Friday 12 Feb 2010
A couple of weeks ago, I came across the YouTube page of a fellow named Kai. I spent the next couple of hours watching video after video, reaching the conclusion that this man is a past master at the art of that made-in-the-USA overwhelmingly favorite cuisine – Chinese restaurant food. In mainland China, people don’t eat the General Tso’s Chicken and Sweet and Sour Pork that Americans love, but that hardly matters. According to The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8. Lee, our national passion for Chinese food has resulted in the country playing host to 40,000 Chinese restaurants – more than the total number of KFCs, Burger Kings and McDonald’s, combined! As Lee points out, our slogan is “as American as Mom’s apple pie”, but how often do you eat apple pie, and how often do you eat Chinese food? Good question.
The answer to it brings me back to Chef Kai and the unhappy note I found on the bio portion of his YouTube page:
I been laid off. No work to feed my family. And my life is in HELL.
I went to bed that night thinking about this man, out of work and, yet, possessed of something I suspected could be of great value to the public. In order to confirm my suspicions, I turned to Google. Google says that some 27,000 people a month are searching for ‘chinese restaurant food’. Another 3,600 are searching for ‘how to make chinese food’. When you start getting into the long tail (‘how to make chinese food like the restaurants’ + all of the searches for specific dishes and recipes), traffic potentials take on a rather golden shine.
Americans love Chinese restaurant food – dining in or taking it out – but the do-it-yourself mentality that is part of our culture inspires an apparently large segment of the public to want to learn to make these classic meals at home. And that’s where Kai – and the 200+ cooking videos he’s created – comes in.
What Could Kai Do?
I gathered from browsing through some of Kai’s videos that he tried to have a website, but when I went looking for it, I discovered that the site no longer existed. Who knows what happened with that, but having a website will start off my list of suggestions:
- A website with paid content. Show maybe 5-10 awesome videos and then offer a package of paid videos with lead-in language that would entice users to conclude they *must* see Kai’s video tutorials for Lemon Chicken, Hot and Sour Soup, etc. Set the price low enough so that people of all incomes can afford the package, but high enough so that Kai starts to make income.
- Include a blog on the site. Kai could give great tutorials about Chinese cooking equipment, how to shop at an Asian foods market, special dishes for holidays, Chinese cultural stories, reviews of local Chinese restaurants, etc.
- Market the site via Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, etc.
- Go offline for more income. Get hired by the local junior college or local community center to do a class on Chinese Restaurant Cooking. Market this class offline and via social media.
- Make a strong local component for the website and start working as a professional caterer in Kai’s hometown – real Chinese restaurant food prepared in your home by Kai. He is so fun to watch, he could even be part of the party.
- Increase local visibility by giving talks in local public schools, participating in local events, perhaps even offering pro-bono catering on a limited scale for some small but popular local happenings. Good ways to get links!
- Put it all together and send it as your resume to several of the most famous high class Chinese restaurants in New York or San Francisco. Chef Ming Tsai of Blue Ginger restaurant has made himself famous on the foodie scene and YouTube comments prove that people still have a nostalgic yen for Yan Can Cook. Though I don’t know what Kai’s culinary background actually is, I imagine that if he gained a fair following on the web, it could be fairly impressive to some of the more celebrated Chinese restaurants in major cities, and Kai might have a job again.
What About Competition?
With 40,000 Chinese restaurants operating from coast to coast, it’s pretty obvious that the USA is awash with Chinese cooks. However, Kai has something that many of them don’t have, and I only realized this after reading Jennifer 8. Lee’s book. The majority of the folks who cook your Chicken Chow Mein and Pork Fried Rice hail from Fujian Province – a region about the size of Delaware in Southeastern China.
Some 300,000 Fujianese have come, both legally and illegally, into the country over the past 2 decades and the majority of them come to work on the Chinese restaurant circuit. The back story on this makes fascinating reading, but the point I want to make here is that most of these immigrants have little or no acquaintance with the English language. Not so with Kai, who not only speaks English well, but who has a very engaging manner of talking you through cooking Chinese-American dishes, somehow making it look incredibly fast and easy. Actually, a few nasty people apparently made rude comments about Kai’s speech, and if you want a laugh, watch his response (warning: some colorful language). That’s telling ‘em, Kai!
The bottom line: America was charmed by Martin Yan and part of his charm was his accent and fun-filled presentation, and Kai’s excellent grasp of English sets him apart from many immigrants who might otherwise be able to market an inside look at Chinese restaurant cooking that would be certain to have appeal for an American audience. Only a certain portion of the public knows how to cook Chinese restaurant food authentically because they’ve worked in Chinese restaurants, and only a percentage of those people will have the skills to necessary to share that inside-scoop-knowledge with others. Kai has the skills he needs to present what he knows, and what he knows is something keyword research says that many people want to know. There’s money to be made somewhere in this, and certainly, reason to believe that Kai need not remain unemployed for long.
I don’t know this gentleman, and have no idea what his life story or circumstances are, but if he came to me as a potential client, this is what I’d be telling him. It’s enjoyable to look at a puzzle like this and try to find the solution, and in case this blog post should make its way over to Kai, I’d like to invite you to make additional suggestions for how Kai could use what he knows to make a living. Have fun with it. Be creative. What would you tell Kai?