Why you should care
Because they’re coming for the can’t-cook-won’t-cook generation.
In October, a 32-second recipe video featuring pizza skulls made from dough and cheese drew 72 million views. A French toast roll-up recipe got 1.6 million views, and a how-to for strawberry cheesecake bites got 20 million views. They are all part of Genius Kitchen (GK), a brand-spanking-new video network that launched in September 2017.
The success of the company, self-described as edible entertainment, is aided by its highly Instagrammable concoctions and cheeky messaging. “We entertain people rather than [have] a chef-driven format,” says Vikki Neil, senior vice president for Scripps Networks Interactive, the umbrella company for GK. The magic sauce: millennials. They’re banking on the fact that this generation is more interested in cooking than they let on. Hence a pop-culture baking class, which includes ultra-photogenic recipes for unicorn cake truffles and Pusheen cat doughnuts.
We don’t believe in the premise that people who are younger aren’t interested in cooking.
Vikki Neil, Scripps Networks Interactive
They’re not alone. Over the past year, several media enterprises have sprung up catering specifically to millennials. There’s Kin Community, which has raised $55 million since launching and creates a number of cooking video shows, and BuzzFeed’s Tasty vertical (40 billion views in two years). Everyone thinks they can create the magic solution for the Seamless generation — there’s even a $99 meditative cooking course that teaches cooking minus recipes. This spans all cultures; in October 2017 Telemundo announced the launch of a Latino cooking show called Secret Salsa in partnership with Tastemade to bring your abuela’s cooking skills to life.
“We don’t believe in the premise that people who are younger aren’t interested in cooking,” says Neil.
Her belief system falls under the KISS manifesto (keep it simple, stupid). “The thinking is they want [recipes] that aren’t fussy — not as technical,” she says. Popular shows on the network include Carnivorous, where comedian Courtney Rada experiments with all forms of protein — Neil says the real-person approach resonates with viewers. Plus, her team is quick to jump on any social food trends — for example, emoji macarons. “You wouldn’t find that on the Food Network,” Neil says. That’s relevant because Scripps owns the Food Network, and Genius Kitchen can be considered its sassy teenage offshoot. As it’s available on web, mobile, app and Apple TV, Neil says GK is platform agnostic — with more than 500,000 recipes in its library.
But Project Foodie, an app launched in November 2017, takes the opposite approach. It keeps its content inside its app ecosystem, providing users with a tapered-down recipe menu (millennials like simplicity, they say) and an integrated Instacart shopping list to make the process easy. Cute animations and a cheeky sketch of a wide-open mouth give the app a playful feel — it’s bright, modern and easy to use. Once you pick your dish, you select how many you’re cooking for, and the recipe adjusts correspondingly. It got 35,000 downloads in its first month.
It’s helmed by Daniel Holzman, who runs the Meatball Shop in New York City, and his brother, Eli, better known for his work on Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, Project Runway and Undercover Boss. “The idea is that most recipes and cooking tools are geared toward folks who know how to cook, and that can be intimidating,” says Daniel Holzman. He notes that the reason millennials lack basic cooking knowledge can be traced back to the war, when women started working, followed by second-wave feminism where not cooking was a sign of empowerment. “It fell out of fashion to cook, and the knowledge is lost,” he says. “With the app we cook together in real time, and you get the nuances of cooking a meal,” he says. Tagline: the cookbook of the future.
Going by the numbers, they’re onto a good thing. A Peapod survey reported that more millennials have become home cooks than Gen Z, partly based on health and cost-saving factors. When choosing a meal, 63 percent of millennials said quick and easy was key, compared to 42 percent of baby boomers. Millennials also report needing more inspiration for the process. With 69 percent of millennials photographing their food before eating it, according to a report by Maru/Matchbox, helping them achieve their Insta-friendly food is one step toward creating better cooks.
“Food has a different status for young people than it did when I was growing up,” says Jodi Liano, founder of the San Francisco Cooking School, explaining that it’s considered trendy and not just a trade. However, Liano says that for all of millennials’ love of cake pops and galaxy cakes, they often lack basic culinary skills. “Many grew up with no one cooking at home,” she says. Interest is high — and Liano highlights the growth of career-switching millennials signing up for her classes. But while she says that recipe apps and shows can be great for the curious cook, nothing compares to a real-life instructor.
That said, the online cooking business is booming. At Genius Kitchen, Neil has big plans for the next couple of years. Think augmented-reality recipe kits and champagne cupcakes. “How people eat feeds into their travel plans and way of life,” she says. “Our recipes focus on how the common person can put this together [for] a great experience. It’s about celebrating holidays like Friendsgiving — what’s important to them.”
* Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to Project Foodie’s free and paid video options. The firm now only has a free version.