Life's a beach when cooking on YouTube
Guy Turland had all the ingredients to be a YouTube chef, writes Claire Dunn.
Two blokes, a surfboard, a camera and a camp oven were the bare ingredients for the first Bondi Harvest - now a hit weekly cooking show and one of 2013's top YouTube success stories.
Set against the background of the quintessential Australian beach, the show's focus on sustainable and local food whipped up by laid-back chef and surfer Guy Turland is making waves worldwide.
With 12,000 subscribers, a contract with a US YouTube channel and talks with TV production companies, director Mark Alston agrees it's been a big year.
"I was looking for something creative outside my day job directing commercials and came up with the idea of doing a cooking show. A mutual friend introduced me to Guy and we got along really well. It occurred to me his life was far more interesting than the concept I had, so I coined the idea of Bondi Harvest," he says.
The original idea of a TV series changed when they started filming late last year.
"I suggested making YouTube videos as a way of honing Guy's skills in front of the camera, and realised what we had was far more suited to social media," Alston says.
According to Alston, authenticity of the product is the key to success on social media.
"There is no pretending with Guy - he surfs, spearfishes, owns his own cafe, drives a surfer's car, lives in a unit with an awesome view of Bondi. We were basically just filming his life. With TV you can fake anything, but social media is a two-way conversation. You're building community, and authenticity really resonates."
Starting with secret YouTube posts to ensure they could meet the weekly target, Bondi Harvest launched publicly in February, gaining early subscribers with a Facebook push to their friends.
Even though subscriber numbers were small compared to the big players, the quality of the show attracted the attention of YouTube executives and US multi-channel network Tastemade, who commissioned them for an initial 10-week series entitled Day Tripper. Subscribers are now 70 per cent US-based and growing fast.
The explosion of international interest has been a bit of a shock for Turland.
"It's been a crazy year. We've flown to LA a couple of times to meet with Google and YouTube executives. I knew we had a solid idea and we've had so much fun doing it that I've been a bit taken aback by the success," he says from his Bondi cafe The Depot.
Describing his style as a cross between Jamie Oliver and a Corona ad, Turland attributes the Bondi Harvest boom to the way it captures the essence of his beach home.
"Bondi Beach is a bit of a paradox - a place of healthy living and good times. With Bondi Harvest we're pushing a new slant on the slow and local food movements. We're passionate about seasonal cooking, locally sourced produce and sustainable seafood, and we reckon living healthy should be a bit of a party," Turland says.
"A lot of people don't cook because they're intimated. But if I can do it sitting on a skateboard in a park, it's hard to justify not being able to do it in their own home!"
Recently approached by a number of production companies, the duo have decided instead to focus on brand building online.
"Having your own TV show is not the holy grail any more. We'd lose ownership and most of our current audience of under-35 women who don't watch TV in the afternoon," Alston says.
"The media landscape has changed. Look at the YouTube make-up tutorials - they're getting 60,000 to 100,000 hits every week, which rivals the circulation of Cleo.
"When you own eyeballs, you've got brands coming to you. Our gut feeling is the more community we can grow, the more value our brand holds and the more choices we have."
As well as the weekly show and blog, the Bondi Harvest team has launched a regular pop-up restaurant, is working on a cook book, and is in discussion with YouTube about participating in a new channel pilot program.
While not star-spotted yet, Turland had his first home visit from a fan recently.
"I opened my door to find a kid with a plate of warm banana bread from my recipe. That's what I love about social media - it's connecting people. Once you change the channel to TV that person is gone."