Food-loving culture is everywhere these days and nowhere is it more prominent than on television. Thanks to the popularity of shows like “Top Chef,” “Hell’s Kitchen,” “The Next Food Network Star” and other shows, foodie-loving programming on network and cable television is being broadcast to millions of American households. And these shows bring the culinary personalities who host them more than just face time: one list put together by Serious Eats estimates that Rachael Ray (“30 Minute Meals” and “The Rachel Ray Show”) earns 18 million a year, with chefs like Mario Batali and Paula Deen also raking in huge salaries (3 and 4.5 million, respectively)
But Latino cooks – the ones who pride themselves on making perfect tamales, healthy makeovers of classic Puerto Rican meals or intricate desserts – aren’t waiting for casting directors to turn them into the next Aarón Sanchez or Daisy Martinez. Instead, a growing number of Latino foodies are turning to YouTube with great success, proving that you may not need the support of the Food Network or Cooking Channel to make a splash.
Take for example, blogger Raiza Costa. Shortly after moving from Brazil to New York City in 2009, Costa began her blog Dulce Delight as a way to feature her intricate, mouth-watering desserts. Costa felt that sticking to a traditional blog didn’t fully convey her personality – fun, bubbly and girly – and decided to film short cooking segments, using a hand-held video camera propped on moving boxes. Four years later, the 25-year-old food vlogger has more than 2 million views on her YouTube channel, has a line of vintage-inspired whimsical kitchen wear in production and has a contract for her show to be developed for broadcast in her native Brazil.
“My videos have always had a totally different approach from what is seen on TV,” says Costa, whose revenue from videos has recently allowed her to pursue blogging full time. “The whole TV thing is about cooking stuff that’s quick and easy. I approach pastry like art and take my time to show you how to really master different techniques.”
For Costa, YouTube offered her the chance to develop her skills for the people who wanted it, when they wanted it.
“Social media really enables people to choose their content and control their viewing experience,” remarks Costa, whose videos average 10 minutes in length. “I love the fact that people are empowered by watching me and can identify with what I do.”
That sense of fitting outside the norm – but finding an online audience that for lack of a better word, eats it up – is exactly what has encouraged Nicole Presley to produce high-energy, off-beat YouTube cooking videos.
“It’s like Pee Wee’s fun house for traditional Mexican food from a girl that’s nerdy and quirky,” says Presley, whose special-effects heavy videos take her upwards of 21 hours to film at her home in Los Angeles, California. And it’s all a labor of love, explains Presley, whose crew consists of her fiancé and close friends – all entertainment industry professionals with credits ranging from music videos for Snoop Dogg and Sting to production on MTV’s “Jackass” series. Their only payment for the videos that they produce every two months comes from corporate sponsorships, which to date include The Idaho Potato Commission and Babble, a Walt Disney Co.-owned parenting website.
“I saw video as a way to do something that was completely different from the norm of what you see from Latina cooking personalities – less va va voom, more personality,” says Presley, who began filming webisodes in 2011.
Presley and Costa aren’t alone in their efforts to turn YouTube into their personal broadcast network.
Back in 2008, Jaime Montalvo Jr. asked a neighbor to tape him cooking healthy Latin dishes in his Queens, New York kitchen. Now, the 53-year-old has racked up more than 96,000 views on his YouTube channel and his “Soraya Sobreidad’s ‘FIERCE’ Cooking Show” is available in more than a million households through Queens Public television and Manhattan Neighborhood Network. And other bloggers – like Alejandra Ramos of “Always Order Dessert” and Bren Herrera of “Flanboyant Eats” – have each turned cooking tutorials and travel video ventures into full-fledged lifestyle brands.
“YouTube has become a platform where everyone – including these Latina cooking personalities – have been able to control their product and reach a niche audience,” says Mirta Ojito, an assistant professor at Columbia University’s Journalism School.
Technology and media expert Ariel Coro agrees. “Thanks to social media, you don’t have to wait to be discovered like you used to be,” says Coro. “Right now, there’s a lack of content that speaks to a certain segment of Latino viewers and they’re finding that content on YouTube, which in turn is helping these vloggers find success.”
Pointing to the example of Justin Bieber – who was famously “discovered” on YouTube — and the recent debut of Simon Cowell’s new global audition channel “The You Generation,” which allows users to submit audition videos in hopes of winning a cash prize – Coro says that now, more than ever, Latino vloggers can create mainstream media exposure for themselves.
“Latinos should feel empowered by technology to elevate themselves – there’s no going back,” says Coro.
“It’s all about the mission you bring – and how ready people are to receive it.”