It’s not every school that has a New York City YouTube sensation as part of its field day.
But unlike every school, the Harley School is the alma mater of Andrew Rea, the creator of the hit YouTube series, “Binging with Babish.” The series, which began as a test of his new documentary filming equipment, now has 2.5 million viewers who follow Rea as he recreates foods from television shows and other pop-culture media.
“I never intended to do more than one episode,” Rea said, after filming his version of a cook-off from “Parks & Rec” that pit a beef hamburger against a super-deluxe turkey burger with aioli. The beef burger won on the show, and Rea won a loyal following when he posted his experiment.
Tuesday morning in the Maker Space in Harley’s Commons Building, Rea explained that he usually creates a faithful reproduction of the food he found on TV and then goes on to make a more tasteful version.
The plan was to make “cheesy blasters” from the former situation comedy “30 Rock,” which character Liz Lemon (played by Tina Fey) described as a hot dog stuffed with jack cheese and rolled in a pizza. Then Rea planned to make a calzone along the same lines, but with ricotta cheese, sausage and capicola.
As sometimes happens in his episodes, the featured ingredients came from Wegmans. The hot dogs were Zweigle’s.
About 20 students gathered to watch Rea organize his materials and equipment as he prepared to film his show. Not long after, news would be shared that the school was declaring Tuesday as May Day, Harley’s version of a field day in which classes are suspended and a variety of fun activities are held instead.
Harley teacher Michael Frank, who teaches digital media, said Rea’s filming would be one of the May Day activities.
“He’s making a lot of smart decisions,” Frank said. “His framing keeps it very simple, but interesting. He uses pop culture as a (vehicle) for communicating about food.”
Viewers never see Rea’s face on the episodes, as the camera captures the food and mostly his forearms and torso. There were “aaahs” of recognition among the students when he pulled out his signature black apron and donned it.
Rea’s appearance at Harley, from which he graduated in 2005, was orchestrated after several current students discovered that he had attended their school. It was Harrison Davis, a sophomore, who heard that Rea was from the Rochester area, and then tracked down his Harley connection online, confirming it with a photo of Rea in a Harley yearbook. Then Noah Lee and Talon Mossbrook, who are both sophomores, too, contacted Rea through Reddit, a web-based forum.
“He responded back pretty quickly,” Lee said. Mossbrook said Rea told them he’d be glad to stop by when he was in the area—he timed it to coincide with a visit to see his new nephew. After students made that initial contact, Upper School Head Larry Frye reached out by email to invite Rea formally.
Rea brought along his friend and lawyer, Sawyer Jacobs, who also graduated from Harley in 2005.
“We’ve always held the school in a special place,” Rea said. Both alums were impressed by the school’s Commons, a barn-like building with greenhouse, cooking facilities and workshop. “They’ve invested in their interests in such a creative way,” Rea said.
“It’s a quantum leap past what we experienced,” Jacobs added.
Similarly, “Binging with Babish” is going new places too. Rea said he began working full time on creating “Binging with Babish” episodes in June 2017, but he and Jacobs are now planning to inspire other YouTube creators to do the same. They’ve moved an office into Rea’s new apartment in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City, and are embarking on a venture to create a network of like-minded YouTube creators who are invested in positive hobbies.
“Empowering stuff,” Jacobs said. And, perhaps, also delicious.
The cheesy blaster episode, by the way, is scheduled to be posted May 15.
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