The Austin Chronicle

The Joy & Tiffany of Cooking

Local women revolutionize cooking for singles and couples, one YouTube video at a time

By Jessi Cape, February 14, 2014, Screens

Whether you're spending Valentine's Day with the One or as a party of one, this local webseries has you covered.

Two former University of Texas classmates, Joy Zhang and Tiffany Chung, have created a burgeoning empire of Web-based inspiration for "healthy, simple cooking on a smaller serving scale." 1-2 Simple Cooking gears its multiplatform brand toward an audience of college students, single professionals, and couples – those often faced with cooking predicaments such as smaller spaces, limited ingredients and budgets, and hectic schedules. Yet the bright aesthetics, short-and-sweet recipes, and accessible tips are user-friendly for a wide range of ages and skill levels.

The very act of learning to cook can be empowering, but it's also daunting. Building the skill sets that enable someone to try new ingredients or attempt to re-create favorite dishes at home "just takes practice. It's fun, and it's meant to be hands-on," said Chung, an Austin-based freelance filmmaker and the company's executive producer, in a phone interview. "Eating healthy doesn't mean you're eating bland stuff or that it's difficult. In a lot of cases, it's a lot easier to throw together something healthy."

After conceptualizing a website that helps "people to reconnect with their food again," Chung noticed on Facebook that her friend Joy Zhang had started a food blog highlighting healthy dishes with her lovely food photography. They joined forces, and 1-2 Simple Cooking was born. Zhang, an internationally recognized food blogger and photographer currently residing in Dallas – and the face and narrator of the videos – emigrated from Shanghai, China, at age 2 and spent her formative years learning the art of food from her mother.

The duo launched their website after a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2011 ... and then followed it up with a YouTube channel, Twitter feed, Facebook page, and Instagram gallery. The visual appeal of the women's cohesive 1-2 Simple Cooking brand is enticing: Their clean, bright, and snappy aesthetics mirror their mission statement (though we do wish the website's text were a tad darker). "Because of our professional backgrounds, we strive to produce high-quality visual content, hence the style of our website and Web videos," Chung said. "Joy's awesome food photography and our videos not [only] appeal to the senses, but it's also an art for us."

The website's recipe section is divided into nine categories, each chock-full of recipes suited for various skill levels, ranging from the "Fast Food: simple, wholesome recipes in under 10 minutes" to slightly more involved recipes such as the spicy Thai green curry ramen. In addition to a variety of dishes featuring meat, 1-2 Simple Cooking also caters to a diverse fan base with ideas for followers trying to stay gluten-free, vegetarian, or vegan. Drinks, cocktails, seasonal favorites, and desserts are also offered, and one of Zhang's party treat recipes – bacon-wrapped shrimp toast – was recently featured in People magazine's Great Ideas. As a bonus specifically aimed at their target demographic, the shopping guide and storage tips are legitimately handy.

What takes the brand to the next level is the webseries on their YouTube channel: Currently, 17 short videos averaging around 1-2 minutes, and no more than 5 minutes, offer cooking tips. Most of the videos are in the 200-500 views range, having rapidly gained popularity in the mere six months since launching the series, but a few boast more than 1,000 views, such as the "How to Pan Sear a Steak" video. Our increasingly tech-reliant world means "right now people's attention span is really short," said Chung, so cross-pollination via social media means fans can quickly access the information on their smartphones during short time windows. Going forward, Chung said, "eventually we would like to make this a community effort, too."

Zhang's animated face and cheery, positive narration add whimsy to a delightfully stress-free and professional series. The efficiency and strategy, though, make the pair's project that much more appealing. For example, a short how-to video on toaster oven-roasted carrots is followed by one featuring a carrot salad with scallions and almonds using the leftover carrots. Several videos hovering around the minute-mark feature facts and tips such as one on how to select, preserve, and prep items like onions, tomatoes, cilantro, and avocado, followed by a quick five-ingredient guacamole. Though the YouTube channel has been on a two-month video hiatus, a new Instagram micro-video popped up last week teasing a new Meyer lemon dessert recipe on the blog.

Building a brand by reaching people at every step in their home-cooking journeys makes 1-2 Simple Cooking special: It's perfect for budding chefs, but also entirely useful for more advanced cooks looking for a fresh, wholesome spin on their routines. "When you're actually making [the food], you're a part of the process, so you're more conscious of eating well."

Follow along with 1-2 Simple Cooking at

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