FOR ACCLAIMED FOOD-CUM-FILM-MAKER ANDREW REA, BETTER known by his pseudonym Babish, food is not only a celebration of reality but also an extension of fiction. “Babish Culinary Universe,” his YouTube channel with 9.12 million subscribers, is a case in point.
Starting with the name, there’s a novelty to all things Babish. The camera—mounted on the countertop of his home kitchen in New York—reveals only the tattoos on his arms as he walks the audience through inventive recreations of iconic pop culture dishes, sourced from films, T.V. shows, and video games. Ram-don from Parasite is at 10 million views, the Secret Ingredient Soup from Kung Fu Panda at 12 million, Krabby Patty from Spongebob Squarepants at 21 million, and Confit Byaldi from Ratatouille at a whopping 27 million views. What started as a creative exercise in February of 2016 paved the way to Rea’s cartwheeling stardom. To this day, the 33-year-old has kept his face hidden in all his videos, peppering them with tongue-in-cheek humor and an almost therapeutic voice instead.
In my attempt to unmask the mystery man in a telephonic interview, I discover a creative genius armed with the drive to cut through digital clutter, and a dreamer with an appetite for perfection.
The internet knows you as Oliver Babish. Tell us a little bit about Andrew Rea.
Contrary to what most people think, I went to film school (and not a culinary school) and worked in post-production for about seven years before starting Binging With Babish in February 2016. It began as a creative exercise when I was in a deep state of depression. I only intended to make one episode of a cooking show that people would want to watch. They not only watched it, but requested for more. So I kept making it. And now I’m discussing it with NGTI, which is pretty cool.
At 15 you were making crepes at a restaurant...
That’s a deep cut. I spent that summer standing over the griddle and just spreading out those thin pancakes repeatedly for nine hours before calling it a day. That is the sum total of my restaurant experience. I’ve waited a couple of tables. And I’ve worked one day as a prep cook in a little café in Brooklyn. Amidst the lunch rush in my first shift, I plunged a knife into my finger and started bleeding profusely. But you know, one of the rules of working in the kitchen is that if you can still stand and you’re not actively dying, you have to finish your shift. So they wrapped me up and put a glove that filled up like a balloon of blood as I completed the shift, after which I was promptly fired.
When did you decide to converge your two passions for food and filmmaking?
I’ve loved food and filmmaking my entire life. My mother taught me how to make some very basic dishes. And when she passed away, I kept cooking as a way to feel closer to her. My love for filmmaking on the other hand, started when I was 10. I made a video project to get out of writing an essay. And it worked. But it took me a solid 15 years to figure out that I could put the two of them together. And it happened quite an by accident.
You kicked off your first video with the Parks and Recreation burger episode. What about that show spoke to you?
I was watching the show while I was screwing around with my camera in the kitchen. The main characters, Ron and Chris, were having a burger cook-off. And one of the burgers was extremely elaborated and had chutney in black truffle aioli. I wondered what that would taste like in real life. So I whipped it up with painstaking accuracy and posted it online where it got like 20-30,000 views. Most of the comments were people asking what they wanted to see next. I obliged. And that’s been my business model since.
Has anyone associated with the shows that you’ve featured ever gotten back to you?
Every person that I admire and have been able to meet, I have their kids to thank. Because their kids watch YouTube and sit their parents down and force them to watch my show. That’s what happened with Jon Favreau. He congratulated me in a tweet when I hit a million subscribers. I reached out to him on a whim. And lo and behold, he was in the middle of producing The Chef Show, which at the time was a very nebulous project for him. He asked if I could come on his show. In exchange, he would come on mine. And so I flew out to LA, and had the greatest day of my life at the studio. He acted like a wise uncle to me, and gave me a lot of advice on what it means to be a creator. We’ve been in touch since.
Jacqueline Schaeffer, the creator of WandaVision reached out after watching my dinner episode inspired by the show. She expressed her appreciation for how detail-oriented I was, because they really put their research while making dishes from the 1950s in mid-century America.
You are a food and filmmaker. What are some of your favorite food-based films, shows and books?
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