Formats Unpacked: You Suck at Cooking

How a YouTube cookery format makes learning such fun

Hey all,

Regular readers will know that we are obsessed with audience attention at Storythings. At the beginning of our format development process, we ask:

  • Who is the audience?

  • Why will the audience click on it?

  • How will they use it?

  • Why/where will they share it? 

Really understanding these audience behaviours is a good starting point for any content format development process.

I mention this because when this week’s cooking format was being developed, I’m pretty sure the people behind it has really good answers to those questions. That’s probably why they have over three million subscribers on YouTube - not too far behind the mighty Jamie Oliver. Your audience strategy and content format development go hand in hand.

Today, I’m doing the unpacking. Leave your notes or favourite recipes in the comments…

What is it?

You Suck at Cooking (YouTube channel)

What’s the format?

YSAC is a YouTube channel, and now a book, that describes itself as an ‘absurdly practical guide to help you suck less at cooking’ and ‘No bulls*** - just cooking.’ The channel includes 3-5 minute cookery tutorial videos, each containing comedy and parody as their main ingredients.

What’s the magic that makes it special?

YSAC is the antidote to most cookery tutorials - hygiene, precision and slickness all go out the window. It takes the aesthetic of how cookery tutorials look now and pokes fun at it so well that, even if you have no intention of cooking, you’ll be hugely entertained. The pairing of comedy and tutorial makes it super-memorable and perfect for anyone in need of learning some new life skills. So - all you parents packing your kids off to college, send them a link to YSAC, and you can thank me later.

Cookery formats have been focused around personality chefs since the days of Fanny Craddock and Julia Childs. For a long time, very little changed. Chef-led formats are cheap as chips to make and really appeal to advertisers. The chef stands behind an island in a plush yet homely kitchen, surrounded by the most expensive blenders and mixers, cooking a meal over the course of a 30 - 60 minute show. The pace is gentle and long cook times are circumvented thanks to a little help from the “one we prepared earlier.” 

Then cooking formats developed into TV marathons, with the BBC's Saturday Kitchen and Channel 4’s Sunday Lunch providing hours of perfect weekend hangover viewing. Both of these shows advanced the format by becoming cooking/chat show mash-ups. The problem is they can be an excruciating watch at times. The guests often resent having to do promo for their new book at the weekend, and as the cooking is happening live, the amount of useful cooking tips is very limited.  

Then came social video, and with it came a completely new, and faster, aesthetic for cooking content. The chef is reduced to a pair of disembodied hands shot from above. The kitchen is nothing more than a work surface, and the unnecessary chat with celebrity guests has been tossed aside like potato peel in a kitchen bin. These fast-cut videos are so slick you’ll find yourself bingeing through homemade sushi recipes almost as quickly as you can eat the real thing. These videos were made to go viral, kick off new food trends and drive a lot of traffic to digital-first publishers like Buzzfeed’s Tasty. In 2014 subscriptions to food channels on YouTube grew by 280%.

YSAC launched in the same year, a quick digital-first parody of these new digital-first cookery videos. At a glance, you’d probably think you’re simply watching a typical YouTube or Instagram video. But before long you start to spot the differences. The food might be found in the grubbiest of places. The voice-over injected with fake facts like “Chicken Tikka Masala was invented by druids after they built Stonehenge, in the 1920s” or "Knives were invented in the 1940s, so before then, people just bashed stuff against the wall to cut them.” And the cooking utensils they use are frequently absurd. What’s smart about them is the use of stop-motion and jump cuts as a replacement for mundane visual tasks such as chopping or peeling.

The magic in the format is that it really does teach you how to cook, albeit with some dark and surreal humour thrown into the blender. Given a choice between learning how to make overnight oats in a hilarious and bizarre three minutes of YSAC, or sitting through three hours of painful celebrity chat on a weekend morning, I know where my attention is going.

Favourite Episodes

Similar Formats

I might be wrong but given the title and the tone of voice, this must have some connection to the awesome You Suck at Photoshop.

Thanks for reading.

Tell me about your favourite formats. Send me your cookery pictures. Leave your favourite recipes in the comments.

Back next week.

Hugh

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