When Jamie Spafford, a 27-year-old Briton, passed through airport passport control during a visit to New York a few months ago, the immigration agent seemed sceptical about Spafford’s stated occupation.
But a week later, via email, the immigration officer said he had subscribed to Spafford’s website, Sorted Food, one of the most popular cooking channels on YouTube. “Keep up the good work!” the man wrote.
Created in 2010 by Spafford and three British partners, Sorted Food now has more than 8,65,000 subscribers. More than a quarter come from the US — the channel’s largest audience segment, followed closely by Britain.
What started as a part-time venture is now a full-time job for Spafford, his partners and their 14 employees, who work in a studio in North London. Sorted Food expects revenue to reach $3.5 million this year.
It is remarkable growth for a site that generates more than 11,000 hours of viewer traffic a day and whose most-viewed video is a three-minute segment, watched about 8,00,000 times, showing how to make a microwave cake in a coffee mug.
While still not as popular as comedy or gaming channels, which measure their audiences in tens of millions of subscribers, cooking and food is the fastest-growing genre on YouTube.
Last year, YouTube’s top 20 cooking channels generated nearly 370 million views and more than doubled their subscribers. Among cooking channels, Sorted Food is YouTube’s top performer.
The typical video for Sorted Food features one of Spafford’s partners, Ben Ebbrell, the only trained chef in the group, creating dishes as varied as a simple mac-and-cheese and elaborate-looking îles flottantes — “floating islands” — of soft meringues enveloped in a caramel cage. “It’s all about easy, cheap and tasty recipes that look great,” said Ebbrell.
Ebbrell, Spafford and the other partners, Barry Taylor and Mike Huttlestone, met at school in Hertfordshire, north of London, and went their separate ways. But on visits home, they would meet in a pub. And the talk often turned to food. “At university,” Spafford said, “we were all eating complete rubbish. With one exception: Ben.”
So Ebbrell, who at the time was studying culinary arts management, started sharing cheap and easy recipes with his friends on backs of beer coasters. Those recipes grew into a self-published cookbook, and, in May 2010, the four started the YouTube channel.
“It became an obvious way of sharing the recipes with more of our friends,” Ebbrell said.
Then the videos started gaining