You know you love those viral Tasty food videos from BuzzFeed that have turned the food media world into an upside-down cake. They aren’t filmed with a cast of thousands behind the scenes. Even if the studio space is in the heart of Hollywood, everybody sets up their own equipment, swaps out the table tops for different sets, buys their own ingredients and, yes, washes their own dishes.
We recently caught up with three of the stars behind the creative process at the largest social food network, which reaches more than 300 million people per month, to dish about what makes their unconventional trial-and-error cooking shows so wildly popular and whether it’s really possible to make a three-course meal using only a coffee pot.
Alexis deBoschnek works across recipe development and new formats at Tasty as a senior test kitchen manager. After a quick stint in the fashion industry, she worked at Tasting Table and EAT Club while attending culinary school at the International Culinary Center in New York before joining Tasty.
As she’ll tell you, any good chef should be able to cook with anything, so producers in the Hollywood studio stripped the kitchen of all appliances except for the coffee machine and challenged her culinary prowess. The video of her using the coffee maker to prepare a three-course meal of chocolate truffles, shrimp salad, olive oil–poached salmon and asparagus has gotten almost 8 million views. Her latest video, “Can This Chef Make a Three-Course Meal With a Clothing Iron” got 3 million views in three days and gave a whole new meaning to grilled lamb chops.
“People love to see me struggle and see where my imagination will take me,” the classically trained chef told L.A. Weekly about her appliance cuisine. “I think they are fascinated that you can make something that looks pretty high-end with something so limited. The biggest challenge is the limited amount of heat, so one dish can take two hours to make. We just finished one with a microwave and it was just one disaster after another. All my assumptions of it were so wrong. Things were overcooked, food exploded, things caught fire.
“I think Tasty has such a global reach because it’s for home cooks who are actually trying our recipes,” deBoschnek says. “We have so many diverse recipes now on the site. People like to see the process, they like to see the personalities and things that aren’t totally perfect. It’s more relatable. Everything you see in those videos is real — there are no retakes. The reactions are real.”
Where staffing comes in is in production and time spent on the videos themselves. The overhead cooking demos can be shot in four hours, and an 11-minute show usually takes a day. Then it goes through various chains like the editing process, social media and copy editing. Once a video is published, about 30 people have gone over it to make sure it’s at the highest standard. It can be edited four or five times before it’s finished.
Rie McClenny is from Japan and studied culinary arts at the International Culinary Center. She worked as a chef at Rustic Canyon in Santa Monica and at A.O.C. with Suzanne Goin before joining BuzzFeed as a recipe developer for Tasty Japan and now Tasty U.S. She shoots and edits all of her own videos — for example, how to eat Japanese all day from breakfast to dinner, or how to make a raindrop cake. She comes up with the ideas, then shoots and edits.
“Tasty is different because it’s more approachable than the other food networks,” McClenny says. “We make sure all the ingredients are accessible all over the country. We make sure the steps are easy to follow. I think people feel more connected to us.” BuzzFeed says Tasty inspires real action, with 67 percent of its audience having created a recipe IRL.
It was a challenge producing content for Tasty Japan in an L.A. studio more than 5,000 miles from Tokyo, but McClenny’s attention to detail and knowledge of the culture made it all authentic.
“Japanese egg yolk is more orange than American egg yolks, so I had to make sure mine looked more orange,” she says. “Supplies had to look authentic like the chopsticks. They also don’t like seeing any jewelry, so I always had to take my wedding ring off. Growing up in Japan, I know those little subtleties. The rice is different. If you buy sushi rice, you have to make sure it’s short grain instead of medium grain. That’s what we’re accustomed to in Japan. So I shopped at Japanese grocery stores to get authentic ingredients, like Marukai Market in Little Tokyo. They have everything I need.”
And speaking of raindrop cakes, video producer Alix Traeger’s hysterical and nerve-racking 10-day process of trying to perfect a giant version of the gelatinous confection is riveting. Her career at Tasty started with the now-famous overhead cooking demos, including her favorite banana bread/cheesecake mashup. Like her colleagues, Traeger has tens of thousands of hyper-engaged fans who closely follow her personal accounts across social media.
“I’ve never been to culinary school and really just sort of fell into food media as it was starting to evolve,” Traeger, a Loyola Marymount University graduate, tells L.A. Weekly. “Because it’s still new, we get the opportunity to pave the way and redefine food media in our own era. We started doing the trial and error just for fun, and it started resonating with people. We found an area that was so lacking in food media that people actually felt inspired to start cooking and felt comfortable in their own skills. The others show perfection and making a meal without trial and error. That’s one way of doing it, but most of the world doesn’t cook that way.
“I’m happy that people have found a way to see themselves in me,” she adds. “And it takes the pressure off me not to be perfect. We have a lot more room to play than the big cooking shows. I’ve always loved cooking and think that everybody should learn how to cook and know how to cook, it’s such a basic necessity. You don’t have to be perfect and it can be fun.”
So what happens to all that food at the end of the day?
“We try our best not to waste anything,” says Traeger, whose favorite moment is her triumph of the completed dish. “We have a message channel in the office, so whenever we finish making something, we’ll message out the whole office and announce available leftovers on the leftover table. Usually before I’ve even made it down the stairs from the kitchen, people are already hovering.”