The following is a transcript of the conversation I had with the incredible, heartfelt, and insightful Vianai “Vee” Austin! To read an article based on this conversation you can click here.
Okay, so can you introduce yourself and give some background on where you grew up and what your upbringing was like?
My name is Vianai Austin, I am the Culinary Producer for Mythical Entertainment/ Mythical Kitchen. I am from West Covina, California, which is like 30 minutes outside of L. A. [It’s a] predominantly Hispanic area, very mixed, but definitely just a suburb of L. A. As far as my upbringing went, I grew up with two law enforcement parents. They met in the military, both police officers. My mom used to do homicide and my dad was a patrol officer. So growing up was definitely very strict, very structured, couldn’t do much, which is so funny because like I’m very free and spirited now.
I spent a lot of time with my grandmother and she only spoke Spanish. I don’t speak Spanish and it makes me sad. I feel like fake sometimes. [Vee laughs] But I’m not obviously. That’s the one thing I wish and obviously, I can learn whenever. But even then, we are very involved with our family. I have 25 1st cousins. My mom comes from a family of 11 kids. Like we just have a massive family and I’m so used to being just around my family for a long time. But I always loved it that way. Family was like everything to us. So it was great. Honestly, I had a great childhood. I played basketball for 13 years.
Yeah, I saw that!
MmHmm, from the time I was like nine till I was 22. And I’m retired now because my body is just exhausted. But it definitely helped guide me to like where I am today. I’m honestly very grateful to still have both of my parents and my whole family still together.
I’m Puerto Rican, so I very much relate to the giant family.
And also my mom did not teach me how to be Spanish either, so it’s like the same sort of frustration.
It sucks, dude. [Vee laughs] I feel left out sometimes, you know? Just conversations I really could have had with my grandma…I feel like I’ve just missed out on so much time we really could have spent together before she passed away. Cause I used to watch her cook, which I’m sure we’ll get into later. I used to watch her make food and I just would want to ask her things and I just couldn’t speak Spanish. And it would just internally break my heart sometimes.
I know it’s frustrating. Working at this organization is so cool because you do feel that sense of belonging. Like, I am Puerto Rican, and I do belong here, but it’s a journey.
Man, is it.
So when did you first discover your love of cooking and how did that love morph into a career as a chef?
Oh man, that’s a story. When I first noticed that I love to cook, was just watching the Food Network with my mom. She was very into watching Iron Chef America and we would talk about what chefs we wanted to compete against and wanted to be [or] wanted to be like. My brother, he loved Giada, like that was his girl, right? So I would say I learned how to really cook and love it a little bit from my mom, my sister, and my brother.
I have two siblings, they’re both older and my mom worked all the time. So I just like barely saw her and she’s like, ‘you gotta figure out how to feed yourself when I’m not home to take care of you’. They had opposite shifts, but my dad was still working too. So, me and my brother were just trying to figure things out. That’s when I started really liking the flow. I think it was the fact that I was just creating things. Like I can make whatever I want. Even though I only made Quesadillas really at that age [Vee jokes]. Cause I love cheese. As I got older, it’s just something I always had in the back of my mind. I used to tell myself I would work for the food channel, I wanted to work for Food Network and be an Iron Chef. I just loved food in general and I knew what it did and how it brought people together.
And as I got older, still cooked. [In] college, I was like the cook of the house, always making things. I made a whole thanksgiving meal by myself and I was like 19 for my parents. And then I honestly didn’t take cooking seriously, probably till the beginning of the pandemic. So it was later. I used to work in media for a long time because that’s originally what I wanna do [its] what my degree is in Broadcasting and Television Production. Like I love it basically like a film student.
Yeah, that’s what I went to school for, TV and Radio Production!
Yeah, it’s so crazy! When I was in college, in blogging class, I did [my blog] on tailgate foods. So it’s so crazy how the universe works. I still wanted to be around food. It just wasn’t clicking then. It’s probably cause I was just thinking about basketball all the time.
My last job, I was working in marketing and we all got laid off our whole department and I really just spent some time like what am I gonna do? And at that point in my life I was just ready for something else, you know? I was like dang is production and film still what I want to do, because it’s just hard to get a job, especially in L. A. Everybody kind of works in entertainment but it’s really hard to be in entertainment. I had a very long conversation with my boyfriend specifically and he was like ‘you know you want to cook, you know that’s what you want to do’. I made up my mind, I told him I’m gonna go like take some courses and figure things out. I would say like the first three months in quarantine, every single day I just started cooking four or five meals a day. I just started teaching myself and watching a whole bunch of things and learning because I didn’t go to culinary school but I took a 14-week course to learn the basics, right?
Just to start somewhere and it was all I could afford because it was just expensive. I was on my own and I knew I wasn’t going to get help from my parents because I just didn’t want them to have that pressure. They already got me through so much, you know what I mean? And I was like this is for me, I’m gonna just do it.
And then I was just nonstop and started my own catering and private chef business and did that for like a while. At some point, see the cop kid, I was like I need to have a schedule, I need to be structured. So I decided I was going to apply for a whole bunch of jobs and randomly I came across Mythical on LinkedIn. It said culinary assistant, I was like oh cool, I don’t mind starting from the bottom. I applied for it because I had a media background anyway and I got a call two days later and interviewed with Josh, Nicole, and Annalise. I was so nervous. I was like, oh shoot, this is big, you know? And then nailed the interview and I got hired two days later. I was tripping out because I was like, oh my God, I’ve been talking about working on a food show since I was young. I actually did it. I just had a moment of redemption and it just felt so good and it made me so happy. It was a journey.
That’s perfect for you though, on both sides. Did you know about Good Mythical Morning before, were you a fan or knew nothing really?
You know, it’s so funny. I had only come across GMM one time. Do you know the 99 Cents Only stores? I used to work at the corporate office, I was in marketing and I did all the media work on social media. And I randomly came across Link and Rhett when they were reviewing some 99 Cent Only products. Somebody showed it to me and that’s when I first saw them. But it still didn’t click how big they were. Until I started, prepping for my interview I was like oh snap! I’m also just not a starstruck person. So when I first met them [it] was just like regular people.
Ooo, I’m the total opposite.
Well, see, I watch a lot of basketball so if I had met Kobe that’s my starstruck moment. It’s just a different level, you know? But honestly, I didn’t really know them that much at all. I watched food and entertainment stuff but I didn’t really come across [them] till I was getting ready to be hired. I studied for like four days before my interview and I was just like ‘oh this is a big deal’.
That’s so cool. Okay so, we service a lot of girls and nonbinary kids with big dreams of being anything under the sun from engineers to chefs, what advice would you give them about going into the culinary field man?
Take that leap, man. It’s one of those things where you really never know how anything is gonna go until you do it. It was a decision. I spent about 2 to 3 days really just sitting and thinking do I really want to do this? I knew how much work I needed to do to really get where I wanted to get, but I was like so determined. I would say just go for it, man. And don’t think too much because that’s the only thing that cooking is like you have to be patient. Don’t be hard on yourself because there’s gonna be a lot of challenges and a lot of people are gonna try to be tough on you. Culinary is tough. You need to feed people, and feeding people is not easy because everybody’s picky and has a different palate than you. You might think that steaks good but somebody else might not. So just be confident. Just know you’re always going to make mistakes that’s just what happens when you’re trying to be better. It’s a journey you gotta just keep going, stay focused, and just do it. Just do it, and if it doesn’t work out then do something else.
Love it. So, like you said your official title is Associate Culinary Producer.
Could you tell us what it’s like, not only to be a chef but also to have a hand in producing the content we see? What things are you keeping in mind when creating a video?
The main thing I would say is not repeating things. You want to keep things different. You want to keep it fun, but you want to make sure you stay on the level of we haven’t done this before, and honestly, we don’t know how it’s going to come out, but let’s do it.
Our team is very close to each other and we trust each other so much that it makes our process 10 times easier when it comes to creating these recipes because we’ll all just huddle up and be like, what do you think? Should we try this? We could do this way, this way, [or] this way, and it’ll work out. As far as strategies for GMM, we just like to keep things fun and colorful and new and honestly out of pocket [Vee laughs]. We like that we can do that very openly and that those producers trust us to get things done. It’s really the team you have and the trust you guys have, that’s everything for us.
That’s great that you guys have such a solid team. That’s really necessary.
Man, you don’t even know. We have like family dinners once a month and it’s like probably the night I look forward to.
Yes! That’s so lovely. So given your experience, and title, what’s some advice you would give on making it in the content or digital space? A lot of the kids we serve, really love YouTube and want to be YouTubers. They just love technology in that sense.
You need a plan. Content is something you can’t just dive into. You can’t just go throw things together. Write out your plan, [and] write out your thoughts, even if it doesn’t make sense. Just have something that you could visually see and not everybody’s a visual learner. I’m very visual. Just a lot of practice, a lot of scheduling, a lot of figuring out what plan, what you want to do, and just going for it. Don’t be scared and have help. That’s a big one.
If you want to make content, you can’t do it by yourself. It’s very hard to do by yourself because if you think about it like you need your camera, you need a mic, you need to edit, you need to prep. Literally, if you are sent from the heavens above and you know how to do all those things great for you. But honestly, it’s better to have a team. Your team is really going to be your backbone. So plan, schedule, map it out. Have a team. Those are the main things for sure.
[Then] I can’t emphasize this enough, but you just gotta play around. I would say just try new things. Like, try just kind of experiment. I mean that’s especially like with food and cooking, that’s all really we’re doing, we’re kind of like artists, you know what I mean? We’re just creating things like we’re scientists by just like messing with heats and you know, strong flavors and whatever, whatever. But, I would say just go for it.
Especially, content is so hard, if you do YouTube specifically it’s a lot.
It’s just a lot to keep up with too. There’s new things happening right now, every day, all the time. Every time I find something so crazy on Tiktok, I always send it to Josh. It’s always us keeping up with things we might need to change our schedule because this is more important because it’s happening now. So that’s another thing like keeping up. You have to scroll. And you just don’t want to be how everybody else is either. Which is like, you’re already gonna be unique yourself, right? Just because we’re all individual people. But that like helps out a lot too.
I had a really garbage youtube channel when I was in high school, and it was stressful.
Oh girl, you should have seen my blog in college. It was bad. I used to try to film everything myself and write it out. Oh God. But that was the point of the class, you know like you have to learn how to do stuff like that.
So, are there any setbacks you faced when pursuing your career as a black Latina?
It’s just something about feeling out of place sometimes. Like, you know, no matter what, people are going to see a certain way and you cannot let that get to you. Just growing up, I’ve always had a very big identity crisis. When I was in middle school, I always had to deal with these kids who used to pick on me [who] would say, ‘oh, you have to like pick a side’ And that’s so stupid. Why would you tell me that a kid who doesn’t even realize that race is like that? I went to school with predominantly Filipino and White kids, so it was just tough for a long time. I always just had this heat on my chest of like everybody’s watching me because I’m not like everybody else. You know what I mean? And that always kind of sits on my heart a little bit…sorry.
No, thank you for being super honest.
Sorry, I didn’t think I was gonna hit me like that. It’s a lot easier now, I think because [of] the people I work with, make it easier, you know?
And your environment is everything. It helps so much.
It does, it helps a lot. Sorry.
No, no, take your time.
I didn’t think I was gonna be like this.
No, but, I would like to say on you saying that it weighs different. It also does in the opposite way. Seeing you on that channel does so much. Being able to see someone like that and just have that person that you identify with. It is something I really appreciate as someone who’s a fan of GMM as well. The first time I saw you in a video, I was like, hold up. It was exciting. And it’s something that you’re always looking for. As you know, I’m white, but as a Hispanic kid in general, you’re always looking for someone. So thank you for being that person. For a lot of people.
Oh my God, that makes me want to cry more!
No, no, I’m sorry! I’m sorry!
Honestly, that was probably the biggest thing I really wanted when I got hired. I didn’t think I was going to be on camera that much to be honest. I didn’t know what I was getting into period when I got my job. It was full of surprises, but as things went along, the main thing and me and my mom actually had a conversation about this, I was just telling her that’s all I want to be. People see me, and they don’t know what I am, but I’m sure they’ll learn. And just realize I’m really representing them and people who are just like me. People who in their own world had their own problems with being biracial or just like People of Color. It’s a different feeling for us, and it’s just nice. People don’t think I read my DMs. I do, I read all of them and I always get a whole bunch of messages like ‘I love seeing you’ and ‘I love seeing a mixed person on camera’. It didn’t hit me at first, but when I really started getting the message, I was like dang, like that makes me so happy and that’s what I wanted. I want people to connect to me, you know what I mean?
It’s always gonna be a challenge to be a Person of Color doing anything because people just naturally see us different. Let alone on camera. Even though it feels like there’s a lot of judging, I pushed through everything and I’ve always been like that, my mom’s like that. Actually, my dad used to tell me you’re always gonna go through things because people see you as Black first, so there’s just like different hurdles and things we deal with. And that’s something hard to understand as a kid and just growing up. As an adult, I’ve noticed it more, but it’s a lot easier to just push through because I know I’m just stronger than everybody else. So it hasn’t been that challenging because I have so much, so many people around me at work that just support me and show me equal love. There’s just so much equal love happening around that, I just don’t see it as an issue ever.
Obviously, I noticed it like I noticed I’m the only one in the kitchen, but it doesn’t make me uncomfortable because everybody’s support is equal. That helps too, having good support, just makes things easier and it makes you love your job and love what you do and want to do it more. And that’s probably the best part about being in Mythical honestly. Now it’s been smooth and I love it. Did that answer the question? [Vee laughs].
Yes! Yes, it did, and it’s also just nice to hear as a fan. What’s your favorite video you’ve been a part of?
I would say the first Fancy Fast Food I did with Josh was probably my favorite one. Only because one of my favorite moments ever at work was when we made a champagne chicken, and it was a very expensive bottle of champagne for like no reason, and we let the chicken sit in it and like ceviched, that’s what we call it. Which basically means the alcohol cooks the meat. You know like when you make regular ceviche with the acid cooks the fish, right?
I don’t, I’m allergic to everything.
I watch all these things, and I love them, but I can’t eat any of it.
So like it’s so funny. So like our joke in the kitchen is basically like we always laugh when we ceviche things by accident. Which basically means whenever it just cooks in a natural strong liquid or citric acid. So we accidentally ceviched some chicken, it basically was raw and it cooked in the champagne and we were laughing. It sounds gross. It is what you think it is. That was and when I tasted it I was just like ‘what the?’ that memory forever sticks in my head. That was probably my favorite episode ever. Like I love that day. It was great.
Lastly, what’s been your favorite part of Mythicon?
Fan interactions I would say because when we’re at home we’re regular as hell. Okay, we go to work, we’re 9 to 6, we go home, we’re never stopped. Like nobody ever knows who we are. I feel like I hear my name in whispers and it like freaks me out because I’m like ‘is somebody talking to me?’
Is it cool, or is it like whoa?
It was very whoa at first, but I’m naturally a people person anyway. I just like making people’s day, you know? Like if somebody comes and talks to me and [is] like, ‘hey, can I talk to you and get a picture? Like what’s your favorite candy?’ Whatever. Like I’m gonna tell you like, I would love to talk about my favorite candy. So that’s like the really cool thing. It’s just seeing people who actually really have love for us. It’s just super humbling. But it’s super cool. Like we’ve actually been enjoying it a lot.
Now I want to know, what is your favorite candy?
The funniest thing is I don’t like candy. I don’t like chocolate either.
I’m allergic to everything, so.
Ah, your poor thing. Uhhh, if I do eat candy, I eat the peach rings. Have you ever had peach rings?
I don’t know what that is.
Oh my god, I gotta get my phone. I gotta show you now. Peach rings, my teammate when I was like 10 put me onto this candy. And it’s just these rings like this.
Oh, I’ve seen these! They’re good?