Andrew Rea’s ‘try, fail and try again’ YouTube cookery show – in which he often cooks food from films and cartoons – gets more viewers than Nigella, Jamie Oliver and Tom Kerridge combined. But its massive, viral success nearly cost the self-taught chef his mental health
Andrew Rea is one of the biggest chefs in the world, though that’s no guarantee you’ve heard of him. He has no TV show. No restaurant ever bore his name. He has never worked as a chef, nor attended culinary school. He is almost entirely self-taught, he says, from watching cookery videos online. This isn’t hard to believe. To watch Rea cook is as much an instruction of what not to do. Sauces are surrendered. Soufflés are sunk. He once took seven attempts to make cacio e pepe, a pasta dish famous for including just cheese and pepper. He succeeds mostly because he fails. It’s part of the charm. He’s not, he’ll happily admit, a professional cook in any meaningful sense – apart from the fact that he now earns millions doing it.
Rea’s YouTube cookery channel, Babish Culinary Universe – named after his favourite character from The West Wing, a slightly incongruous call that rapidly became too big to fiddle with – currently boasts 9.5m subscribers. That’s a lot. Nigella Lawson’s latest TV series – Eat, Cook, Repeat, which aired during England’s second national lockdown – was considered a ratings smash with 3m viewers, over 1m more than her previous show. Rea’s videos, meanwhile, regularly rack up hits in the tens of millions.