creator of Babish Culinary Universe on YouTube embraces them. When asked how he learned to cook, Andrew responded honestly.
“I learned everything I know from f***ing it up personally,” Andrew said.
Rather than becoming discouraged at the various setbacks life has thrown his way — both in and out of the kitchen — Andrew turns these obstacles into learning opportunities. We had a chance to chat with Andrew about why he started “Binging with Babish,” how he makes his videos and where his unstoppable ambition is taking him next.
Babish Culinary Universe
Video Views: 1,930,781,329
Channel Type: Entertainment
USER CREATED: Aug 21st, 2006
YouTube as a creative outlet
Andrew says his now-thriving career on YouTube was actually “born out of depression and needing a new creative outlet.” For him, the feeling was clear.
“I need to be making things again,” Andrew said.
What was less clear was exactly how this feeling could best be expressed. At first, Andrew says, he wanted to make documentaries. That’s what initially inspired him to invest in a camera and production gear. Then, Andrew set his sights on a career in food photography. Eventually, these two interested evolved into his hit show “Binging with Babish”, part of the Babish Culinary Universe channel.
The inspiration behind Binging with Babish
Andrew didn’t start out as a professional chef. For a time, Andrew worked as a restaurant dessert plater. That makes sense. You need only watch one episode of “Binging with Babish” to know that, for Andrew, presentation and aesthetics are just as important as taste in his recipes.
Beyond that, his commercial cooking experience is limited to say the least. After working in one restaurant for a single day — he gouged his finger badly during his first shift — Andrew decided commercial restaurant work wasn’t for him. If you’re curious, you can find the whole story in Andrew’s next cookbook, “Basics with Babish.”
Rather than in a professional kitchen, Andrew learned to cook at home. He spent his childhood cooking with his mother, whose memory has inspired his lifelong passion for food. Obviously a huge cooking nerd, Andrew now takes inspiration from cooking legends such as Kenji Lopez-Alt of Serious Eats and the talented chefs at America’s Test Kitchen. In both cases, these meticulous chefs are willing to think beyond traditional methods in the pursuit of better results. If you’ve ever paged through Kenji’s hefty “Food Lab” cookbook, you’ll know that the expected answer isn’t always the right one. But it takes patience and experimentation to figure that out.
It’s a theme we see reflected in Andrew’s own videos. One iteration is never enough; Andrew’s videos often portray the journey from mediocre recipe to homemade masterpiece. He isn’t satisfied until the dish looks and tastes exceptional. For proof, simply watch “Binging with Babish: Sugar Chicken from Rick & Morty.” In it, a blasé copy-cat recipe for Panda Express’s orange chicken is swapped for an innovative recipe that Andrew describes as “entirely our own invention.” Essentially, it uses lots of citrus peels to infuse sugar for a uniquely flavorful dish.
As seen on TV
Like many cooks, Andrew doesn’t like to work in silence. He explains that he’s a huge TV fan and keeps it on in the background the way other people listen to podcasts.
“Star Trek: Next Generation,” “Fraser” and “Parks and Recreation” make up some of Andrew’s favorites. In fact, Andrew’s career as a YouTube chef began with a classic episode of “Parks and Rec,” titled “Soulmates.” In it, Ron Swanson, the traditionalist Parks department director, outcooks his gourmand competitor and City Manager, Chris Traeger. As Ron grills up a simple beef patty to perfection, Chris crafts an elaborate turkey burger in an effort to prove lean meat can be just as satisfying.
Scrolling all the way back to the beginning of Babish , we see many hallmarks of Andrew’s cooking and filming style are already cauterized in that first episode of Binging with Babish: “Parks & Rec Burger Cookoff.” We join Andrew’s torso as he recreates Chris Traeger’s gourmet turkey burger. Andrew’s signature droll voice over guides us through the cooking process, from the intro — “Hi Reddit” — to the final taste test. Just like the Parks and Rec staff in the episode, Andrew initially fawns over the complexity and flavor of the turkey burger. In the end, however, no one can deny the beef patty’s superiority.
Grinding your way to YouTube success
After making his first Binging with Babish video, Andrew just kept going. He describes having a “manic energy after work” that allowed him to cook for, record and edit new videos at an impressive pace.
Looking back, Andrew said it takes a strong work ethic to get a channel off the ground, but he doesn’t recommend creators “grind like crazy” in the same way he did in the beginning.
“It took me a long time to find balance,” Andrew said. “It’s a lifelong process.”
Andrew added that it’s great to be “so enlivened by something that you can’t put it down,” but he also reminds us that “there’s an expiration date to that.”
Luckily for Andrew and his viewers, this initial grind eventually brought him sustainable success. Once his channel was bringing in more income than his full-time job, Andrew made “a safe and measured decision” to focus wholly on YouTube. Today, Andrew brings in at least half of his channel revenue from sponsored content. The rest comes from a combination of YouTube’s AdSense, cookbook and cookware sales, Patreon and public appearances.
“It took me a long time to find balance. It’s a lifelong process.”
Engaging with fans off of YouTube
Speaking of Patreon, Andrew admits that he isn’t as good of a “Patreon dad” as he would like to be. He does still post early and bonus content to the platform with additional context for his most loyal supporters. More recently, Andrew also created a Patron-exclusive Babish Discord community.
Though Andrew doesn’t find other social media platforms useful in growing his YouTube channel at this point in his career, he reminds new creators that “you don’t know where something will take off.” With this in mind, he says it’s good to be visible as much as possible when just starting out.
How to cook and shoot video at the same time
Fellow ambitious home cooks know that cooking dinner often takes longer than expected. Fortunately, most aren’t also recording their cooking adventures — Andrew says to add 2-3 hours to every recipe to account for the time it takes to capture the process on video.
That estimate actually seems low in some instances, especially since Andrew isn’t one to shy away from a challenge.
“I don’t like giving up on a concept,” he said. “I’m very dogged.”
Take, for example, the “Binging with Babish” episode, “Ube Roll from Steven Universe.” Andrew cites this recipe as one of his most challenging yet, in part due to time constraints and too much ambition. In the video, Andrew goes through three different types of Ube and five cake attempts before finally crafting a perfectly spiraled, perfectly purple Ube Roll. Looking back at the episode, Andrew remembers thinking, “If you let it get to you, you’re never going to try again.”
It’s these mistakes and iterations that leave room for the best comedy. And though Babish Culinary Universe is decidedly a cooking channel, it also serves up wholesome comedy in every video. About 90 percent of that comedy is improvised, according to Andrew. That’s because not much is practiced before hitting record. Showing the genuine process creates a story around the recipe that leads to a sense of triumph at the end of every video.
The Babish production team
At first, Andrew worked alone to produce his cooking videos. He played host, camera operator and editor. However, as his channels grew, Andrew brought on a small production team to help streamline the process. The extra hands allow Andrew to tackle more ambitious projects in the kitchen.
On a typical “Babish” production today, there are between one and three people on set. That includes Andrew’s fiancée, Jessica Opon. In fact, Jess is a successful video producer and editor in her own right. Andrew was also able to hire an editor, Brad Cash, as well as a kitchen producer, Kendall Beach.
Kendall, a Culinary Institute of America graduate, helps test out techniques and develop new recipes so that the actual production can run more smoothly. At the same time, Andrew knows that his mistakes add both to his videos’ humor and their teaching potential. That’s why he doesn’t let Kendall tell him much about the recipe before the shoot. He wants to be able to show those surprises and mistakes to his audience.
Andrew has found his production groove with his current team, but it wasn’t always so easy. Thinking back to his first crack at his essential cooking skills series, “Basics with Babish,” he recalls what must have been one of the most frustrating and stressful days of his life.
Knowing he wanted to up the production value for the “Basics” series, Andrew needed a crew. He hired a full production team through a friend, but apparently, there wasn’t much communication beforehand. On the day of production, the team arrived at Andrew’s tiny New York railroad apartment with several Pelican cases full of gear. The set up was too large for the space and already causing issues. But they were there, and there was meat to be seared, so Andrew got started cooking
“I’ll start with something I know I do well,” Andrew remembers thinking. “Steak.”
Unfortunately, by the time Andrew was ready to dig in to his medium-rare masterpiece, it became apparent that almost all of the crew were vegan — “militant vegan,” Andrew emphasizes. Talk about awkward.
It only got worse, however.
“The next thing we shoot is a chicken I have to cut the spine out of,” Andrew said.
Needless to say, Andrew did not work with that film crew again.
“These guys were not down,” he said, “and it showed on camera.”
Then, to top it all off, Andrew said his girlfriend at the time proceeded to break up with him. It was a rough ending to a difficult day, but Andrew would not let that be the end of the “Basics with Babish” series.
Joining an MCN
Andrew said that at around 100,000 subscribers, agents, multi-channel networks and sponsors really start showing interest in a YouTube channel. At around 1 million subscribers, Andrew decided to form a partnership with Kevin Grosch, CEO of Made In Network.
Working with the MCN allowed Andrew to take “Basics with Babish” to its full potential. A big part of that was the new, more cooperative production team the network provided. Especially after the steak vs. vegans fiasco, producing “Basics” with the new team was surprisingly enjoyable.
In addition to providing production resources, Made In Network helps Andrew grow his channel in other ways, assisting with research, content ideas and other administrative stuff for YouTube. Overall, Andrew said it has been a productive relationship.
Factors outside of your control
Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how well-planned or well-produced your content is. External factors can and will impact your channel’s performance. Andrew notes that at the beginning of the pandemic, when more people were cooking at home, the Babish channel experienced a big surge in watch time. Not only were many people suddenly stuck at home, looking for entertainment, many people were learning to cook for themselves for the first time.
This silver lining was soon tarnished, however, when controversy broke across the foodie scene on YouTube. Andrew was confronted with a massive dropoff that brought down viewership across the board. As Andrew notes, this phenomenon shows how interconnected different creators really are.
“YouTube is a community,” he said. “What helps one helps us all; what hurts one hurts us all.”
It wasn’t all bad, however. After her fall out with Bon Appetit, former BA chef Sohla El-Waylly joined the Babish Culinary Universe with her charming show “Stump Sohla.”
Pursuing ambitions beyond YouTube
This volatility highlights the importance of developing revenue streams outside of YouTube. In this arena, Andrew does not lack in ambition. He has used his success on YouTube to explore and pursue numerous other projects and goals.
One of his earliest projects to stem from his channel’s growth was a glossy coffee table cookbook titled “Eat What You Watch: A Cookbook for Movie Lovers.” That book was published in 2017 when Binging with Babish had just 70,000 subscribers. Next came, “Binging with Babish: 100 Recipes Recreated from Your Favorite Movies and TV Shows,” published in 2019. Andrew says this second book serves as a more practical cooking reference — but he isn’t stopping there. Up next is a “Basics with Babish” cookbook, with a release planned for fall 2022.
Aside from books, Andrew is also busy with his recently launched Babish Cookware. It’s a project that has been years in the making. Andrew says he wanted to make “a real, robust cookware brand,” so he held onto the project until the right opportunity came along.
Eventually, that opportunity arrived in the form of a partnership with Gibson USA, a legacy cookware company. Working with Gibson, Andrew has been able to perfect his cooking tools exactly to his standards.
“I know what I like; I know what I’m looking for,” he said.
He has designed the new cookware line to work well for new and experienced cooks alike. Babish Cookware, touted on bingingwithbabish.com as “the basics, made better,” is being released in waves, beginning with an array of kitchen prep tools.
What’s next for Babish Culinary Universe?
But even that isn’t enough for Babish. More than just products, Andrew wants to offer his fans unforgettable experiences. After all, food is a powerful form of storytelling.
He sees three big projects on the horizon. The first is an idea for a brick and mortar restaurant for foodies who want to learn to cook. The dining experience would be part cooking class, part tasting menu. Andrew also wants to pursue more live events in the form of curated, festival-like weekend trips for foodies. Last up is a concept for a “Bed and Babish” foodie vacation rental in the Catskill Mountains, complete with fully stocked and outfitted kitchen.
Finally, Andrew also had some advice for other aspiring YouTube chefs.
“Your best experience as a creator is not going to come from chasing virality,” he said. “Follow the advice that everyone gave you in middle school: be yourself.”
On his channel, viewers learn not to be afraid of making mistakes or of going after what you want. It seems we can gain more than just cooking knowledge from watching Binging with Babish.