Frankie Cooks is revolutionizing how millennials cook their food (and for cheap, too)

Are you into food?

Of course you are. 

Are you into cooking?

Maybe not.

I know I wasn’t, at least until I buckled down and really started to learn how to cook. I actually genuinely used to hate cooking, because I didn’t get it. The best thing to come out of my kitchen before college was a grilled cheese (and even that was pretty subpar).

But, I have always been a die hard foodie, so I honestly was pretty embarrassed that I couldn’t cook up anything worth eating.

I never thought I would be able to learn, and so I never thought I would get into it. Then, when I got to college, things changed.

I have a confession to make: I was so damn bored all the time (especially between classes), that I started binge watching Tastemade videos (this is before Tastemade was the media powerhouse that it is now). Like, all the time. Again, I am a foodie and love anything pertaining to food, so what better way to waste my time than to watch food videos nonstop?

 

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Baked Potato Casseroleâ € INGREDIENTS:â € 5 large potatoes, thinly slicedâ € 6 ham slices, cut into small rectanglesâ € 6 cheese slices, cut into small rectanglesâ € Dijon mustardâ € Butter, for greasing the dishâ € â € BECHAMEL:â € 1/4 cup of butterâ € 1/3 cup of plain flourâ € 2 1/4 cups of whole milkâ € 1 cup gruyere, shreddedâ € 1/2 cup mozzarella, shreddedâ € Chopped chives, to serveâ € â € STEPS:â € Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a casserole dish with butter.â € Mandoline the potatoes into thin slices and set aside.â € Lay a potato slice on your work surface, spread a small amount of dijon mustard on top and lay a slice of ham on top, then add a piece of cheese to cover. Roll the potato, cheese, and ham up in a spiral shape so you are left with a potato, cheese and ham circle. Secure with a toothpick if necessary and set aside. Repeat with the rest of the ingredients.â € To make the bechamel: Melt the butter in a saucepan and when melted add the flour. Mix and cook out for 2 minutes then turn the heat off and begin to add the milk. Do this slowly, beating everything together really well between additions, until all the milk is used up. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly until thickened, then add the gruyere cheese and stir in until melted.â € Pour the bechamel into the casserole then add the potato rolls until the casserole is filled. Top with the shredded mozzarella, cover with aluminum foil and bake in the oven for 45 minutes. Then, remove the foil and bake uncovered for another 15 minutes, until the top is golden.â € Serve the casserole sprinkled with chives.

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Tell me this is not the most addictive shit you have ever watched. Tell me.

Well, guess what – I wasn’t wasting time. Not really. Because while watching all of these videos and simultaneously living in housing with a full kitchen, I decided to bite the bullet and learn how to cook. And the Tastemade videos are how I learned.

You may have already come to the conclusion that I am now a bonafide chef.

Just kidding.

But, I learned a lot. A lot more than I thought I would learn from 3 minute videos. My family now begs me to make them semi-elaborate pasta dishes, and I can make classic dishes like chicken with 40 cloves of garlic on a whim with ease. Also, I can finally make a grilled cheese worth bragging about – with tomato soup. BOOM.

My favorite cook on Tastemade was a very odd, excited, and funny Italian guy from New York named Frankie Cooks. I mainly loved him because he made a lot of videos on easy ways to make classic pasta dishes.

But, he also had a certain energy about him that made me super stoked to try out his recipes. He was just so damn happy about making pasta videos, and it was contagious! He’s also pretty cooky, which I loved because I can’t take serious people very seriously, and I certainly can’t learn from them.

Fast forward a few years, and I am still making all of Frankie’s dishes. Like, once or twice a week. Yes, sure, you’re thinking I eat a lot of pasta, but he makes videos on a huge range of dishes and cuisines (not just Italian, but I like to think it’s his specialty).

Any time I post one of his dishes on Instagram, I get roughly 10 dm’s asking me where to get the recipe. I just send them the Frankie Cooks video that I got it from, and a few hours later, they tell me they’re hooked on him, too.

Frankie is now a pretty big deal, and has made a name for himself even outside the Tastemade network. Late last year, Frankie launched a collab with Tastemade that starred himself called “Struggle Meals.” Basically, if someone in the 15-35 age range asked me, “Hey Mallie, who should I learn from if I want to cook good food easily and on a budget,” I would send them a Struggle Meals link ASAP.

Struggle Meals is Frankie’s vibrantly guided tour on how to cook really awesome, gorgeous, and fulfilling meals when you’re literally pinching pennies. It is especially a college-aged person’s dream come true, though I highly recommend watching no matter what age you are. It never hurts to save.

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Frankie has also cooked with Cookie Monster from Sesame Street, Snooki and Mike the Situation from Jersey Shore, Henry Golding from Crazy Rich Asians, and more. He also has another cooking show with Tastemade, called “Frankie’s World,” where he gives cooking tutorials as well as any facts or myths behind the dish. No big deal.

At 42K followers on Instagram and 34K subscribers on YouTube, he is hugely famous for what you’d call an Internet cook. But, Frankie is so much more than that. His passion and slight obsession with cooking and thriving off of the simple joys of the craft are intoxicating, and his spirit will make you a kitchen believer.

Plus, he’s super cute.

We sat down with Frankie Cooks to discuss how he got so into food in the first place, the ups and downs of YouTuber life, his ideal food date, how persistence is everything, and so much more. Frankie also came over to try and whip up a decent pasta dish with my shitty ingredients, and honestly, he did pretty damn good (I ate the whole thing, so I can’t complain).

Check out the exclusive interview and photoshoot below, and don’t forget to follow along on his YouTube channel for more pasta, food, and fun!

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Tell us a little bit about Frankie Cooks. How did you first get started, and how did you get to be as famous as you are now?

Frankie Cooks officially started in January of 2009 as a YouTube cooking show. In reality, it started back in September of 2005, as a way for me to make money by cooking better pasta than what was available at the food hall my freshman year of college.

I decided to pursue the show after the 7th friend of a friend (who was at one of my dinners) said, and I paraphrase, “You should film this, you’ve got a lot of info and you’re passionate.” Having worked as a video editor, I knew the hurdle of production would be out of the way, because I wouldn’t have to pay anyone to do it. I also noticed there were no young cooks with TV shows – or YouTube shows in general, for that matter – so I figured the chances of success were better than trying to be in a rock band.

I’ve tried to do more, better, and something different every year. Now that ten years have passed, I feel like stride is just starting to happen. I’m glad I kept it up. There were two times in particular when I almost stopped, and then I realized that nothing in life is easy and persistence is worth more than talent and talk.

How did you first get started with Tastemade?

Tastemade came to me the year they came into existence – 2012. Their original premise was as an MCN (multi-channel network), sort of like a record company, but for food YouTube channels. They searched the web and found hundreds of channels, and I was one of them. From there, not much happened for about three years. Then, one day in late 2015, they came to me with an opportunity. The rest is history.

What’s the craziest project you’ve ever done?

Harvesting vegetables and cooking with elementary school kids from around the country at the White House with former First Lady, Michelle Obama, is at the top of that list. At the time, I was working as a cook at a Roman Osteria in New York City. So, the first thing I had to do was tell my chef so I could get the time off – which, as a $10/hour employee, was one of the most improbable requests I’d ever spoken and most likely a chef had ever granted.

That aside, I’ll never forget secret service taking apart our cameras and lenses to make sure they weren’t projectiles, but allowed my knives through without so much as a question.

The haze began with the sound of camera shutters blasting away as Michelle Obama walked down to the garden from the White House. I stood proudly behind her with her staffers, and even got a shout out and a “thanks for coming,” during the opening remarks. I’m pretty sure a tear fell from my eye.

Chatting with Frankie

Still not having personally met the First Lady, the most unexpected moment came when we took a photo with the kids. As the cameras died down, I felt a tug on my left hand, I turned and looked, and to my left, Michelle Obama was crouching down so that the kids blocked the line of sight to the media cameras.

 

She wanted to personally introduce herself. We had a wonderful, private, 30-second exchange, and I was on cloud nine all day after that and was struck by the moment of privacy she found amongst chaos. It was very elegant.

I also made a pizza with Cookie Monster, and on a separate occasion, with Snooki and Mike the Situation. Those were pretty interesting days on a completely different level.

Talk to us about your mini-series, Struggle Meals. How did you come up with idea?

One of the greatest parts about working with Tastemade has been their willingness to allow me to explore new concepts with them. It started with simple recipe cards, then we made a show called Frankie’s World – which is not only the cooking of dishes, but also the history and myths of how they came to be.

Struggle Meals was a true team effort, though. One of the producers I work with, Erin, said that #Strugglemeals was trending, and that it would probably be a great show title. She was totally correct.

Preppin’ with Frankie

So, we put our heads together with a few more people and came up with a concept. We were very prepared from pre-production standpoint. About an hour into filming episode one, we had to stop and figure out a lot more things – volume of my voice, energy level, the interplay between the 4 cameras.

All of that work was done onset with a team of people who give 100% all day everyday. I’m the one up there, but it would be impossible to do without the dedicated work of so many at Tastemade. I’m very grateful for the opportunity.

What’s the process of getting an episode made?

It’s a lot slower than actually cooking a dish. There’s pressure to stick to a production schedule and calls from behind the video monitors for me to “phrase it differently” and to “do another for safety.” I’ve got to really watch my food and liquid intake so that I maintain consistent energy all day (that’s probably the hardest part).

LJ, my lovely director, sets each day up with the hardest things first. This is extremely helpful, as energy and vocal chords fade. One thing, which may seem counter intuitive, is that I always do the intros last. So many unexpected things happen during filming, it’s nice to be able to reference them and really have a handle on what I’m “pitching.”

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T-shirt and shoes: Frankie’s own

Tell us a bit about you, Frankie. Where are you from?

I was born in New York City, and I’m a third generation Italian American. My grandfather was a fantastic amateur cook, and so was my grandmother on Mom’s side. Mom is great to this day. Growing up, all meals were cooked at home, so it was shocking to me when my friend’s parents didn’t know how to cook. I’ve had the taste for cooking my whole life.

Fun fact, I’m an excellent unicyclist.

How would you describe yourself?

Just a guy trying to live his best life by standing out from the crowd and helping give people the confidence to take some control over what they eat. I’d say the last part is more true every day, because I’m convinced that screen time is making us all slightly worse at actually crafting things (of course, it is ironic that my information comes through the same problem device).

When did you first know you wanted to be a chef?

I always say that I’m a cook, not to be pretentious, but chef is the French word for “chief or boss,” and it implies ownership of a restaurant or command of a kitchen brigade, neither of which I have. The people who have that title work really, really hard in commercial kitchens all day, every day, that is not what I do and it would be unfair to bestow that title upon myself.

I crunch a lot of numbers, and I’m still not sure I want to be a “chef,” but based on the commercial real-estate climate and people’s dietary and personal demands these days, that may change (we’ll see).

I knew I wanted to be a cook the first time I prepared an amazing five course meal for friends and melted their hearts with the love I’d put into it. It’s a much better feeling than picking up the tab.

Cooking with Frankie

People say the cooking business is a men’s world. Would you say that’s changing? What other changes would you like to see in cooking professions?

In my opinion, women have a better sense of smell and intuition in the kitchen. My favorite food, Italian, is literally the cooking of grandmas. Restaurants became dominated by male chefs, in my opinion, when Escoffier developed the brigade system at the turn of the twentieth century for organizing labor in the kitchen. This was based on military command, which at the time was also primarily a male endeavor.

Recently, Dominique Crenn received three Michelin stars for her restaurant in San Francisco – that’s fine dining. But, as far as I know, she’s the first woman in American to receive the nod. Like everything, it’s complex and it takes time, but things are moving forward because the next generation wants an equal playing field. Now we just need the older generation to retire.

What I’d like to see is for the patrons to acknowledge that humans cooked their food and that it was hard work. Next time you go out, stick your head into the kitchen and let the team know you’re excited for the meal. Better yet, bring some cookies or a six pack! The culture has gotten so closed off because the work load is constantly increasing and outside of the team.

It’s a thankless job. A lot of the nasty stories you’ve read, in my opinion, are a result of kitchens being cut off from human contact. Let’s acknowledge their existence.

Chef movie you love? Chef show you hate?

I love Ratatouille.

I’m not a fan of any competition shows, they give the viewers the opposite message that I’m trying to convey. Their message is, “if you’re not good enough in the kitchen, pack your bags.”

What makes a good YouTuber?

I have never had a consistent message, asked people to subscribe and like at the top of the video, done a challenge or a collaboration, and I also don’t VLOG. So, everything I don’t do probably makes a good YouTuber.

T-shirt: Acne Studios

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Best/worst things about the video world?

Best part is ideating and filming. People stopping in the street and thanking me for a recipe.

Worst part is editing, mean comments, and the agony of, “Wait, did last week’s video have more views two hours after release than this week’s? Is it all over? Does no one care anymore?”

Who are your idols?

Right now my idol is Jose Andres, because of his amazing humanitarian work and everlasting enthusiasm for high-end and basic cuisine.

Lady Gaga is the defining example of how many different things one can achieve if we don’t give up – she’s amazing.

Elon Musk for his long term vision to save us from ourselves. Some of his comments lately, though, not so much.

Favorite thing to make for the holidays?

Real Lasagna with egg noodles that I make everyone roll out with me.

T-shirt: URT Clothing

T-shirt: URT Clothing

Ideal food date?

 

The person: Willing to try and share a bunch of things on the menu, no dietary restrictions, no selfies at the table.

The place: That’s the ever-present problem.

Fun thing to cook with others?

It depends on the other’s cooking skills, but I’m a fan of having everyone be in charge of a family style platter. It could be as simple as a salad with a homemade dressing for those that are just getting their feet wet in the cooking game.

Fun thing to cook for others?

A few courses that they can’t get anywhere else. The main thing is that it must be 90% done, so the showy last bits can happen over drinks. Note: If your friends have arrived and you’re not done with the knife, you’re not prepped enough. Drinking and chopping is a bad idea, many have learned this by way of stitches.

Myself included.

What’s next for you?

So much. I’m just getting started. In 2019, I’d like to publish my first cookbook, volunteer more (ideally with Jose Andres), manufacture my design for storing wine in apartments, and keep the cooking shows coming.

If you want to keep up with Frankie, follow him on Instagram HERE or subscribe to his YouTube HERE.

Photography: Serena Van

Creative Direction: Serena Van and Mallie Koczon

Styling: Mallie Koczon

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