In March of 2011, 24-year-old Hannah Hart made a video of herself cooking grilled cheese while drunk and posted it on YouTube. The grilled cheese didn’t turn out so well—she didn’t have cheese, for one thing—but the video fared better. It went viral, and the “My Drunk Kitchen” web series was born. Its concept was simple: weekly five-minute videos featuring Hart cooking while drinking, spilling here and mismeasuring there, while dispensing snippets of life advice like, “Light the rest of your cake on fire,” or “Reevaluate your life choices briefly.” The series eventually expanded into a YouTube channel, Harto. Producers came knocking. So did publishers. Now, some three years after that drunken video upload, Hart is publishing her first book. Set to hit stores in August, My Drunk Kitchen features irreverent recipes (“Dick Taters,” “String (Cheese) Theory”) alongside hilarious narrative essays from Hart’s own life. PW spoke with Hart about her sudden Internet fame, turning a web series into a book, and the challenges of cooking while tipsy.
Tell us how “My Drunk Kitchen” got started.
I had just gotten a MacBook Pro with the webcam and iMovie and stuff like that from my sister for Christmas. And I was video-chatting with a friend of mine who was a little depressed. And she was like, “Man, I miss when you would get drunk and cook for me!” And I was like, “Dude, I’m gonna get drunk and cook for you right now!” And I recorded a video and edited it and sent it to her via YouTube (back in 2011, YouTube was a website where you shared videos with your friends and family).
And the first video went viral?
It went viral... by March of 2011 standards. It got 100,000 views in the first couple days, and there were a lot of comments from strangers. That was all very strange to me. A lot of people asked, “Where’s episode two?!” And I was like: What are they talking about? And that’s when I began to learn about this awesome ecosystem that YouTube had.
Did you have an interest in writing a book before working on My Drunk Kitchen?
It was always my daydream that I would one day write a comedy essay book like David Sedaris or narrative memoir like Jeannette Walls. I studied Japanese language, so I chose to go the route of translation. I wasn’t ever brave enough to try for entertainment—it’s a vicious, vicious industry. Publishing a book seemed like something that was out of my reach. But it was still my daydream fantasy.
What were some of the challenges of turning the web series into a book?
Basically, turning “My Drunk Kitchen” into a book was easy because [the series] isn’t about cooking or about drinking, it’s a self-help parody show. Recipes for self-doubt. So, it’s narrative essays about my life, or discussions of things that are intertwined with recipes. Writing a book? A full, 240-page book? Hard! Regardless of how good your idea is!
In addition to the self-help parody aspect, is there a larger philosophy driving the book?
Totally. If I could define the book in two words, it would be “reckless optimism.” It’s the idea that it’s hip and cool to hope for the best and try your hardest, even though the odds might be against you. And that’s really the only message I hope people take away.
How does your cooking on the show reflect how you actually cook in real life?
I actually care way more about cooking and food than the Harto on the show conveys. I love food, I love eating, I love the art of food. So, I take it more seriously than the show makes it look like—but I am terrible cook.
In the course of making the series and/or writing the book, did you have any recipes that just went really disastrously?
Oh, yeah. I tried to make a carrot cake. The episode will never see the light of day.
What happened with the cake?
What’s the aspect of cooking that’s most difficult when you’re drunk?
Patience. A lot of good cooking stems from patience. And I have very little patience as a sober person, and even less patience as a drunk person.
Which recipe in the book do you recommend for someone who’s completely under the table?
If you’re really, really, really drunk, my favorite recipe is the phone. Do not attempt to cook. Just call.
Did you ever get nervous about building a brand around being drunk?
One hundred percent. I think people involved with the YouTube community see me more as Hannah Hart, or Harto [the name of Hart’s channel]. There are music videos, there’s sketch comedy, there’s advice, there’s real talk, there’s political views. People who maybe aren’t familiar with YouTube in general think of me as “My Drunk Kitchen.” In the beginning, I found that really aggravating. But now, it’s like: dance with the one that brought you. I’m so grateful to “My Drunk Kitchen.” Without that moment in time, I would be a translator still. “My Drunk Kitchen” doesn’t promote alcoholism. It promotes reckless optimism. I want that to be the longstanding message, and it might take some time for people to see past that, and that’s OK.
What are your next big projects you’re pursuing?
I’m going to try my hand at independent filmmaking, and I’m going to see how I can expand Harto to mean more than just Hannah Hart.
Will you write another book?
I would really like to. It would be on “adultolescence,” which is like your second adolescence: being an amateur adult.
My Drunk Kitchen: A Guide to Eating, Drinking, and Going with your Gut by Hannah Hart. HarperCollins/Dey Street, Aug. ISBN 978-0-06-229303-9