YouTube star Hilah Johnson is redefining what it means to be a cooking show host. All photos courtesy of Hilah Cooking
There’s something a little goofy about Hilah Johnson, the star of the popular YouTube cooking show “Hilah Cooking” and its companion blog. But it’s precisely that offbeat charm that makes her videos so, well, charming.
“I have a community theater background, and a lot of that was comedy,” Johnson told Yahoo Food. In the mid 2000s, she was a member of a sketch comedy group called Big ol’ Tire Fire, which was a hit on the Austin, Texas, culture scene. That was where she met the troupe’s sometime videographer, Christopher Sharpe, who saw potential in her for something bigger when he sampled her home cooking. “He was like, ‘Hey! We should do a cooking show on the Internet’ And I was like, ‘Haha, that’s adorable.’”
Johnson, who was working as a dental hygienist at the time, put her reservations aside and took Sharpe up on the offer, and in early 2010 the pair began shooting videos in her home. There was a steep learning curve. “When you watch the early ones, I’m clearly really awkward and don’t really understand what ‘be yourself’ meant,” she said. “I think I was trying to find a character to play.“
Johnson’s breakfast enchiladas.
But Johnson quickly found her groove. Viewers connected with her no-frills approach to simple home cooking, which encompasses everything from breakfast enchiladas to homemade gummy worms to black bean quinoa burgers. One also gets the distinct impression that Johnson frequently goes off-script, working in little jokes between cooking steps. It lends the show a certain on-the-fly feel, which is an effective way to put a viewer at ease. If Hilah can do it, so can they.
Things began happening off-camera, too. One year into “Hilah Cooking,” Johnson and Sharpe realized their powerful work chemistry was just the tip of the iceberg. “We were buddies, and then we were both single at the same time and drank a lot of whiskey one weekend and made out,” she recalled with a laugh. “And then we were like, ‘Duh.’” The two began dating, and later tied the knot in 2011. Late last year, Johnson gave birth to their first child.
Buffalo shrimp, anyone?
These days, “Hilah Cooking” has nearly a quarter of a million subscribers on YouTube, not to mention thousands of followers on social media. She quit her day job two years ago and hasn’t looked back. “It’s just really fun,” Johnson said.
But don’t expect to see Johnson on television anytime soon. “We feel if we got involved in TV, we’d have to water it down so much,” she said. There’d be no cussing, no off-color jokes. A clean, sparkling kitchen set and a professional glam squad might lend polish, but they also might strip the show of its essential character. “They wouldn’t let me do what I’m doing on YouTube. And it’s pretty awesome to make whatever I want.”
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