Wednesday 21 February 2018

This viral Irish cooking star is bigger than Nigella Lawson in the US - with over 120 million online views

Gemma Stafford. Credit: Bigger Bolder Baking
Gemma Stafford. Credit: Bigger Bolder Baking
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

A 34-year-old professional Irish cook is going from strength to strength in the US with her online cooking show.

Gemma Stafford, originally from Wexford, runs Gemma’s Bigger Bolder Baking with her Californian husband.

Her online cooking show has 1.4million subscribers, and her videos have received 120 million lifetime views over three and a half years.

She gets recognised in the street. And Mathew McConaghey and David Arquettes’ wives have cooked from her recipes and shared them online, she tells independent.ie.

“My website has over 500 recipes so a lot of my recipes get picked up.”

“Matthew McConaghy’s wife Camila Alves recently cooked one of my summer fruit swiss rolls, and shared it out on social media. And David Arquette’s wife recently shared my sweet potato rolls.

She added: “People reach out to us and ask if they can cook with us. So the manager of the Dodgers baseball team, his daughter emailed and asked if she could bake with us and we went over to their house and baked with her and her cousins.”

“The odd time I’ll get recognised and it’s always at the wrong time, when I haven’t my hair brushed or I’m in my yoga pants,” she joked.

Gemma, who first trained in Cathal Brugha Street, and Ballymaloe Cookery School, is bigger than Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver in the US.

“They wouldn’t be as well known over here. The thing about creating digital content, I’m known worldwide. I’m known in India and Singapore. I get exposure everywhere because I’m online.”

It's hard to imagine that when she first started her YouTube channel with her Californian husband Kevin Krutz, Gemma says they were living off their savings.

But it's hard graft, she points out.

“There is a point where you’re living off your own money. When myself and Kevin started this, you’re living off savings for a good few months, if not a few years.”

“My husband said he’d love to try and produce a cooking show. His background is in entertainment. We packed up and moved to LA. We just started making online videos.”

“The reason that it works and we’re able to work together is he needs me and I need him. He needs me to be the host of the show and I need him to produce it. We complement each other. It’s not something every couple could do, it’s stressful, and not for everyone.”

“The thing about creating content and being on YouTube is that there’s never a day off. Every week you have an audience waiting for a video. We have one of the largest baking communities online so we have to have new content for that audience.”

“Even with the kinds of numbers we get, you’re not making bank. It takes copious amounts of viral videos before you can begin to make a lot of money. So we work with companies if they’re the right fit for sponsorship as well.”

The husband-and-wife team now employ a culinary assistant and a videographer. Gemma’s mother is a key player as well, working remotely from Ireland.

Talking to the YouTube star now, it’s hard to believe that when she arrived in California almost a decade ago, she had to start from scratch, working unsociable hours in kitchens and ferrying her food across San Francisco on public transport.

“I’m in California nine years now but when I moved there I worked as an apprentice baker. I used to work at 3am in morning. It was a very, very tough job. When my visa ended I got a job in a Michelin star restaurant, and again I was up at 5am, making doughs and breads and getting ready for the other chefs to come in.”

“As fun as it was and as great as it was to put on my resume, I was earning very little money and I couldn’t survive."

"I quit that job and started my own catering business in 2009, and I focused on tech companies. We were starting to see a resurgence (in the economy) in San Francisco and tech companies were spending money on catering again so I started doing breakfasts for tech companies.”

“Living in San Francisco, after a while I wanted something new. I was working long days, carrying food around on public transport, I was tired of it, but I still wanted to work in food.”

Gemma returns twice a year to Ireland, and she says, never forgets the Irish people that influenced her cooking career.

“I did the three month cookery course in Ballymaloe. It really shaped my culinary point of view, and opened me up to a whole new world of experiences.”

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