What’s Next for Andrew Rea
Andrew Rea didn’t mean to become a YouTube sensation, but more than a year after making a cooking video for Reddit’s food community, Binging with Babish has become his full-time job.
Each week, Rea faithfully recreates the food seen in movies and TV shows, ranging from the realistic (Boeuf Bourguignon from Julie & Julia) to the absurd (Eggs Woodhouse from Archer). He recently released a special cocktail episode in celebration of hitting one million subscribers on YouTube, which is no small accomplishment for someone who started out as a filmmaker with a hobby.
“It can get very involved for sometimes the silliest of reasons,” says Rea, who spent 9 hours searching for a can of citrus soft drink Surge in order to make Barney Stinson’s Hangover Fixer Elixir from How I Met Your Mother.
“It’s a disgusting beverage that apparently instantly cures a hangover. My whole gag with this [Cocktail Special] episode is that I make six different cocktails and the next day I wake up hungover, and I make his elixir. One of the ingredients is a fictional soda called Tantrum, and the branding looks exactly like Surge so I figured it was a parody of that. So I went on a manhunt for Surge on Saturday – I traveled all the way up and down the Jersey Shore, up and down the length of Manhattan, and then into Brooklyn, and eventually finally found some.”
Behind the Binge
So, what helped Andrew Rea turn his hobby into a career?
“A lot of luck and a little bit of innovation, I think,” says Rea. “I actually only intended to ever make one episode. I had bought some camera and light equipment to do some freelance work; I just wanted to practice food lighting and see if I could make anything halfway decent come out of my kitchen. I thought I’d just do it once for fun, but I really enjoyed doing it and people seemed to like it so I kept going.”
In addition to luck, part of his early success came from the Redditors who upvoted his videos to the website’s front page.
“Being embraced by the Reddit community was a huge factor,” says Rea. “I meant for this to be a show that caters specifically to the food subreddit, and that was slow going for a while, but then somebody posted my Thanksgiving episode to Reddit Videos and it just kind of blew up a little bit. From there on out, they would consistently end up in the top three. The community for the most part has been extremely supportive and I’ve worked very hard to engage them as much as I can in the comments.”
The name of his YouTube channel comes from his Reddit username, OliverBabish, which is an homage to actor Oliver Platt’s The West Wing character. In a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) earlier this year, Rea acknowledged that he was a fan of both the actor and the show. Knowing that, it’s not very surprising that Rea explored the Binging with Babish concept because of his own interests in pop culture and food.
“I was curious what the foods in film and television taste like,” says Rea. “Little did I know that that would drive traffic to videos in a big way [because] new, unfamiliar viewers would immediately see, ‘Oh, the Krabby Patty! I’ve always wanted to see that made in real life.’ Then once they’re in there, they see other videos with the same branding, you know, it’s clearly the same show in all the thumbnails, and they see another food that they like. I really lucked across that; I didn’t plan that out.”
The enthusiastic support of the Reddit community has also contributed to a few collaborations between Rea and other YouTubers, including Nick Fisher of Cocktail Chemistry, who appeared in the Twin Peaks Pancakes & Coffee episode.
“Cocktail Chemistry was at the insistence of the Reddit community,” says Rea. “I looked at his videos, I liked his style – it’s actually very similar – and he told me that he was gonna be in New York for a few days so we hung out, we shot it quick. It was a lot of fun.”
Other collaborations, like an appearance on Ashwin Enjoys Nature, have simply come about because Rea is a fan of their channels, and he plans to continue collaborating with other creators.
“I’m gonna be on First We Feast – Sean Evans (of Hot Ones and Sean in the Wild) came out here and we shot a Fourth of July episode that’s coming up where we make Smashburgers,” says Rea. “I do see a lot more collaborations happening in the future. There’s a lot of YouTubers that I really like and admire, and I’d love to work with them.”
His popularity on Reddit and YouTube has also given him the opportunity to appear at events as a guest.
“I was invited to Colossal Clusterfest in San Francisco, which is a big comedy festival,” says Rea. “Like the Bonnaroo of comedy festivals, they called it. I appeared on stage with a Michelin-starred chef and Sarah Rich, who’s one of the best chefs in SF. I lost, but it was a really surreal, incredible experience because most of the people in the audience were there to see me. Afterwards, they all wanted to get pictures [and] chat. Nothing like that has ever happened to me before.”
Beyond the Binge
Binging with Babish now has its own subreddit, where fans of the show post video requests, questions, and their own attempts at Rea’s recipes. In addition to commenting on these posts, he uses the platform to ask for feedback and make announcements about the YouTube channel.
“[Reddit] is important to me personally just because it’s where I got my start and because I really like the community,” says Rea. “It’s pretty incredible how many people seem to get something more from the show than just something fun to watch.”
Now that Rea is able to focus on cooking videos full-time, he’s planning to expand his YouTube cooking channel with new shows.
“[The] activity and participation made me realize people are entertained by this but a lot of people are using it as a learning tool,” says Rea. “They sort of identify with my presentation and they’re able to grow on it and make something of it themselves, and that’s why I want to launch – very soon – a new series called Basics with Babish that’s going to be a purely instructional series about how to grow your confidence in the kitchen.”
Many fans of Binging with Babish are inspired by the show because Rea doesn’t have any professional culinary training, which is something that can make his recipes seem less intimidating to a novice cook.
“First off, I don’t think it’s as impressive as people make out because if you ask anybody who has had formal training, they’ll be like, ‘Yeah, no way has he gone to culinary school.’ They can see right away,” says Rea. “I think people get a lot of confidence from the fact that I am self-taught, because it’s like, ‘If he can do it, I can do it!’ And that’s absolutely true, but anything you see me do, I learned by practicing and by trying and failing. That’s part of learning in any part of life but especially in cooking: you gotta try, you gotta fail, and you gotta try again.”
Although he doesn’t expect an instructional series to take off the way Binging with Babish has, he thinks Basics with Babish will help more people explore the possibilities of cooking at home.
“Binging will continue until the end of time, [but] the feedback [about Basics] has been nothing but, ‘I can’t wait to see this,'” says Rea. “So, even if it gets a significantly smaller audience, the fact that people are able to watch these things and try cooking for the first time or try cooking more complicated things or cook for their girlfriends or for parents or whatever – it’s really nice, and it’s a lot more important to me than cracking a million views every video.”
Because he’s often asked by viewers what tools they need to start cooking at home, Rea had no trouble figuring out what Basics with Babish should cover first.
“I get so many emails and messages asking me, ‘What do I need to get started in the kitchen?’ and it’s a big, complicated, kind of scary question,” says Rea. “I’ve created a list of 10 essential things that if you get at least the top 5 of these, you’ll be able to create a litany of different dishes once you master the technique.”
Rea also says Basics with Babish will be what he’s dubbed “a semi-serialized cooking show” that can be watched in or out of order.
“You can watch any given episode you want, but if you watch it in order it’s almost like a cookery course in disguise,” explains Rea. “For instance, one of the earlier episodes will be about salsas because that is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate all different kinds of knife skills. [Another episode might be about] stews, like boeuf bourguignon or coq au vin, both of which utilize a huge number of techniques like braising and searing and deglazing and butchering and, you know, all different kinds of essential skills.”
But what will be the biggest difference between Basics with Babish and Binging with Babish – at least for Rea? He won’t be doing it alone.
“I make Binging with Babish front to back entirely myself,” says Rea. “I hit record on the camera, I run around to the other side of the table, I cook, I run back around and hit stop, I take the footage into the other room, I edit it on my computer in my bedroom, I do the voiceover, I do the color correct. It’s very time-consuming and not a very efficient way to make a show, so I will absolutely be collaborating with others to make [new shows].”
Having a full-time YouTube cooking channel has allowed Rea to focus on several new projects, including one that will take his work offline.
“I’ve got a cookbook coming out in October, I’m trying to launch Basics with Babish, [and] I have a concept for a sort of travel and food show that I’m working on right now that I’m hoping I can launch maybe in the fall,” says Rea. “I guess the takeaway from [Binging with Babish] is to keep trying to innovate, keep trying to make things that people haven’t seen before, and keep trying to surprise people. I’d really love to eventually branch out beyond YouTube and become a part of the culinary institution in America, just creating content for different platforms [and] creating merchandise that I think is valuable to home cooks.”
Although he never expected to become a chef whose videos have millions of views, Rea is grateful for the opportunities the success of Binging with Babish has brought so far.
“I never thought that I could potentially be a personality of any kind or, you know, something approaching a public figure, whatever I am,” says Rea, who now gets to list “YouTube personality” as his job title. “There’s really no other way to describe it; that’s what I’ve come to think of myself as. It’s really exciting that somehow I’ve found the platform where people want to hear what I’ve got to say and I’m excited to tell them more.”
Oh, and about that magical hangover cure?
“It was an order of magnitude worse than Eggs Woodhouse, because it’s bananas, Funyons, fresh ginger, bacon grease, and Tantrum,” says Rea. “It was gross.”
You can watch him try that and other concoctions in the Cocktail Special below.
To enjoy more of Andrew Rea’s cooking videos, visit the Binging with Babish website and YouTube channel. His cookbook, Eat What You Watch: A Cookbook for Movie Lovers, is currently available for pre-order.