Food videos bring Mercer professor millions of views

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Adam Ragusea uploaded his pizza video to YouTube in March.

The oldest videos on Adam Ragusea's YouTube channel are what you'd expect from your favorite quirky journalism professor — tutorials on how to record phone interviews, a slideshow of baby sloths set to his cover of Cher's "Believe," each with a maximum of a few thousand views. His latest videos, however, focus on recipes and cooking techniques, some with well over a million views.

What spurred this dramatic change? It all started with pizza.

Ragusea teaches an introductory journalism class at Mercer University in Macon that involves multimedia production. While well-versed in radio and print, he was less confident in his video skills.

“I thought I could motivate myself to play with my camera more, and learn about it more, if I … shot a couple of cooking videos just for the experience,” Ragusea said. To practice, he filmed himself making a pizza recipe he’d been testing for a while, and uploaded it in December, hoping his friends would watch it.

That video since has been viewed more than 4 million times, and Ragusea has amassed almost 300,000 subscribers on YouTube. His videos have nearly 21 million total views, and each one has drawn hundreds of comments from fans who find his straightforward style refreshing.

“Doesn’t skip important bits, straight to the point, good job sir keep it up,” said one commenter, who goes by the username Carrico.

Ragusea attributes much of his success to his being direct, an uncommon characteristic among thousands of rambling videos on YouTube.

“My entire video style is really straight to the point,” he said, attributing it to him being a journalist. “I know how to write something that … doesn’t waste the audience’s time.”

His cooking style takes the same no-frills approach. Ragusea wants to show people how he cooks at home, so he eschews measuring and weighing ingredients, and shows workarounds for ingredients he can’t access in Macon. This might mean using “glug” as a unit of measurement for molasses, or using string cheese as a source of mozzarella for his pizza.

“You should cook for what you can find,” he said. “Calibrate your own recipes.”

Fans are doing just that — Ragusea often gets messages showing renditions of his recipes from his viewers, some of whom previously only dabbled in home cooking.

Ragusea said he received an Instagram message from “this boy who looked like he was 13, showing me that he made one of my more complicated recipes for his family, and he loved it. And I was like … that’s so incredibly gratifying.”

In addition to his recipes, Ragusea recently did a series of videos elaborating on questions fans ask about his techniques.

“That’s a perpetual topic of interest to people,” he said. “I try to think of these as long-term pieces of content — things people will go to as references for years to come.”

The subjects of these videos range from why Ragusea uses white wine in so many of his recipes to whether it’s OK to wear rings while cooking. The latter features Francisco Diez-Gonzalez, director of the University of Georgia’s Center for Food Safety. “Every single food safety question I could think of, I peppered him with,” Ragusea said.

He continues to consult experts for his videos, some of whom, he joked, are extremely overqualified — for a video about the advisability of warming dinner plates, he consulted Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Caroline Ross.

Ragusea said he plans eventually to make YouTube his full-time job. The compensation and visibility he draws from his videos are far more than he makes as a professor. His next academic year at Mercer will be his last as a full-time professor, though he might continue part-time or as an adjunct.

“I’m 37 years old; this isn’t my first rodeo,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if this is what you planned to do with your life. It has chosen you.”

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