“I filmed the videos over the course of two weeks at the beginning of lockdown”, says the 30-year-old founder of Chef Studio. “I was at a fairly big, typically well-stocked shop near my flat. There was no pasta and I thought, well, most people have some flour and probably a few eggs, I’ll do some video tutorials to show them how they can make pasta with ingredients they have at home”.
Fast forward a year, and with nearly 72k subscribers to the Chef Studio YouTube channel and a few hundred thousands views, this Edinburgh-based Canadian has just been nominated for two Webby Awards. This international competition honours excellence on the internet, with other nominees across this year’s categories including Cardi B, Rihanna, Oprah Winfrey and Billie Eilish, and winners announced at a virtual ceremony on May 18.
Atwood’s egg yolk and ricotta ravioli video is shortlisted in The Food & Drink: Video category and the basic pasta (currently at 325k views) in the How To, Explainer & DIY: Video category.
Both of these videos have a calming vibe, thanks in part to Atwood’s humorous chat and laid-back charisma.
For example, the pasta-making video starts with the line, “First thing’s first, for God’s sake people, wash your hands”. They also move at the perfect pace for beginners, who might be a bit wobbly on their first pasta-making attempt.
Her ravioli video is especially soothing and non-intimidating, with yogic music (Trevor Kowalski’s Nocturne) playing in the background.
It’s cinematic too, as she’s managed to make kitchen foil look like satin, and the egg yolk reflects the light from the window.
Comments underneath include; “That was mesmerising”, and “Your videos are always magnificent, but this one brought a tear to my eye”.
“Somehow there’s this calmness to it - maybe it was the light that day. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to capture that feel again but I really love that video”, says Atwood, who started out as a chef, working in top restaurants in Toronto, Montreal and Paris, as well as Edinburgh’s Quay Commons and The Lookout.
Before the pasta-making series, she already had plenty of how-to videos on her 20-month-old Chef Studio channel.
They generally cover more avant-garde creations, like a bubble tuile sugar garnish, mirror-glazed mousse cakes, beet fluid gel or the alchemy that is turning over-ripe bananas into caramel.
However, over the last year Atwood also demonstrated other viral lockdown trends, like dalgona coffee and sourdough.
“I usually do a lot of high-concept techniques, molecular gastronomy, and modernist cuisine, but I didn’t feel like that sort of thing had a place in the first few months of the pandemic”, says Atwood, who puts her success down to luck. “I think people had time to try out recipes. They were looking for something to do and cooking gives you a feeling of accomplishment where you can stand back and say; “behold, I hath made this banana bread.”
Although thousands of viewers honed their cooking skills with these and the pasta videos, many won’t have realised that they were shot on a budget in the bedroom of Atwood’s shared Fountainbridge flat.
“For filming, I split my bedroom into two sections, my bed was on one side and my makeshift kitchen studio on the other near the window”, she says. “I shot the series with equipment and ingredients I already had. In the first video you see me unwrap an old mostly used piece of parmigiana from the fridge. Normally when I film, I get my ingredients ready beforehand. These videos were about showing people they could use what they had and it didn’t have to be perfect”.
Over the last year, Atwood’s fan base has grown quickly. However, she had already garnered a few early accolades, including YouTube Creator on the Rise in February 2020 and a nomination for a James Beard Foundation Award in May of 2020.
It was still something of a surprise to this self-deprecating chef when she realised she’d made the prestigious Webby shortlist.
“When I first got the email, I thought it was maybe a newsletter, then when I started reading I was flustered and it took me a while to process”, she says. “I was really sweaty and I was like why am I so sweaty? Stop sweating, you might have to accept an award in front of Rihanna, get it together. Now that I’m slightly less sweaty, I feel really grateful and super lucky. It does also feel a little funny because these videos filmed in my Fountainbridge bedroom are up against CNN, Tastemade and Vox”.
As we emerge from lockdown, her latest project is The Best Laid Schemes - a fantastical five-part series featuring creative dishes inspired by Scotland’s lands and lochs. These include a thistle-shaped dessert - “a re-imagined pavlova” - as well as an edible version of Castle Rock, a forest and a Skye Boat Cake.
She has plans to create content for television, and there are plenty of other exciting job offers and projects in the pipeline.
“In some strange turn of events, completely by accident, Chef Studio has become a full fledged production company” she says.
“After years of working back of house in my big baggy chef pants and clogs and feeling kind of invisible and unimportant, I've felt funny about calling myself a producer and a filmmaker. Since I allowed myself to change my thinking around this and to really pursue it as a production house things have fallen into place”.