Here’s how Patrick Zeinali describes his cooking philosophy: “I don’t like to make complicated meals. I like to make simple meals. I wanted to show people how easy it is to start cooking and how you could use, you know, not too many ingredients to make whatever you want to make.” Making cooking more accessible is still one of the core motivations behind the Patrick Zeinali YouTube channel.

We had a chance to chat with Patrick about his early days in the kitchen and on TikTok, finding success on YouTube and where he wants to take his channel in the future.

Patrick Zeinali
Subscribers: 4.25M
Uploads: 241
Video views: 2,037,567,159
Content type: Entertainment

User created: Oct 9rd, 2011

Patrick Zeinali in the kitchen

When asked how he got into cooking, Patrick points to his dad. “He was the guy that made us dinner,” Patrick tells us, explaining that his dad worked as a line cook in restaurants around L.A. “I always went into the kitchen, helped him out here and there, and I was just always interested in food.”

Even before making a career out of cooking online, Patrick’s interest in food came in handy. “When I moved out of my parents house … the rent was a little expensive for some guy that worked at Domino’s Pizza,” Patrick admits. “So, I had a deal with my roommate where he paid a little bit more, but I would make us dinner three times a week.” This turned out to be a great deal. Not only did it give Patrick a discount on rent, but it also provided him with lots of opportunities to fine-tune his recipes and techniques.

Patrick also drew inspiration from the YouTube chefs that came before him. “I was watching, like, ‘Binging with Babish,’” Patrick says. “I remember watching and just being inspired by them, like, ‘Whoa, that’s cool.’ Like, they get to make food and show people how to cook. So I made a lot of their recipes, and I was like, ‘Ooh, it’d be cool if I would be able to do that, too. That seems like a fun job.’” At this point, however, the thought of making YouTube a full-time career felt like an impossible dream.

Made for sharing

Despite his long-held connection to food, Patrick Zeinali started his cooking channel almost by accident. He downloaded TikTok in late 2019 after being bombarded with ads for the video-sharing app. It wasn’t long before Patrick realized the potential for a regular person to go viral. So, he started posting.

Patrick had only posted a few TikToks when one of them took off: “It went viral — like mega-viral, not only TikTok but like on Twitter; it went viral on Instagram,” Patrick recalls. So, what was this video that found such a following?

“I make dinner for my girlfriend,” Patrick explains, “and almost every night, I record myself handing her food.” By then, Patrick’s girlfriend was used to appearing in his videos, so this didn’t seem like anything special. “I had no idea what I was going to do with the video,” says Patrick, “and then I made a compilation of that, put it behind some music, uploaded it, and then it went viral.” For Patrick, this was extremely validating. “The feeling felt so good,” he remembers. “You’re like, ‘Okay, I love making food. This worked. Let’s make some food videos.’”

YouTube vs. TikTok

“The stability of TikTok was based off of [its] algorithm,” Patrick observes, “Not really your followers, you know, it didn’t even really matter.” This reliance on the TikTok algorithm made success hard to predict. “You can’t just go and say, I can guarantee I’ll get 100,000 views on this. It was just like, it might get a hundred thousand, a million or five.” It was this instability that drove Patrick to explore other platforms.

At the same time, long-from YouTube videos seemed like too much time and effort. “[Long-form content] was a little daunting at the time,” Patrick explains, “because you’re like, ‘What? Am I supposed to be perfect at this?’ And the answer now, I realize, is no. But at the time I didn’t know.”

So, Patrick stuck to posting TikTok videos until 2021. That’s when YouTube launched YouTube Shorts. With Shorts, a more casual short-form video format, YouTube relieved some of that perfectionist anxiety and gave TikTok creators a natural entry point into the YouTube ecosystem. The world of YouTube opened up for Patrick.

Today, Patrick considers YouTube his main platform, though he still posts to TikTok and Instagram, as well. In addition to more predictable video performance, Patrick cites YouTube’s continued support for creators as one of the main reasons for his attachment to the platform: “Where TikTok feels like a transaction or YouTube feels like, ‘Okay, this is where you’re welcomed. And then, here are all the tools that you need to, like, make the best video possible.”

From virality to profitability

Three years later, Patrick Zeinali considers YouTube his full-time career. He says most of his income comes from either Google AdSense or sponsored brand deals. Earning revenue through AdSense is relatively straightforward, but brand deals can be a little bit more elusive. Patrick says building a strong network of fellow creators is one of the best ways to find sponsors:

“I have so many creative friends and we all talk to each other all day long. And then you’ll have somebody say, ‘Oh, you know, whatever brand is running a campaign right now.’ That’s how you now know, ‘Okay, they’re ready to spend some money on influencers.’”

Patrick says this is the time to reach out to brands — you already know they want to work with people like you to promote their products. The other option is to simply reach out to brands and tell them about your channel. However, this can have mixed results: “Sometimes they’re like, ‘Well, we’re not running a campaign right now. We’ll let you know if we are.’ And they kind of forget about you,” Patrick explains, “but, you know, it never hurts to just reach out and ask. Sometimes that works.”

Additionally, Patrick explains to us that when you get to a viral point in your content creation, it’s important to start thinking of it as an legitimate business. “The real challenge is finding people who can help support and structure your business. Luckily, I found my manager, Doug Landers, founder of Greenlight Group, who helped me with the complexities of running a successful content channel. Going from a solo production to then employing multiple people to meet the demand of content is time-consuming and hectic.”

Patrick Zeinali’s production process

Image courtesy: Patrick Zeinali

The production process always starts with an idea, but for Patrick, this can be one of the most challenging parts. “You’re always trying to one-up yourself,” Patrick admits. Related to that is the (irrational) fear of a video bombing and bringing down his whole channel: “It’s always the fear of like … this might all come to an end right now,” Patrick says, “because you’ve seen so many creators come and go … I don’t want to be the come and go guy. I want to be like, come and stay for a very long time.” To combat this fear, Patrick always challenges himself to come up with the best ideas possible.

To do that, he turns to Instagram, TikTok and YouTube for inspiration: “I’ll see what inspires me that day and what gets me, like, excited about a recipe.” From there, he brainstorms ways to put his own spin on that concept.

For Shorts, Patrick focuses on simple recipes that get him energized and excited, knowing that energy will come through in his video. Then, the production process is simple. He keeps a running shot list in his head and shoots everything himself. “It’s like a formula at this point,” Patrick says. Over the years, he’s figured out what shots he needs and which ones he can skip.

For longer videos, Patrick works with a partner who’s equally obsessed with YouTube. “It’s nice to have that person that’s obsessed with YouTube,” Patrick reflects, “because we could talk about it forever and we’ll come up with ideas together.” These longer videos use a loose script as a framework and take a bit more planning to execute properly.

Patrick also employs an editor to cut together longer uploads. However, he suggests new creators start by doing their own editing. That way, you can establish a style that works for you that you can teach to hired editors down the line.

Grabbing viewers’ attention

Like all successful creators, Patrick recognizes the importance of hooking viewers early and drawing them into your video.

“If we’re talking about short-form videos,” Patrick says, “the greatest strategy for me is the hook of the video … I spend the most time on the first three seconds of the video.” For Patrick’s food videos, this often means showing the final dish and teasing just how easy it was to make. “I found a formula that works for me with the help of my manager, Doug Landers, who is great at content creation strategy,” Patrick says, “I make five or less ingredients [recipes].” This creates a curiosity gap that keeps viewers watching and boosts engagement.

For longer videos, Patrick’s focus is on optimizing the title and thumbnail. Most often, Patrick will know the title of the video before it’s even shot. “Nowadays with YouTube, you have so many creators, your titles need to stick out,” Patrick emphasizes.

He gives an example: “I cooked 100 years of school lunch. It’s like that in itself. It’s just so interesting. Instead of saying that, I could have been like … ‘I cooked school lunches,’ right? But it’s like, there’s so much more to that, right? A hundred years? What did they have? Like, now that interest pops up.”

Thumbnails are equally important to Patrick, and he goes out of his way to analyze as many thumbnails as he can: “I follow a lot of people on Twitter that do thumbnails, so I’m always looking at thumbnails.” He’s also lucky to have a girlfriend who is willing to do graphic design work for his channel.

Here’s his advice for anyone trying to make better thumbnails. “If you are on TikTok or whatever … and you clicked on a video or you’re watching it, literally sit there, stop the video, start it from the beginning and go, ‘What caught my attention and why did I stay for this video?’ Then take that reasoning and apply it to your video.”

Finally, Patrick reminds us to deliver on your thumbnail and title within the first 10 to 15 seconds while thinking about how those opening shots will resonate with viewers: “Take your most interesting shots that relate to the video and make those the forefront.”

Advice for new creators

“I tell this to everyone that wants to get into social media: Just start filming and make the worst videos.” That’s Patrick’s advice for anyone looking to break into the online video space. “That’s it … You just need to do it.” He goes on to remind us that it takes time to build an audience, so the most important thing is to stay consistent and keep making content. “You know, like [your first video is] just going to do bad, and that’s fine because you’re going to learn.”

He says the important thing is to look back at each video to see how audiences reacted and how you can improve in the next one. “You don’t need thousands of views to work off of data,” Patrick reminds us. “You can work off of like hundreds of views or even 60 views. And then just really analyze that … just try to make each video a little bit better every time and it will 100% get there.”

To get started, Patrick says to find videos and creators that you like and try to emulate that style — “but way more simple.” Patrick has observed that many new creators tend to overcomplicate the production process, himself included. “Simplify your process,” he says. “If I were to go the other way … I mean, [make it] a complex way of shooting, I feel like it would turn me off and I’ll get burnt out a lot quicker … so my one piece of advice for anyone that’s starting off is just keep the process simple.”

Look forward to more Patrick Zeinali recipes

Now that Patrick is past the “just starting out” phase, his next step is to expand his team. “The plan is to grow the team, get more people, get producers, get script writers — just start building out a team and making bigger and better videos.”

Like everything else he does, the end goal for Patrick Zeinali is simple: “I really want to become the I want to become one of the biggest food creators on the platform,” Patrick reveals. “And even if I don’t, I’m going to try to get there as much as I can. So that’s what we have for the future plans. It’s just bigger, better videos and it’s literally one video at a time.”