On YouTube, anyone can be a famous chef.
Actually, on YouTube anyone can be famous for doing almost anything. But cooking seems to be one of the most popular ways for amateurs and would-be Rachael Rays to become online personalities with their own "cooking shows."
Call it Me TV. Depending on how you receive them, these productions also can be called webcasts or video blogs, diaries or podcasts. Whatever they're called, they're not just on YouTube (slogan: "Broadcast Yourself"), although it is the largest and best-known site where people share videos with the world.
Type "cooking show" in the YouTube search engine and it spits out 13,900 videos. Even if half of them can be dismissed as dopes messing around, that still leaves a lot of people going to the trouble of videotaping themselves making chicken curry or macaroni and cheese, with varying degrees of quality and professionalism, and even commercial sponsorship.
Hetal Jannu, 37, and Anuja Balasubramanian, 39, are two stay-at-home moms in a Dallas suburb who attract thousands of viewers a day for their year-old Indian-cuisine show, "Show Me the Curry", on YouTube.
Clueless about chutney? Confused about Indian spices and their uses? Who needs Martha or Rachael — just click on Hetal and Anuja. They're not professional chefs, but they have learned how to videotape themselves in their kitchens making simple, healthful South Asian dishes, slightly adapted for American palates, accompanied by easy-to-read charts and lasting just a few minutes (the rule in online video shows: the shorter the better). Still have questions? Send them a message or post your comments.
"The visual medium is better than any written recipe," Balasubramanian says. "We show how easy it is, step by step, well explained. And you can pull up the video 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so it's much more easily accessible" than shows on TV.
The access works both ways. "We could not do it without YouTube — the reach is phenomenal. We have viewers in countries we never heard of," she says. "How else can two people from Frisco, Texas, reach anyone?"
How, indeed. In the beginning, they say, their numbers were "pathetic." Now "Show Me the Curry" gets more than 15,000 viewers a day, and they're producing two videos a week. They're even picking up sponsors for the show and for their website, ShowMetheCurry.com, which helps offset their minimal costs. It's a new career for both — Jannu was a financial analyst, Balasubramanian a travel agent — but it allows them to work from home and be there when their kids get home from school.
"We have so much fun; it doesn't feel like work, it's such a blast," Jannu says. "We love to cook, and what's better than finding work you enjoy doing?"
Of course there's competition, some quite good, they say. There are nearly 800 videos just on "cooking curry" on YouTube.
The curry ladies are part of a much bigger phenomenon: the growth of Internet video shows and the diversity of entertainment offered on this new kind of TV, which some even watch on regular sets, hooked up to their computers. In just a few years, Internet TV has been transformed, with scores of professionally produced episodic shows, networks, ratings trackers, fans and TV Guide-style reviews.