One month ago Brian Manowitz posted the first of his cooking video series, Vegan Black Metal Chef, to YouTube, a 14:41 clip of him making vegan pad thai in corpse paint, chain mail, and (vegan) spiked armor, the recipe narrated with shrieked vocals and an atmospheric black metal song. It's now up to over a million hits.
Manowitz, who has two metal bands in Florida, has just uploaded his second episode (watch it below), which involves mashed potatoes crushed with a mace and vegetable prep on a pentagram altar. What does his rapid viral video success say about the future of food television? We're not saying. The bottom line is, Brian Manowitz knows how to make people laugh by channeling inherently campy, theatrical black metal into the overly sanitized genre of food TV. We called up the dark lord of vegan food at his Orlando home and asked him about building a rad metal-kitchen set, whether he thinks his success will last, and if there are any VBMC groupies.
Did you expect your first episode to get over a million hits?
No. I obviously wanted it to be big and I put time into it, but I had no idea it would happen that fast.
Do you think the success is a fluke or that it will be sustainable?
The second episode is out and it's doing pretty well. It's not just a joke. As just a joke, it would have gotten old in the first one and a half minutes of the first video.
The main focus is to teach awesome vegan cooking and make awesome music, and as long as those happen I think it will continue to be successful. The black metal stuff I do actually take very seriously musically, but if you can't also see the humor in it you gotta lighten up in life. [The show] takes three different genres of people that take themselves too seriously—vegans, chefs, and metalheads—and makes light of it.
Explain how you create an episode.
Basically, I just think of something to make, then I'll make the video. I just do that by myself; I have a little Canon digital SLR with a swivel screen so I can see myself, and a tripod. The shooting definitely takes quite a while. I have to start it at night so there is no sunlight coming through the windows, and it usually goes until well in the middle of the night, four or five in the morning. I'll edit it down as much as I can, and then I'll make the music to it. The audio takes between ten days and two weeks of work. I put the mike in front of the computer and sing along as [the video plays]. I do absolutely everything; it's absolutely a one-person production.
What's your food background; do you have professional experience as a chef?
No, no. I just learned from the school of experimentation and the fact that I really care about eating awesome-tasting food. I really enjoy cooking, and it's something I think I do really well. I've been vegan for 11 years. I started my first year of college, and before that I wasn't vegan or vegetarian or anything, but I had a girlfriend in high school that became vegetarian. I thought it was the right way to go, but it wasn't the right thing for me yet. Slowly I started bringing consciousness to my actions and to everything I ate [and became vegan].
How would you describe the Vegan Black Metal Chef approach to cooking?
First I like it to really taste good, with the other condition that it be cruelty-free. As you peel down the layers of subtlety in it, also that you put a lot of intention and energy into the cooking process, which in my opinion affects the subtler aspects of food and what you put into your body. So that also plays into my philosophy on food in general.
How about your kitchen? Was it always tricked out as an awesome metal den, or did you prop it out as a set?
I had to build it all. Once I decided, "Hey, I'm going to do this," I took about a month to do all the preparation and the props and things. It took a bunch of trips to flea markets and antique stores to find stuff for no money.
Just, like, rounding up old stuff and spray-painting it black?
[Laughs] Yes, that's pretty much it, just got a bunch of junk. A friend that's also in one of my bands does stunt work for movies and also knows how to do a little set design, so he helped me make the castle-wall backing in the second video. Other than that, got some rubber at the rubber factory, cut it out, studded it up for the cabinets; they are [faced with these] studded rubber strips. It was great, because honestly, this is what I wanted my kitchen to look like anyways. Including all the stuff, it was about 250 bucks.
What do you think the mad-viral success of your show says about where food television is going?
The funny thing is, I don't even have a TV, so I don't get to watch food television that much. From the various shows I have seen recently, I think I'm not missing much. I think [my success] is kind of funny; it honestly speaks to a truth there. One of the things I'm pushing with this is not having a strict list of recipes and ingredients. I do think proportions are important, but I think cooking is a creative process, and an expressive process, and you come out of it with a creation. If you have a strict recipe, you are forcing your creation on other people and not allowing them to create. And the Internet is just by default the trend-maker now because any jackass with a black metal costume and a camera can get up there and do a cooking show.
So what's the ultimate goal for your show?
I'll honestly take it wherever it goes, as long as it's a win-win and has the integrity—the second anything in life loses its integrity, it's done. Honestly, MTV has contacted me about doing something, they don't know what yet. They asked me for suggestions, and nothing is worked out in any way. I'm not going to disclose [my pitch to MTV] fully, but it would definitely have a different twist.
I'm not interested in doing the cooking show just for the gimmick of it. The gimmick is of course what gets people to laugh, and to me the laughing is integral to the spirituality aspect of it: [There is a philosopher who said] that in deep laughter you can't think, so in that state your ultimate self gets to shine through for just a second without your mind getting in the way. But just being a laughter gimmick, it would get old incredibly quickly.
Are you getting groupies out of this?
I've gotten more marriage proposals in the last month than I ever thought possible. (But I have a lady.)