A taste of wisdom: Nobody can be mad at someone who shows up with a plate of cookies. This advice came from UCLA alumna Sara O’Donnell during her college years in an apartment kitchen. But nowadays, O’Donnell brings much more to the table when it comes to culinary commentary, capturing online audiences with her video show and blog “Average Betty.”
“Average Betty” highlights the joys of culinary production from a relatable perspective. Between a blog and online episodes, O’Donnell combines her own personality with step-by-step recipes varying anywhere from potato gnocchi to red velvet cupcakes. She also includes food opinions and interviews with well-known chefs.
“The mission of “˜Average Betty’ is really just to inspire people to get back in the kitchen and cook for themselves using whole foods,” O’Donnell said.
The mission statement seems to resonate with virtually all cooking shows: to spark an interest in viewers to cook. But O’Donnell said her approach to “Average Betty” largely differs in that it directly speaks to YouTube viewers with its originality and comedic moments.
“I want people to feel like they’re hanging out with me a little bit through the show,” O’Donnell said.
The show’s evolution over the years is evident when comparing past videos to recent ones. A video posted in 2008 called “Gimme Some Sugar Cookie” featured O’Donnell in sketch comedy, in multiple wigs, on a blind date and eventually choking on a crouton during a Valentine’s Day dinner, all the while relaying a sugar cookie recipe. More recently, a different sugar cookie episode was titled “How to Make Sugar Cookies,” a more direct approach to the food itself.
The blog began in 2005, when O’Donnell started with the intent to write about domestic interests for women. The video show later emerged in early 2007, originally in the realms of Yahoo Video, YouTube and iTunes as a joint effort with her husband Lee O’Donnell as well. O’Donnell continues to contribute with production, occasional writing and regular sampling, and said one of his favorites thus far is the “Potato Volcano.”
“Chef David Chang’s Potato Volcano was the most challenging recipe I’ve ever made. I feel like I should’ve earned a culinary degree after just shooting that video,” Sara O’Donnell said. “Whenever I do a recipe from a great chef like that, I say that you’re attending “˜Le Cordon Betty.’”
According to O’Donnell, her first celebrity chef encounter was at a UCLA Extension restaurant convention, where she obtained a press pass to speak with chef Anthony Bourdain.
This sparked an interest to continue celebrity chef interviews, attend food events and incorporate these experiences into “Average Betty.”
Along the developmental journey, “Average Betty” has garnered much recognition. O’Donnell now works with whole food products, such as the Idaho Potato Commission, and in early November of last year, “Average Betty” was chosen as one of 16 to participate in the “YouTube Next Chef” program.
Austin Lau of online media development at YouTube said the program was launched to identify up-and-coming video careers on the site. Those chosen 16 chefs were awarded with production equipment, editing educational sessions and the chance to talk with other successful YouTube video makers.
“It’s about sticking to your vision and not worrying so much about popularity contests. But ultimately, that’s what the Internet is,” O’Donnell said. “I think certainly being “˜Average Betty’ gives me a degree of relief in that way though, because “˜Average Betty’ isn’t the prom queen.”
Rising view counts suggest that “Average Betty” is more than average, but amid the success, O’Donnell holds firm to the name’s original down-to-earth notion.
“I think you have to go into it with an attitude like, “˜This is something that I’m doing a little bit for myself, this is my art,’” O’Donnell said. “I’ve just been holding onto the reins of this crazy carriage that’s “˜Average Betty.’”