A look at the savory and the tweet of Hilah Cooking
"Hey, dudes" isn't quite Paula Deen's signature, butter-slathered "Hey, y'all," but somehow it suits Hilah Cooking.
"When I first told Hilah about Twitter and blogs, she looked at me like I was a sad, lonely person," says Chris Sharpe, the directing half of the operation. "So I'd email her stuff and be like, 'This is what I'm going to Twitter out,' and then she would add 'Hey, dudes' at the beginning," and that was that.
But as we sat down with Sharpe and Austin-raised Hilah Johnson at her kitchen table (where else?) during the recent taping of the 86th episode, it seems both she and her home-cooked show, Hilah Cooking, have come a long way since then.
This week saw the third season premiere, the show's second anniversary is coming up in January, and while they're not sure of the exact numbers, Sharpe estimates about 24,000 unique visitors per video. Not bad for an "intentionally underproduced" setup that includes a $20 light set from Target and a shower curtain ("diffuser," Johnson corrects).
After working on a movie together, partners Johnson and Sharpe started seeking a new – and cheap – creative outlet in January 2010. Johnson was cooking anyway, and they had the equipment, so the pair assumed their previous roles as actor and director, respectively, and set to work. "We really didn't know what the hell we were doing," Johnson laughs. They started putting videos up on YouTube and gaining traction on Facebook ... and, of course, Twitter. The website (www.hilahcooking.com) launched a few months later.
Since then, the endeavor has developed into a weekly episode and accompanying write-up, marrying the best of food blogs and cooking shows. The Hilah Cooking empire has also grown to include two ebooks: The Breakfast Taco Book!, a self-explanatory means of spreading "the gospel," and Learn To Cook, released at the end of June with the greenest of cooks in mind, given its hints on basics as essential as grocery shopping and its video tutorials for the folks following along in the kitchen. Oh, and these people have day jobs, too.
"You know, what makes it worthwhile is people writing me and being like: 'Oh, I love your show! I made your cobbler with my boyfriend, and it was so good,'" Johnson says. "About six months into it, I started seeing what was fun about [social media] and the fact that you do make connections with people you wouldn't have otherwise ever known." Like the guy in Austin who's cooked every single thing she's made. Or the girl who wrote that her toddler always "asks how Hilah would bake it." "There's a real hardcore group of fans that are guys about Hilah's dad's age," Sharpe adds.
"It's really moving away from the concept of thinking of the people who watch the show as an audience and more thinking about it as a community," he continues. In return, so too are her pockets of fans ("like little pen pals") – from Dallas to the Netherlands – coming to treat her as a friend. In one case, Johnson took a day this summer to hang with a fan in Knoxville, Tenn. Additionally, when she learned of the death of a devoted follower in California, Johnson was told the guy had "left notes for his Twitter fans, and mine was to make his requests or he would haunt me," she shares.
In fact, fan requests were the impetus behind the 86th episode – banana pudding. But in bigger, long-term plans for this season, there's talk of more adventurous cuisines as well as some new content and features for the website. (Indeed, that contingent of paternal patrons is currently beta testing forums.) Meanwhile, it all kicked off Tuesday with something close to home: Mexican hot dogs.
"Cooking isn't – shouldn't be – the biggest deal in the world," Johnson professes. But, bottom line: "I actually really enjoy it." And if it's not fun, what's the point?
We think the dudes would agree.
New episodes of Hilah Cooking are posted every Tuesday at www.hilahcooking.com.