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The Influence Room Podcast- Changing the dialogue: Ben Ebbrell - Chef, Presenter, Cookbook Author & Content Creator

Posted on Jan 21, 2020 5:54:04 PM

A great part of social media is how it allows for direct feedback from viewers, the ability to answer their questions and overall it creates a community around the content. Someone who has successfully experienced this and taken 10 years to build an engaged community is Ben Ebbrell, founder and chef of the online cooking channel SORTEDfood.


Overview

Ben’s passion for food stemmed at a young age, as both his parents had an interest in cooking. When studying culinary arts at university, Ben and his friends came up with his idea of making food more accessible. They wanted to pass on simple and accessible recipes in a way that wasn’t intimidating. 

It started as a self-published student cookbook, as at the time social media wasn’t prevalent. They pushed the boundaries by publishing within 6 months, which most people said wasn’t realistic. The move to Youtube came about to capture the chemistry between friends by creating a story of friends sitting around a pub table. 

Ben emphasises that although it’s all about the food content and the conversation around food, he says that “it is the friendship that kind of anchors everything”. In its simple form its cooking and being inspired by great food with friends. 

As well as the importance of the friendship between them, he highlights the significance of their community on the platform. Ben feels like at times they are not the influencers, their community and the two and a half million people around the world are the influencers. They play a vital role in influencing what they create.

Five quick takeaways:

  1. The beauty of YouTube allows you to build something that is yours and that you're in control of. You have a community of people who tune in on a regular basis and you can allow them to steer the channel. 
  2. If you talk passionately about something you love and you're interested in and you've been given an opportunity to do, they will also have an interest in it and want to ask questions about the story.
  3. Partnerships with brands need to a natural relationship. If a brand enables great conversation about food and uncovers interesting stories, then they are both adding value to their brands. 
  4. Ben has learnt to just say ‘yes’. Just jump in and give it a go. 
  5. We are currently living, eating and drinking in a binge culture. Their needs to be a drive towards scratch cooking and educating this in schools to help prevent bad habits forming.

If you enjoyed this episode and don’t want to miss the rest of the series, you can follow The Influence Room Podcast on Spotify and Apple iTunes podcasts.


 

Full audio transcription

- Bronagh

Welcome to the Influence Room podcast, the show that explores all ends of the spectrum of influence. Our guest this week is Ben Ebbrell. Ben is a professionally trained chef with over 12 years experience working in restaurants and hotels to private dining and live food demos. He's also the founder and chef for the global online cooking channel SORTEDfood. When asked what sums up the channel, Ben uses the analogy of sitting around a pub table with friends sharing stories and eating delicious food.

It's this vision that has given SORTEDfood its credibility and its ability to make conscious decisions on how to grow the channel sustainably, keeping the audience at its heart no matter what. SORTEDfood have more than 2.2 million subscribers and 12 thousands of hours of their content is watched globally every day. We wanted to speak to Ben about his influential journey to date and how he continues to inspire an audience to get cooking. Also, if you're not aware already, this podcast is produced by Entale and you can head over there now to check out all of the behind the scenes content and links to any articles that we talk about in the interview. 

- Bronagh

Hi Ben.

- Ben Ebbrell

Hey.

- Bronagh

Thanks so much for coming into the Influence Room studio today.

- Ben Ebbrell

No, pleasure.

- Bronagh

When did we last get connected? Was it a few weeks ago?

- Ben Ebbrell

Yeah, it's been pretty, pretty recently. I've been following you guys for quite some time and seeing what you're up to and then the opportunity for this came along, I thought, “Yeah, let's have a chat.”

- Bronagh

Brilliant. I mean what we're trying to do with the podcast is sort of meet people that operate in different areas of influence. And I think what SORTEDfood has done over the past few years has been really interesting. I sort of feel like you guys are leading the way in terms of high quality food content on YouTube.

- Ben Ebbrell

Very kind of you to say.

- Bronagh

It's a lot of hard work. I think some people look at YouTube as something that's disposable, that's flimsy, but actually it's this really exciting platform where we're finding new talent. So I want to kind of take it back because you've been on YouTube for quite a few years now and have established a really strong brand, but I wanted to talk about early years. For anyone that's listening that maybe doesn't know what SORTEDfood is or what the background is, can you tell us a little bit more about that?

- Ben Ebbrell

Yeah, of course. So we have been on the platform YouTube for just over 10 years. But before that we've known each other for 20 or 21 years. So we've known each other since we met at school, secondary school. So aged  11. And therefore I think that friendship has formed the biggest hook for what we did on the channel, which is food and your right, it's food content, it's cooking, it's a conversation around food. But for us it is the friendship that kind of anchors everything. And you said there it's hard work. And I think we don't like the W word because it doesn't feel like work ever. Because literally it's cooking and being inspired by great food with friends.

It's full on and it's full time. And it's definitely hard work at times, but not sure we've ever really worked a day in our life because we're doing something we absolutely love. And that's the beauty of YouTube it's been to build something that is yours, you're in control of, which is a very different kind of world than the way we grew up, I guess, with TV as being the celebrities. And then I suppose the influence, I'm never sure if the word influence is a positive word or not, but that word sort of lends itself more to our generation who have created content online.

- Bronagh

And at what point did kind of food come into the fray for you? Were there people in your family that worked in the food industry or how did that connection come about between you and your friends?

- Ben Ebbrell

Yeah, I mean I've always, I'm a chef, trained chef. And I've always grown up in a very foodie family. Both my mom and dad, great cooks, never trained. It was never a profession but we grew up with scratch cooking. So when I went to university to study in Birmingham UCB I did culinary arts management, 50% cheffing, 50% managerial skills, a degree in that. Food was second nature and I think it was when we came back outside of uni, term time, semester,  Christmas that we got back with old school friends and it's kind of dawned on me that not everybody warmed and took a liking to food quite the same way that, or quite as naturally as we did at our university because we were all trained to be chefs. And that's kind of where the idea sparked was finding simple ways of making food more accessible to, at first, a group of friends around a pub table. And that's kind of where it grew from there, is the passing on of simple accessible recipes in a way that isn't intimidating.

- Bronagh

Who were your food influences in a sort of traditional TV world?

- Ben Ebbrell

Yeah. Definitely, Jamie Oliver.

- Bronagh

Okay.

- Ben Ebbrell

Let's say we're talking 20 years ago, The Naked Chef personally for me, every Christmas was the next cookbook. And it was kind of reassuring to see him do things with food that broke barriers. It suddenly wasn't, it didn't have to be pretentious. It didn't have to be over the top. It could be very, very simple. BISH BASH BOSH was like his thing and we kind of always aspired to that style of food because for us that's what food meant. It was the thing that kind of happened around us while we were having a good laugh. And it was the friendship that again, is the glue, but the food should be seamless. Hence the word sorted. It was like, “Yeah, we'll just get that sorted.” It's just almost effortless.

- Bronagh

Yeah. Because I guess it's that it's relatability that really ... That like the relatable chef that Jamie Oliver very much cultivated because I guess before that the sort of celebrity chef it was quite an elite sort of world to operate in and I mean I don't know if you agree but I sort of feel like Jamie ... I imagine that Jamie would have been the sort of guy he'd been around kind of when YouTube first came about. He probably would have been like the original content creator.

- Milly

100%

- Bronagh

Because it's that personality that really came through and it's about making things accessible. And it's about broadening a category to a mass market.

- Ben Ebbrell

Yeah, and breaking down barriers. You're absolutely right, a lot of chefs would have stood there on a pedestal and said, “My way or the highway, I'm the chef. I'm telling you how to do it. There's only one way to do it. It's my way. Learn from me. I'm the master.” Whereas he was much more like, “A little bit of this is in the fridge, taste it, see what you think, adjust it, play with it.” And that was kind of his approach and that's always been our similar style. And yet we started on YouTube because for us it was second nature. It was a platform that was free in our pockets. We were using it naturally anyway, the same way that as and when Instagram and Twitter and Facebook were taking off, it was just second nature for us to use those. And we were very fortunate to work with Jamie when he sort of launched his channel.

- Bronagh

Was that Food Tube?

- Ben Ebbrell

Food Tube. Yeah, yeah.

- Bronagh

Yes, yeah.

- Ben Ebbrell

And when that sort of first launched, it was kind of a, it was a phenomenal experience to get to work with him because we were learning from a master in the traditional world, in the cookbook world and we were able to offer him sort of what we did online and it was kind of a really nice partnership that sparked there.

- Bronagh

Did you release the first cookbook before you started YouTube?

- Ben Ebbrell

Yeah. I mean, we never had a big goal or a big ambition to do what we do now. What we do now didn't exist when we started it. We set off as a cookbook, self-published student cookbook, and we had the skill sets between the team and we were very fortunate that it was Barry's photography and design. Jamie was studying marketing down at Bournemouth University.

- Milly

Ah where I went.

- Ben Ebbrell

Weird enough, so long ago he has a degree in marketing, but social media wasn't on the agenda because it didn't exist. But what it gave him was a case study of a book and a project that he could actually, a real life case study to help us with that. And it was kind of a pretty much a team effort, but it was a self-publish cookbook first. And then we wanted to create-

- Milly

Full package.

- Ben Ebbrell

A video to try and, originally they were adverts to try and sell the book.

- Bronagh

What gave you the idea to self-publish?

- Ben Ebbrell

We've always, some would say naive. Others would say ballsy. We like to think it's somewhere in between, but we thought, “Well, why not?” We had this idea for student cookbook because I was sharing recipes with the guys for their unique halls and stuff. And we thought it would be the perfect opportunity. We will graduate with a degree but wouldn't it be amazing if you have a book too. And we actually spoke to some publishers and they were sort of saying, “Yeah, nice idea like a student cookbook. We can look at doing something for next summer.”

And we're like, this was January of that year. We said, “We mean for like A-level results day, like six months.” And they just pretty much laughed at us and said, “That just doesn't happen that quick in this world.” And we walked out thinking, “Well it can do.” And we did. And it was almost while we were studying and while we were doing all of that, we kind of made it our drive to get this thing not just written and tested and recipe shot. Barry designed it all and printed within the six months, and we did it.

- Bronagh

So did you release on the A-level results-

- Ben Ebbrell

Yeah. We were all set for that. I mean, we were still really naive. We just presumed that because we had a book, it would be stocked everywhere. It arrived day one, it'd be stocked day two, right?

- Milly

Sold out in days.

- Ben Ebbrell

Yes we were a little naïve. And at the same time we were just wanted to prove a point and we did it and we did it slightly different way. We kind of broke a few molds in doing that. And just because the publishing world has existed like that for a long time, we just kind of wanted to do it our way. And I think content creation on YouTube is very similar. You see TV production companies with huge numbers of people all with very, very specific roles and they all work together like cogs in a machine and that's the way it works and it does work. But we just wanted to break that a bit and do all of those jobs between the four of us at the start. And now we've got a bigger team and it makes it even more seamless. But we just always wanted to sort of break the mold and stick to what we thought was perhaps a more authentic way of doing it.

- Bronagh

And who advised you to start on YouTube or is that just something that you became aware of and did it yourself?

- Ben Ebbrell

I think it was just, I mean, Barry always had a drive for making sure that the storytelling was right and the whole point of the cookbook it was for students by students. And we were mates and had been for a decade at that point. And we captured that in the photography of the cookbook. But when we did the videos, it was even more evident that you can capture even better in video. Hate the word banter, but it's that kind of like that chemistry of you only good friends can have.

And you think about who you would invite around your pub table on a Friday night. Who do you want there? Who do you want around that table? And all the values and characteristics of friendship, loyalty, trust, people who make you laugh. All those kinds of values, they're the people you want to ride your pub table. That's what we had and Barry said, “That's what works on video and on camera even better than in a book.” So I think from that point that kind of approach to creating content sort of flew from there really.

- Bronagh

And how long did it take to sort of, from it being a passion to be your full time job?

- Ben Ebbrell

It was a good couple of years. I mean, we were carried on doing bits on the side and Jamie and Mike had proper jobs. And Barry and I would talk to an agency-

- Bronagh

Proper jobs.

- Ben Ebbrell

Jamie worked for a marketing agency. A social media tool that kind of looked at what was being spoken about and how to consolidate that down for brands, which a lot of people can now because of the tools available can do themselves.

- Bronagh

Yeah.

- Ben Ebbrell

But at the time he was sort of pioneering in that. And meanwhile Barry and I were working evenings and weekends in hospitality and Barry was doing photography and graphic design, freelance to try and pay for this crazy idea that we had, that was sorted that we kind of did Monday to Friday.

- Bronagh

And what was your vision for the brand? Did you kind of have an end goal or was it ... Yeah, tell me what the vision was?

- Ben Ebbrell

It was wonderfully fluffy, in the sense I think we just ... and it was only in the very first early few days when a few comments start coming in and saying, “I've just cooked your version of whatever, or I've just got back from holiday and we had this dish, how do you recreate at home?” And when that conversation started, we realised that we were starting to affect food in the lives of one or two people the same way we'd started at university around the pub table. And I think our kind of drive is behind the brand, which is how can we have a conversation around food that puts proper food back on everybody's agenda. Because I think it's been kind of lost in that sense. We've kind of fallen out of love with food a little bit.

And how do we in some way or other make a little bit of difference, a little bit of change. But it was as fluffy as that. We had no idea that a decade on it would be what it is now. And the power and the fact that the community we have now is in every country speaking every language. And there's foodies all over the world and not even foodies just people who eat food and have an opinion to share and they help influence everything we do now. So going back to that influencer word we sometimes feel like we're not the influencers, our community and the two and a half million people around the world they're the influencers. They're influencing what we create, and that sort of comes full circle.

- Bronagh

Well that's it, I mean YouTube is so self-serving and  its, I think it's the interactive relationship that you've got that you just don't really have with TV audiences. I find quite often in the TV world you're kind of, I mean you probably have your marketing statistics and all that, but I always find if you were going to ask things on a survey, they're not going to give you 100% accurate answer. And I think that's what is so special about YouTube is that it is very reactive. But then what can be difficult then is to sustain that constant momentum and constant feedback. And I imagine for a lot of YouTube talent that that can be quite overwhelming. How far do you guys tend to think in the future with the company?

- Ben Ebbrell

It depends on who in the team you're speaking to. Because actually some of the team are literally helping to answer the real time comments that are coming through and point people in the direction of an answer and a solution to get whatever question they have sorted. And chances are there's something for back catalog we've already done. We've tackled that at some point and that's real time. So you're thinking half an hour, an hour ahead or behind. Whereas content, we're creating perhaps a month or two months in advance at times, especially if you're working with brand partners and making sure that you're getting everything ticked off along the way to make sure it's delivering what the brand wants.

It's delivering what we as a brand want. And it's also delivering what an audience wants to watch because it's in part what they've asked for. And keeping that juggling act is a couple of months. And given the nature of small business startup originally, but 10 years into this now with the team of 15, you've got to make sure that there's still going to be something there in six months time. So there's a few in the team who are thinking already about 2020 and kind of planning forward. So it almost feels quite grown up considering something was a silly little idea that started on a pub table. It's evolved into something quite special that it's almost like it's our baby.

- Bronagh

So how big is the team now?

- Ben Ebbrell

15. So we've got a studio in East London and it's 15 full time people. So camera guys, editors, social media, account manager, development chefs, tech team you name it. All the parts that contribute towards all the content we put out which isn't just the two YouTube videos a week. All the social media content, exclusive videos on Facebook plus all the stuff we do for the club membership. So loads of cookbooks, eat packages, providing different apps for different solutions. Our mission is always to be your best friend in food. 

Whatever you come across in life, if food is involved and you've got a question, we'd like to think that SORTED has an answer, whether it's I'm cooking and what should I cook? Or I want to be inspired by something new. Or I'm out in town tonight and I'm meeting up with some friends, where's the best place to go that we're going to get a great experience. All of those touch points, we kind of want to hope that we provide a solution for and that's what the club membership does. So yeah, big team. But that's because there's a lot of stuff going on.

- Milly

Amazing.

- Bronagh

And what sort of content that you're producing do you think has the most impact? Is it still recipe driven content or is it the more sort of challenge based content? What do your audience love the most about what you do?

- Ben Ebbrell

That's a really difficult one because in a way we have completely different audience even though, and community because they've joined at different parts in the journey. So there are people who have been with us for 10 years who admit to speaking to us more regularly than their own decade old friends. That's kind of the-

- Bronagh

You are their friend.

- Ben Ebbrell

There's five of us you see predominantly on camera. But we always like to feel like there's a sixth seat at the pub table and that should be the person watching. And the beauty about YouTube is you're there, it's in your hand or increasing now on smart TV in your living room is in your very personal space. You've chosen to watch it. We have phenomenal like content watch time and retention and people have chosen to engage with it. We hope because they kind of want to be part of that community, part of that pub table.

So those people have been with us forever and ever remember that it started off as how to recipe videos. Very search heavy. And if you search for pretty much most recipes or ingredients we'll have an optional too that will suit you. Increasingly as we've moved on, we've kind of gotten much more to exploration and discovery and more inspiration and just conversation around food, not just history and legacy and have the food that we have on our plates get there. But also what are we going to be eating in 5 years time, in 10 years time? And these are really important topics.

So we've got different people join us from different journeys, but YouTube is always going to be a place where jeopardy and sort of challenges is always going to be pretty key because entertainment comes first. We always like that we accidentally educate. Hopefully you watch a video, you will learn something every time without fail. But hopefully more than that you'll be inspired or entertained. So there's always an element of jeopardy or competition and there's different formats we have from battles and pass it on to beat the chef or mystery box. And it's those challenge elements on YouTube that do so well but food has to be the backbone to that.

- Bronagh

And how often do you get contacted by say other production companies or TV channels wanting to collaborate with yours? Is that something that they might find your formats are really sticking, and is that something that you get contacted about a lot?

- Ben Ebbrell

To be honest with you, not a huge amount. I think there's quite a bit of separation between TV production and online creators, in the sense that it's changed quite quickly in the sense that we do do it a slightly different way. I don't know, maybe we see shadows in the darkness but I sometimes feel like they almost don't want to get involved with YouTube creators because it's almost such a different world. So much less from production companies because I think we do very similar things in very different ways. We do get a lot of approach from a lot of other brands who have things that they would love to share with our audience. And those kinds of approaches we get countless off. But other production companies we tend not, so there's not huge amount of overlap between TV and YouTube.

- Bronagh

Because I read an article quite a few months ago now about kind of the death of the TV chef just because of the way culture has changed and even down to wanting to hear younger voices and more diverse voices. And I just wondered is that something you'd agree with? Do you think that the TV chef in a traditional sense, like your Gordon Ramseys and your Tom Kerridges, that they're still exciting, whether they're still influential? What do you think?

- Ben Ebbrell

Definitely still influential. When you can see that in cookbook sales. It's just a different demographic. I think TV consumption has changed. People as we all know, people don't necessarily bookmark their day by certain programming. It's very much more on demand. It's very much more a binge culture. And that's not just entertainment consumption. That's where we eat. We eat in a binge culture, we drink in a binge culture. Like this whole binging is a much more normal approach to life now, which is a little bit scary. But then you only have to look at things like Bake Off and that is still absolutely like-

- Milly

Love Bake off.

- Bronagh

Dominates.

- Ben Ebbrell

Dominates TV. And I think that's because it's not the traditional TV chef. It is the accessible normal people in normal jobs doing extraordinary things. Plus as a viewer you feel like you have the upper hand because you've just been told exactly what you're looking for from Paul and Peru. So therefore when you see it go wrong, you feel like you've got the upper hand because you know better because you know they shouldn't have done that. But you've watched them do it anyway. So as a viewer you feel like you can get involved but it's because it's successful. Let's be honest, everyone is sitting going, “Oh I shouldn't do that.”

- Milly

I've made a better cake.

- Ben Ebbrell

But it's much more accessible and I think the traditional TV chef there is to a place, but it is the same kind of ideas and formats being repeated. Whereas online there are no boundaries. You can make things up and change things, emerge things and test. You can do a one off and see if it works and your community will very quickly tell you whether they absolutely love it or whether it's a disaster and then you can adapt. Whereas TV shows tend to be, “We're going to shoot a series of X, Y, and Z and they're going to go out and then we'll see if there's any good and worth a second series.”

- Bronagh

Yeah, I think that's really interesting, when you said about kind of binge culture and the way that we eat food and I just wonder are we going to come full circle because the concept of your channel is six ... Sorry, five friends are on the table and you just worry, has that gone out of people's routine that they don't actually sit around and enjoy a meal anymore? Are they just, “Oh let's order from deliveroo or”, not sponsored by delivery. I just wonder like is that going to ... Or maybe I'm just in my London bubble. Sometimes I do think about these things and maybe I am just in this sort of like little-

- Milly

I think London's like that though. I think a lot of the time you do just sort of get into that mindset of everything being, “Right. That's done. Okay. Move on.” You don't really sit. Do people have like lunch breaks anymore? You work and eat and you don't even sit around and talk anymore.

- Bronagh

Yeah. Because sometimes whenever I ... I mean I find food content on YouTube relaxing, but I don't always necessarily make meal afterwards and I'd love to know like what is ... I'd love to get a bit more insight into why people watch it. Do they watch it because maybe they don't have someone to experience that with or-

- Ben Ebbrell

It’s a sad thought but I think you're right. I think people aspire to cook those things but they are watching it more for just the inspiration more than anything else. I think even down to other programming that is still doing well on traditional TV, things like MasterChef where you can't cook alone, you don't even get in the recipes. You're literally just watching it for the jeopardy and the competition and for the story.

- Bronagh

The aspiration, yeah.

- Ben Ebbrell

But it's all around foods. You're inspired by it. And you might take away a flavor combination never heard of before or method but you haven't got any recipes you can follow. So people aren't watching it in order to cook along or cook afterwards. It's just-

- Bronagh

It's a relaxation or a distraction.

- Ben Ebbrell

Something to unwind with, yeah.

- Bronagh

Do you do anything in schools? Have you ever done any sort of partnerships? Because I mean I think that's the best place to start. Go into schools and actually because I mean that's old kids watch now is YouTube. And if they were actually watching stuff that was beneficial.

- Milly

Healthy.

- Bronagh

Yeah. 

- Milly

It might be helpful.

- Ben Ebbrell

And don't get me wrong, we do the unhealthy stuff too. But I think the understand ... I think when you do scratch cooking and we've kind of always said like, “If you make a cheesecake and you see just how much stuff goes into it, you're a bit more conscious about what you're eating.”

- Milly

It's like when you make a cake, like Bake Off again. Right how much sugar? Just keeps going.

- Ben Ebbrell

Well I mean it's ... We live in a world where time is probably our most limited resource. So there's 101 reasons why it would be impossible, but if everything was scratched cooked, then how often would you have chips? The thought of having to peel and chop potatoes deep fry them and then afterwards deal with the dirty fryer and the oil. People would have it on very rare special occasions when you can pick up a portion on the way home every single day for less than a pound, that's when this binge culture of eating things out of sync of balance becomes an issue. If you scratch cook everything, eat as much cake as you want.

If you bake every single one from scratch because that is a like a natural balance. It modifies everything or moderates everything. And I think that's probably a better way of approaching it. It's not realistic and who does that and we don't do that either. But if you could drive towards that and that kind of education that it's important and schools is the first place to start because that's where a lot of the bad habits will potentially form. And it's not the fault of the kids because they're not being taught.

It's not on the curriculum. Even if you do food technology, it's more designed led as opposed to, and there are elements of nutrition in it, but as opposed to, “It's a Monday night, it's a Tuesday night, it's a Wednesday night, what am I going to cook for dinner that's quick and simple and accessible and it's tasty and I'm actually going to enjoy?” That's not taught in schools. And as a result, people are turning to the internet and stumbling across idiots like us online and looking for us, to us for food education.

- Milly

The answers.

- Ben Ebbrell

School is an important place to be. The challenge is how you do it on scale and we'd love to think you could do it digitally and it would find where it needs to go, it's not always that easy.

- Bronagh

Who taught you to cook?

- Ben Ebbrell

I did a lot at home. My parents I’d say were good cooks. There was always food around. I would always be nosy being in the kitchen, getting involved. I'd get Jamie Oliver cookbook every Christmas.

- Bronagh

What do you remember was your first big success?

- Ben Ebbrell

So we actually filmed this about a year ago. It's the first ever and it was a Jamie Oliver fish pie. And it was the first time I cooked something for the family that wasn't just sweets or cakes or a bake or something, a snack or a cheese toastie or something. It was the first time I cooked something that was a meal and the whole family sat down to eat it. And that was a moment that I think a light bulb went on in my head. But then my first job, saturday job was in the kitchen, just a pub kitchen. And I started off pot washing for about two days, only because I had a rubber net, because I was constantly looking at the rest of the kitchen to see what was going on. And the chef was like, “Do you want to come this side and have a go?”. And that's literally what it took. It was just jumping straight in and giving it a go. And picking it up that way.

- Bronagh

And what kind of food was in that restaurant?

- Ben Ebbrell

It was a pub.

- Bronagh

Oh pub, okay.

- Ben Ebbrell

And it was a chain pub and there was a lot of things that came at microwaves but there was also a lot of cooking of steaks and salads and fries and fish and chips. But it was more about the kitchen dynamics of how a team work together seamlessly to have 50 tables all being served in an hour and each table has got a different order and how do you get the timing right and health and safety and all those kind of attributes more so than the actual food we were cooking. Although I probably cooked more steak and ham, egg and chips in the two years than I have since. But it was more the approach to kitchens that I kind of learned there.

- Bronagh

Well that's, I think a lot of people will probably become more inspired to get into food now that they've got kind of friendlier faces that they can look to because I know that, well, my perspective of the typical chef is just this angry, angry person that it's like nothing less than 100% and it's long hours and dah, dah. But I do think, I mean, that dynamic must have changed. Now the culture must be changing around food because-

- Milly

I mean, I experienced the angry chef when I was working at a pub.

- Bronagh

The plate throwing.

- Milly

And it's scary.

- Ben Ebbrell

I'm sure it still exists in some places. But it's much more ... And I studied food at A-level and then at university, which is a very different approach to the majority of people who'd go through an apprenticeship and learn on the job and put in the hours that way. And there was so many amazing chefs who mentor the next generation. There's not enough of them, but there are so many doing that that it's not all bad anymore, but I'm sure it still exists.

- Milly

Would you ever want to mentor someone in that respect?

- Ben Ebbrell

The great thing about the team we have now is that we can bring new people on. So internships, paid three month internships for students over the summer or whatever. Not just in food and we've had a few of those join the team from the university that I studied at. We can have students come from there and beyond, but also in social media and also in production and editing. And we have the opportunity to get younger talent in and give them an opportunity to try something that we're doing. But at the same time we can learn from them. And again, going back to this word influence, it's absolutely two way.

I ran out of recipes eight years ago. As in ones I had in the back of my head ready to put into books. Now we're all learning every single week because questions and comments are coming in and we're learning from our audience community all over the world. We've got essentially two and a half million food ambassadors around the world who are fueling what we do. And that's what inspired the club. Like, how can we do something a bit more than just a couple of videos a week on YouTube and how do we harness it and turn it into something that's this magical formula that you can then share with more people who haven't got direct access? People can direct message us but they can't direct message each other. So how do we find a way of curating it in a club form and giving it to everybody so everyone has that wealth of information.

- Milly

This is a big pub table.

- Ben Ebbrell

It's literally getting bigger by the day and we love it. We can't keep up with it.

- Milly

It’s great.

- Bronagh

So is YouTube still your, is that still the biggest output point of what you do and how do you cater to also other platforms? Is Facebook a place where you put edits of YouTube content or do you create different stuff for Facebook? Tell me a little bit about how you create content for each of your sort of media platforms.

- Ben Ebbrell

Yeah, I mean the great thing is that Mike and the rest of the team kind of lead the production and have this wonderful kind of web of journey that depending on which platform you're on, you end up with a slightly different version of the same ideas, sometimes they're different ideas. But YouTube still kind of the main stage, the biggest audience, the videos there. We only ever put out videos, I say we….Mike who kind of heads up all the production is 110% happy that it's bigger and better than the last video we put out. So there's a real kind of control there to make sure that it's always growing and offering the subscribers exactly what they want.

But then you've also got things like the community tab on YouTube where we can have a very, very honest conversation and perhaps some behind the scenes or a clip of something or ask you a question that will influence the next bit of content. We've done some stuff in America with a Visit The USA as a sponsor where we go into cities, possibly the lesser known ... The ones you wouldn't necessarily think about going away. So Louisville or Kansas City or we've just got back from Portland in Oregon and we get dumped in there for 48 hours or so. What do you do? Well, anyone can Google the top 10 answers, but we kind of want to redefine how our generation travel.

How would you unlock the hidden, the local spots, the real stories beneath the surface. And we can tap into our audience with that. And we do that on the community tab. FridgeCam has been a great tool for us because it's like ... FridgeCam is like our wardrobe into Narnia except it's into the internet. And we can open up that fridge, we can ask any question directly to our audience and they come back with a wealth of brilliance. And that's kind of what led the journey. So when we're there, we're going to recommendations. We only ever go to places that are recommended by either locals when we hit the ground and we get there or by our audience online and Twitter is another good place for that, real time suggestions.

It's much more of the moment kind of comes and goes the same way Instagram does. So they're slightly different. And then we have a podcast much like this and you where you can talk for much longer and you can get stuck into the detail that would be unnecessary on YouTube in a 12, 13, 14 minute video. So you can start tackling topics that are really of interest. You mentioned the lunch break, we've just had a whole 40 minute conversation about is the lunch break dead and should you be allowed to eat at your desk.

That's a really interesting conversation. It can go 101 ways. It doesn't make a YouTube video but it makes you really interesting half an hour or 35 minute chat and we can put that on a podcast and the people who are part of the membership engage with that start to finish. And then what's amazing is then they share their thoughts on it and sometimes it's essays. And this is the kind of information that you, I don't know how I should get hold of.

- Bronagh

To go back to the Visit USA partnership. Can you tell us a little bit about how that came about? Because I think there are people who are listening that might be more on the industry side of things and would probably love to know what it's like to partner with SORTEDfood and how you collaborate with brands because you've built such a strong brand yourself. So I imagine it must take a lot of sort of consideration when you do take on a brand partner. So can you tell me a little bit about that partnership and how it came about?

- Ben Ebbrell

Yeah, you're actually right. We consider an awful lot and we jumped through a lot of hoops before we work with any brand and we like to sort of have long term partnerships and we kind of want to invite them around the pub table. It's not just somebody you meet at the bar while you're ordering, have a nonchalant chat with and then move on. We want to invite you around our pub table. One of our best sponsors is Kenwood. We've been working with them for eight years. It's the same people in the team. They're essentially another member of the SORTED team. Like in the back of every video is like is a Kenwood bit of kit. And it's a very, very natural relationship because we get what they're trying to do and what their machines do and it's natural and we love the machines and it's a nice british brand as well.

And then they get the opportunity to showcase their machines and their new colors and new range in the studio, in the kitchen that's watched by thousands of people over the world. So that kind of long term relationship is the key. But we've always said whatever we do has to add value and we don't, and never have done is endorse a product. And we're not going to stand there and hold something up and say, “It's amazing.” If a brand can enable us to have a conversation around food or cooking or the future of food or travel to a destination to uncover great stories and food, then that makes a great content. And then the brand has enabled that.

They're the hero, rather than bumping something or getting us to hold something up and make sure the labels facing the right way. And, “Have you got the close up on that and can you say our brand bible words here?” We won't do that. There's no point because our audience is us. It's our demographic. We're too savvy for that. We hate being sold too. Give us an experience, don't sell to us. We hate advertising. Basically we use millennial digital native, all the buzz words that the marketing teams use, that demographic don't want to be sold too. So stop selling, but instead empower great content they want to watch and you'll come across as the hero.

- Bronagh

It's still really frustrating that people, even though it's like that, that has been repeated by creators over and over and over again. And then the brand's like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, totally get it.” And then they come back again, “Oh no, actually can you just say these six key messages.” And it's just so, it's like baffling. If you want an ad pay for an advert.

- Ben Ebbrell

And you can put that in front of our audience and get the exact, you can do that. People will skip it because they're not really interested in advertising but put it as part of the narrative and we've always said if you ... Again it's difficult because we're very biased. We sit on one side of the fence so we've got one story to tell, but genuinely believe that if you let us create something that our audience want with your brief in mind and just leave us to get on with it and trust us to get on with it, it will be brilliant. Bear in mind, we spent 10 years building our community. If we lose their trust, it's game over. If you have a bad brand marketing campaign, you'll get another budget next year to try something different and it will be written off as that was a shame.

But you're starting again with a new budget. We've got one community and they're part of us and we're only ever going to give them stuff that we know they'll love. So we say no to 9 out of 10 things that come our way because we will only do the stuff that adds value and some of the best brands you've worked with are those who come to us with a challenge and objective they want to do. And one of the best ones was years ago now, but it sticks with me is Android Pay. And they said to us as simple as, “We have Android Pay. People know of Apple pay, people don't really know of Android Pay and there's certainly not yet trusting it in the UK. So we want to build the trust that you can use your phone contact list with Android Pay.” That's the challenge. It was as simple as that. And then they left it with us and we came up with the idea that we would open up the fridge and we would ask our audience if they're having any cool celebrations and whether they would invite us to tag along. And if they would, then we would take the food to another level in some way. And the best thing is we would do the whole thing contactless and the best, best thing was the contactless credit card was attached to Android's credit card, so they're paying. And we didn't know where that was going to lead us, but we got invited to barbecues, birthdays, anniversaries, graduation parties, and one of the four we chose was a wedding.

A member of our community who had watched us for years, crazy, right? Invited us to their wedding. And it was insane. It was in Wembley. It was an Indian wedding. And the challenge was kind of set. We had 48 hours to conjure up something for this wedding. And they wanted little ... Obviously the food was already well under control, but we were going to take it across Indian burfi, which were little Indian sweets. The wedding was for about 250. Typical, you'd have three or four of these things. It was like we have to make a thousand pieces of burfi in 40 hours and present them at a wedding. We didn't even know what burfi was. So that was a challenge. We set off and we went and explored. We learned about it.

We went and got dressed up in traditional Indian attire that it was the groom and his best man took Mike and Barry to get outfits for us for the wedding. And we were in this shop in Wembley and we chose exactly what we wanted and we got to the till and we're like, “Is it going to work contactless?” And even the shop owner, she just looked at him and said, “No one's ever done that before.” And we just went for it. Contactless, fine and the look on the shopkeeper's face, let alone our face that it worked, it was something that was never scripted. It would never have been storyboarded. We don't do that. We just put ourselves in situations where things are likely to work out but might go wrong.

And then you get the best moments. And we ended up at this wedding and it was phenomenal. Even talking about it now, it sends shivers down my spine because it was such an incredible experience to be a part of and for them to let us in and to trust us as people they've watched forever friends, but also to trust a brand. Suddenly they had a brand at their wedding. Insane. But an incredible day. But that was because Android Pay said, “There's the challenge. How do you convince a younger an online audience that you can trust, contactless payment?”

- Bronagh

There's so much added value in that shoot as well because that's the thing if you give someone three key messages, that's what we'll put in there. And probably not much more than that. Whereas if you broaden the conversation, I mean everyone uses the word storyteller, but that say it's a bite driving a narrative and the minute that you put somebody else's tone of voice into a brief or a script, it's just going to be another advert that nobody is going to look back on.

“Oh my God, do you remember that?” That is why if you're going to work with anyone who has built a big platform, you kind of need to put your trust in them. Like me and Alex, we've talked about it before on the podcast where influence can't be bought and once it's bought, it's very obvious. And when you see that with people who are buying followers, it's just not sustainable. Pure influence is something that takes years to build up.

- Ben Ebbrell

Yeah, absolutely.

- Bronagh

And again, it's that whole word of trust. And I think a lot of people maybe get into this industry because they see it as maybe a quick fix or a cash cow and it's like, “You know what? It's not.” It's for the people who sort of rise to the top. It's because everything they do is considered, and actually it's a huge responsibility to be a person of influence because everything you do has an impact. And brand's probably think, “Oh yeah, they probably do it.” And it's like, “Well not the people who've been going for 10 years.”

- Ben Ebbrell

Exactly back to the same analogy for fear of repeating myself, the pub table. How many of your best friends are in a pub table on a Friday night, do you have to pay to be there? And how many do you sell to? How many do you open up your jacket and you've got a whole thing of watches and you're like, “I need to sell you this, because I get an affiliate kickback or I get paid per click or whatever.” It just doesn't happen. If you talk passionate about something you love and you're interested in and you've been given an opportunity to do, they will also have an interest in it and want to ask questions about the story. And then if it’s of interest to them, they'll go and find out their own accord.

But you don't need to sell to the people around your friendship pub table and you haven't had to pay for them to be there. So it has to happen organically and that doesn't happen overnight. That takes years. So yeah, if there's one message that you can put out there to brands who want to get across a challenge or business struggle they have is find a creator who is creative, who has built up an audience that they trust and then let them do their thing. Obviously with parameters and it's got to be brand safe. And we're pretty good at that in the sense that food generally doesn't have to get too political or controversial. I mean increasingly in the world we live in it is. We'd look at politics at the moment and that is going to have an effect on the food we eat.

- Milly

That's a whole other podcast.

- Ben Ebbrell

Well it is. And it's a really interesting one, but again, you come to amazing big government bodies who have got phenomenal research but it's not necessarily what an online generation have had input into or going to read a 200 page dossier of the food policy. So how do you get it across to them in a way they do get? You need to break it down and tell it in a story in entertaining and an inspiring way. So there's lots of challenges but food very rarely needs to get political or it's not adult content. It's family friendly through and through.

- Bronagh

And I saw recently that you're with Rhett & Link. Was that in America?

- Ben Ebbrell

Yeah, yeah, yeah

- Bronagh

Because they're an interesting pair.

- Ben Ebbrell

We love those guys. In the sense that they've also been going forever and ever. And they have that friendship that is the core where they can finish each other's sentences because they've known each other for so long and they just know how to bounce off each other. They know what content performs well on the platform and they're just really, really nice guys. And the opportunity to collab with people at that is brilliant.

- Bronagh

Is that something that's gone live already?

- Ben Ebbrell

Yeah. So that went live this weekend-

- Bronagh

Nice.

- Ben Ebbrell

A few days ago. Yeah.

- Bronagh

So for anyone who's listening, Rhett & Link RA comedy duo who have a morning show called Good Mythical Morning, it's probably one of the most watched things on YouTube.

- Ben Ebbrell

It's phenomenal.

- Bronagh

And it takes a hell of a lot of production and just brilliant brands to go into it. But again, it's utilizing a platform at its best. I think they do a very similar thing to what SORTEDfood do and it's a self-serving brand. It's so community driven. They talk a lot about how they, I mean, the only way that you're going to get constant ideas is by having a really, really intimate relationship with your audience. Because, I mean, I don't know how you just use come up with-

- Ben Ebbrell

There's a reason they're quite like us. And that's because we were inspired by them when we collab with them years and years ago, because it was the first time we'd walked into a studio with a team of people who just knew what they were doing, but they weren't people for the sake of people like TV production. It was a tight team of talented people operating in a studio in LA, like TV or with the professionalism of TV, but in a completely different way. And they just got the platform.

And that was many, many years ago when we first did a collab with them. And we were just inspired by that alone. And being able to sort of shape our team in a similar kind of way, having a studio with the development kitchen, a studio and a workspace and all pretty open plan and everyone is passing tasks, and jobs seamlessly amongst each other. We know what we're doing. It's like an army of ants and we just get job done. And yeah, that was inspired by Rhett & Link and their team, it’s phenomenal.

- Bronagh

And can you tell us some of your career highlights to date? What's been some of the coolest projects you've worked on?

- Ben Ebbrell

Well so much the travel. So uncovering great stories and great people in the United States. So places you wouldn't necessarily go to. And I think all too often because America is one country, it gets bundled into one style of food. And I think we were actually probably a bit like that as well. We sort of saying, “Oh we've done America.” Because we've been to a few bits and we've done American food before and how many more times can we re-spin this same story. But the real beauty is as soon as you get there and you get introduced to local, it was not necessarily the tourist hotspots or the chains or anything like that. But you get into the independent restaurants and the producers and you hear the stories of people who been doing it for generations.

That continues to be a highlight. Every time we go, we're amazed at the stories we uncover. And one of the ones that went out, started yesterday in fact, and finishes the second part in a couple of days time, we went crabbing in Oregon just off on the West Coast of Oregon. And we met with a guy who's been crabbing and had a marina for 41 years. And he just was such a character and such a personality and so knowledgeable in what he did and had a passion for crabs that you couldn't imagine. And it was our first time that we'd ever been out crabbing. It wasn't just off the end of the pier and it was the best crab I've ever eaten in my life.

- Milly

It's amazing.

- Ben Ebbrell

So, yeah, constant travel is amazing.

- Bronagh

Crab on toast is one of those sort of luxuries of life, isn't it?

- Milly

Yeah. 

- Ben Ebbrell

And then they're popular parts where it's quite expensive but then there are other parts when it's in season and you're in the right location, you can literally-

- Milly

Grab the crab yourself.

- Ben Ebbrell

Catch. Catch the, yeah.

- Milly

Catch of the day.

- Bronagh

And as he noticed any, because I know with sort of lobster fishing or crabfishing that industry is changing massively as well. Has he experienced any sort of, kind of what's the word I'm looking for?

- Milly

The drought of crabs?

- Bronagh

Yeah.

- Ben Ebbrell

Well, I mean they're very careful and I think sustainability is such an important subject at the moment as our nutrition, as is so many other conversations around food. But they have and always have had a lot of rules in place. We put up a lobster and it must've had, I don't know, 20 odd crabs in it, but 15 had to go back because they weren't the right size or they were, now I just remember they were either female or male. We could only keep the males, females had to go back. So they are very, very protective over how they fish. And so it remains sustainable so they can keep on top of it. But then again there's a whole generation of people now who love experiences and yes, a lot of it is for the gram and you want another photo, another opportunity to something you can post on social media and that is the world we live in.

But going somewhere where you can actually go crabbing is such a cool story and you can capture it for social media and it's a story to tell when you get back from your holiday or your trip or a weekend away. So that kind of experiences, experiential stuff, you see experiences on Airbnb, all those kinds of things that have taken off in the last couple of years. I think anything that is an experience people want to replicate, which is why we launched the SORTEDeat app and we're very lucky because we travel to places and when you're carrying cameras you get treated quite well. You get looked after because of course they want to showcase the best of the best. How do we pass that on to our community who have basically put us in these positions anyway? And that's what the SORTEDeat app is all about. And it's part of the membership.

And if you come to London, there's half a dozen or so places that we highlight in the city that we've been to that are awesome independent restaurants that are doing amazing things. And if you go in there and show that you're a SORTED club member, they'll look after you just the same way they did with us when the cameras were there. They'll give you the best seat in the house or they'll give you an extra perk, a dessert or a coffee thrown in or a glass of something on arrival. They will look after you like they should, like they do with everyone because that's what hospitality is. But especially because you're a SORTED member and that's kind of, it's those little experiences that we kind of want to give back to the community.

- Milly

Share.

- Ben Ebbrell

Yeah.

- Bronagh

And so to kind of wrind up, what does influence mean to you? Who are the most influential people that have sort of shaped your career. Would you say it's your audience?

- Ben Ebbrell

It is, yeah. I think absolutely because they shape everything we do. But I think it's the direct connection and dialogue with them. And that's again going back to the whole demographic and generation of people who don't like to be sold to. There's also a bit of a pushback against experts and I don't necessarily know if that's put us in a good place, but against science, against politics, everyone is an armchair expert and you'd much prefer to listen to, you may run a pub table after a few points and trust that more than you would the people who spent their lives doing the research projects and stuff like that. And politicians, you do know policy and law inside and out. But you'd much prefer to trust the person next to you in the pub after a couple of pints.

So I think for us the most important thing is to keep that connection with our audience because we trust them to feed us the next food trend so that we can showcase it on the channel and they trust us that we'll only ever give them stuff that makes sense. And we're not going to hold up a brand for the sake of it or for a check, however big that check is. And sometimes it is painful to see how some of those checks could be. But we're not going to do it if it's not right for the story and the progression of where food should be. So yeah, influence is two way how we can influence our audience and how they can influence and shape and keep us on track too.

- Bronagh

Amazing. And then, sorry, one final thing. Starter, main, dessert, go.

- Ben Ebbrell

What? My favorite?

- Bronagh

Yes.

- Ben Ebbrell

Oh no.

- Milly

We should have told him this at the very beginning-

- Ben Ebbrell

I always sit on the fence because I, less about a dish and more about a style of eating. Because I hate narrowing down choice because I can never choose. So it's all about small plates or sharing platters. So starter would be like an antipasti kind of thing. Lots of cured meats and cheeses, olives and bread. Everyone can share.

- Milly

That's going to make me hungry.

- Ben Ebbrell

And everyone can try a lot of stuff. Main course, that kind of social sharing. We had an amazing crawfish boil in New Orleans where it's just a whole bunch of potatoes and French sausage and celery and orange and cajun spice cooked up with loads of fresh crawfish. And then it's just tipped out into a bucket and everyone tucks in. You’re stood around and you're chatting, you're picking. Super social. And desserts if you've got any space left-

- Milly

I'm sure you would after that.

- Ben Ebbrell

I would have to say something that combines chocolate and booze, but that's just a personal thing. I'd have to finish with a tiramisu. And I know that's boring and classic but struggled to beat it.

- Bronagh

No, I love a tiramisu.

- Milly

Yeah. Can't go wrong.

- Bronagh

Good choices. Well, Ben, thank you so much for coming on the podcast-

- Ben Ebbrell

No, thank you.

- Bronagh

And for anyone who's listening, who doesn't follow Ben, he's on SORTEDfood on YouTube, Instagram, all the usual spots. And then also the app is-

- Ben Ebbrell

If you head to sorted.club, you can find out everything about it.

- Bronagh

Amazing. Thank you so much. 

 

 

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