Part filmmaker, part self-taught cook, Andrew Rea is the mind behind the Babish Culinary Universe, a YouTube channel best known as the home of his cooking show “Binging With Babish.”
Each week, he treats over eight million subscribers to recipes derived from cinematic classics, cartoons, cult hits and beyond. (Even the show’s title has a TV pedigree; Oliver Babish was a character on “The West Wing.”) With the camera focused on his tattooed arms, agile fingers and wooden countertop work space, Mr. Rea gives step-by-step instructions on making bites like cannoli à la “The Godfather,” Hobbit-sized elevenses from “The Lord of the Rings” and bacon pancakes from “Adventure Time.”
But for an on-camera chef who makes dishes inspired by movies, sitcoms, anime and more, Mr. Rea, 33, is surprisingly tuned out.
“I don’t have time to do much TV watching,” he said. Indeed, the lion’s share of his schedule is devoted to planning recipes, filming and editing, all on the two lower levels of his six-floor home in the Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn.
“The vast majority of ideas for the show come from suggestions” by commenters, Mr. Rea said, “often from things I haven’t seen. I definitely try to vet things when people suggest them, but sometimes I have to watch things that I specifically don’t want to watch.”
While he won’t name names of those begrudging binges, he does admit that fan submissions led him to discover favorite shows like “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “Rick and Morty.”
Elsewhere in the B.C.U., you’ll find “Basics With Babish,” a series of how-to guides. There’s also the recently added “Stump Sohla,” which challenges the former “Bon Appétit Test Kitchen” star Sohla El-Waylly to make preposterous dishes like ice cream lasagna. But Mr. Rea’s plans for his edible empire extend beyond his video vault.
“I would love to have a brick-and-mortar Babish experience,” he said, firing off ideas like “a ‘Good Morning America’ vibe” where a live audience watches the show being made, and “an Airbnb in upstate New York, a ‘Bed & Babish,’ if you will.”
We spoke with Mr. Rea this month as he was writing his third cookbook, testing out pans from his forthcoming cookware line and facing down “a perfect storm of deadlines.”
Interviews are conducted via email and phone, then condensed and edited.
9 a.m. Awoke with a hangover from celebrating my girlfriend Jess’s 30th birthday the night before. We’re in a cabin in upstate New York, and our checkout is in two hours. We’ve got to pack, clean up and get out of there so I can make it home in time to finish tomorrow’s episode of “Binging.” I edited it before we left, so all I need to do is voice-over and finishing touches.
12:30 p.m. We’ve stopped at McDonald’s, and I’m indulging in the first 10-piece chicken nuggets with fries that I’ve had in well over a year. It feels like I can taste colors.
3 p.m. We’re back at my home/studio after fighting tooth and nail for a terrible parking spot two blocks away. Very disappointed to come downstairs to a 55-degree studio. One heating vent was closed, and the other was apparently covered with a box. As I start laying down the voice-over, I’m wearing a goose down jacket and straddling a heat lamp.
4 p.m. I realize that, due to some technical glitches, I have some 24-frame-per-second footage recorded in 60 frames per second. Basically, that means my footage looks choppy. I attempt to find workarounds and realize I can apply speed ramps to the footage to make it look semi-normal, bringing my workload down to about four hours instead of, like, 20.
8 p.m. Voice-overs and graphics are exported, uploaded, optimized, thumbnailed and ready to go for tomorrow. I only caught about four hours of sleep last night, so I feel like a disembodied spirit seeking my vessel. After a hot shower, some Indian takeout and a Xanax, it’s time for a prolonged slumber in a warm bed.
8 a.m. Refreshed from seven and a half hours of sleep, I promptly lie around in bed for another half an hour, drinking coffee with Jess, trying to keep peace between the cats and procrastinating hitting the gym.
9:30 a.m. I do a solid back and biceps routine, plus 30 minutes on the elliptical.
10:30 a.m. I’m shaved, showered and lightly scented. My shirt and apron are ironed, and I’m ready for the day. Then I remember that we’re not shooting today, give myself a light slap across the face as punishment and change into something more comfortable.
11 a.m. Kendall, our kitchen producer, arrives. With the exception of a few conference calls, our primary goal today is to plan episodes, recipes and shopping lists. Jess is hard at work organizing the absolute birds’ nest of boxes, cables and various detritus that the studio has become.
11:30 a.m. We manage to knock out a solid two hours of recipe planning before I’m distracted by a phone call, not to mention a consistent growling in my stomach. We order bibimbap and tteokbokki (spicy Korean rice cakes) and continue brainstorming exactly how we can make “Bachelor Chow” from “Futurama” (a meal solution for bachelors resembling dog kibble) look even remotely appetizing.
5 p.m. We finally figure out a recipe that involves giving boeuf bourguignon a 36-hour stint in the freeze dryer. Kendall takes off, and I start setting up for an interview on Tom Papa’s podcast, “Breaking Bread.” I’m nervous because I’m a huge fan of his but haven’t yet finished his book, so I feel unprepared. Then I remember that he’s the one interviewing me, and I calm down a little.
7 p.m. The interview’s done, and I think it went really well. Not only is Tom an incredibly sweet guy, but I managed to make him laugh once or twice! Next time I’m feeling down on myself, I’ll make an effort to remember that. Once I’m done answering emails and shutting everything down in the studio, I head upstairs to work on writing my next cookbook, “Basics With Babish,” until I can’t keep my precious little eyes open any longer.
9:30 a.m. I do a pathetic muscle pump consisting of strained chest flies and weakling front raises. Then I shower and listen to “The Daily.”
10:30 a.m. Kendall arrives, and we start nibbling at the towering to-do list we created yesterday. On the docket for the next nine days are ice cream sandwiches, four recipes for leftover brown rice, tteokbokki, four kinds of grilled cheese, four different “big game” snacks, birria tacos, pad thai with homemade noodles, shrimp scampi and a spring vegetable quiche. We call these weeks “‘Basics’ marathons,” wherein we batch-shoot as many episodes as possible.
12:30 p.m. After a bunch of conference calls, we’re finally ready to cook. Kendall does all my mise en place (ingredient prep) so I can focus on filming and cooking. We start with the beef, since it needs a three-hour braise, during which time we can tackle some of the brown rice dishes: larb (a Thai meat salad) and avgolemono (a Greek lemon egg soup, my favorite). Jess is hard at work organizing the office and storyboarding for a commercial shoot we’re doing next week.
2:30 p.m. For lunch, we have salads from Sweetgreen while watching last night’s “Colbert” monologue. The bourguignon is in the oven smelling unbelievable, and we’ve demonstrated every feasible method by which to cook brown rice.
7 p.m. Bourguignon, larb and avgolemono are done and dusted, and the latter two end up being our dinner. All there is left to do is catch up on the pile of emails I miss throughout the day when I’m in front of the camera, transfer today’s footage to hard drives, get a head start on the edit and shut down all the gear. Jess has made incredible progress in the office, and it’s already a nicer place to work. Kendall, meanwhile, is finishing up the dishwashing and transcribing the recipes we developed today. Especially now, when my feet are aching and my eyes are starting to cross, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate everything they do.
7:30 a.m. I finally wake up at a proper hour and do a solid upper-body workout and a whole bunch of burpees.
9 a.m. Showered and caffeinated, I head downstairs to transfer files and catch up on emails. While scavenging for breakfast items, I find a Royal Riviera pear hiding in the back of my fridge from Christmas. Today’s looking up.
11 a.m. I have an interview with Slate magazine, which I think went well, but I’m pretty sure I misquoted myself more than once, which isn’t ideal.
Noon Lunch comes in the form of a brown rice stir-fry. This is the first time I’ve used the short grain iteration of the fiber-packed, nutty little seeds, and I think they’re a game changer.
4 p.m. Wrap filming for the day by putting yesterday’s boeuf bourguignon (cubed to resemble dog food, along with its gravy) in the freeze dryer, where it undergoes its 36-hour stasis.
6 p.m. Finish up at a reasonable hour tonight. Jess is meeting a friend for a freezing-cold outdoor dinner at Meadowsweet, and I fully intend to have a beer, shut my brain off and watch TV in my home theater.
8 p.m. Watched David Byrne’s “American Utopia”; unsurprisingly, it was awesome. Next is “History of Swear Words.” Nicolas Cage hams it up beautifully, but the editing is a little scattershot.
9:30 a.m. I overslept, I’m really sore, and I’m not gonna work out this morning. Jess’s eye hurts like crazy, and it sounds a lot like when I had a scratched cornea back in college. I head out to get her remedies and an eye patch. She’s excited for some light pirate cosplay, at least.
10:30 a.m. Three different episodes are due for sponsor review on Monday, so I have an absolutely monstrous amount of editing to do. But I also have near back-to-back conference calls until 3 p.m. I’m going to squeak out what I can between calls, but need to tend to my sweet Cyclops upstairs when able.
2 p.m. I crack my knuckles, update (video editing software) Premiere and dig in. Fun fact: I’m currently editing footage of the leftover fried rice I’m eating for lunch. Is that a fun fact? Well it’s fun to me. Thus completes the brown rice saga.
4:30 p.m. I receive and test out some new samples of my upcoming cookware line. It’s carbon steel pans, which I’m nervous about presenting as an alternative to nonstick, but once you put in a little practice, they become your lifelong friends.
8 p.m. After a nice uninterrupted chunk of productivity, all three episodes are assembled, have music laid in, and some voice-over is recorded. I really wanted to have them finalized before the weekend, but there’s a solid eight-plus hours of voice-over work left to do. I’m going to take a dinner break with my swashbuckling significant other, then see if I’ve still got juice to keep going.
9 p.m. Nope! I’m full of Thai takeout, had two mojitos, my voice is shot from all the conference calls, and it’s Friday. It’s time to do what young lovers do: watch a pulpy murder drama. We settle on “The Undoing,” cuddle up under our weighted comforter (yes, of course we have one, we’re stressy Brooklynite millennials) and watch Nicole Kidman continue her long career of crushing it. Before we pass out, I realize that “WandaVision” just premiered, and I slap myself awake so I can pay attention. I’m glad I do, because Wanda describes an overtly 1950s four-course meal, which I’m excited to add to the “Binging” idea list!
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