Everyday exotic

Chef Sanjyot Keer’s food videos are a rage on the internet

On Facebook, among the deluge of photos of your friend’s kids, your in-laws’ devotional posts, your best friend’s wedding shenanigans, you must have stumbled upon attractive food videos that teach you how to cook anything and everything. The current rage on social media, these time-lapse videos are a treat to watch, and what more, they can take you through the entire process of cooking a dish, say, biryani, in under three minutes. It’s perfect for today’s social media-loving generation!

One of the popular channels in this category is ‘Your Food Lab’ (YFL) by Sanjyot Keer. This self-confessed foodie’s innovative take on street food is luring people into the kitchen to try their hands at making something as fancy as butter chicken biryani or even seekh kebab parathas. With more than two million followers, YFL is one of the fastest growing digital food platforms in the country today.

Sanjyot, who was a food producer on season four of MasterChef India, ventured into the world of online food content when he realised that there was a lot of potential in it. Since he loves street food, he chose to showcase the same in this channel, albeit with a modern touch. Which is why, you will find things like tava chicken frankie, khakra sandwich, paneer schezwan tikka toast and more on his channel.

Here, he talks about how YFL came into existence, his love for food and more:

How did ‘Your Food Lab’ come to life?

I worked as a food producer on season 4 of MasterChef India. After that, while I got similar offers, I wanted to do something different. I knew I wanted to do something in a blog or website format and hence, registered the domain name of ‘Your Food Lab’ (YFL) in 2015. While working in my dad’s company, I realised that not much was happening in the digital food space in India. There was no easy-to-consume food content on the internet. It was still old school. A majority of the food shows were all on television, where a chef would explain how to cook a dish or two in 20 to 25 minutes.

So one day, I bought some ingredients and used my old DSLR camera and phone to shoot a recipe. Since the initial feedback was good, I decided to do more and created about 60 videos. I published my first video in 2016, but it didn’t get any likes. But on the third day, my video went viral and earned a million views. That was a big boost for me. Within the first 30 days, I had one lakh followers on my page and it then started to grow from there.

Tell me about YFL in terms of statistics.

Right now, we have 2.2 million followers on Facebook. We were a Facebook-primary platform, but now we have ventured into YouTube and Instagram as well, where we have 50k followers on Instagram, 30k on YouTube and growing. We have crossed about half a billion views on Facebook. Today, Facebook isn’t just a social platform, it’s also become a video consumption platform. For instance, my last seven days in terms of content consumption was two crore minutes, which comes up to about 35 years of time!

What sets YFL apart from other food platforms on the web?

From day one, YFL’s USP has always been ‘simple and aspirational food’. I use a minimalist approach to create my content, wherein I don’t use heavy equipment or even a microwave. Everything is mostly cooked in a pan or a pot. The ingredients I use are Indian and simple. Even if I am cooking an Italian or Chinese dish, I use ingredients that can be easily found in your kitchen or neighbourhood store. Even those who don’t know how to cook can follow my recipes. Also, since I am a chef myself, there’s some credibility in my content.

Why this obsession with street food?

The first ever recipe I cooked was pav bhaji, and I was only 12 years old. I love street food because it’s rustic and it’s all creating something with the ingredients that are readily available in that region. And, of course, it’s amazing to eat. I love presenting traditional dishes in a new format. For instance, dabeli is a Gujarati snack that can often be found in the streets of Mumbai. But I gave it a twist and made dabeli tacos, dabeli sliders and dabeli cones. Many of my recipes are also of dishes that I love eating myself. For example, I love butter chicken, so I made butter chicken biryani. It is one of the most widely loved recipes on YFL till date.

What are your top five recipes from YFL?

First one is butter chicken biryani. Then, pull-out pav; an entire series that I did on pav. It’s gourmet-style cheesy bread with a variety of fillings. When you pull it out, you get amazing stringy and oozy cheese from it. Then, I would pick Amritsari kulcha, which has been cooked without a tandoor, but you will get that tandoori taste. The fourth one would be crispy corn. This sweet, hot and tangy recipe has got about 10 million views and is loved by vegetarians. Last but not the least, baked veggie toast.

What are the main challenges for a food producer?

For me, competition is not a challenge because it actually tells you where you stand in the market. The real challenge is plagiarism. When people realised the potential of this format, they simply picked up already published content and put it out as their own. There’s nothing much we can do about it because copyright laws are not strict in India as of now. 
But thankfully, I already have an audience for my content. You can get hundreds of chilli paneer recipes with the click of a button, but there are people who specifically look for my version.

What are your future plans?

We have currently pulled down our website because we are relaunching it along with brand new apps. It would be a completely independent and a technologically advanced platform with stories on food and travel.

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