A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend Mythicon, a 2 day convention based around, and thrown by, the YouTube channel Good Mythical Morning. While there, I was able to interview Chef and Culinary Producer Vianai “Vee” Austin in person about everything from her upbringing to her culinary journey. Before Vee made her way into the culinary world, before she began working for a YouTube channel with over 2 million subscribers, and before I ever got the opportunity to speak with her, Vee was just a young girl navigating the trials and tribulations of growing up as a mixed kid in West Covina, California. Despite the struggles that came from being perceived differently for having a Black dad and Mexican mom, Vee cherished her upbringing, “Honestly, I had a great childhood.” Her parents met in the military, and were both in law enforcement, “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,” something she’d come to love later in life, “which is so funny because I’m very free and spirited now.”
Vee’s family is as precious to her as it is large. Her mother’s side of the family had 11 kids. Vee grew up with 25 first cousins and loved every second of it. Her immediate family was pretty close with her mother’s side, as they lived in East L.A, while her father’s side lived all the way in Maryland, “I spent a lot of time with my grandmother and she only spoke Spanish, and like I don’t speak Spanish and it makes me sad. I feel like fake sometimes. [Vee laughs] But I’m not obviously.” Something I, as a Puerto Rican who also doesn’t speak Spanish, painfully related to, “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…I just would want to ask her things and I just couldn’t speak Spanish. And it would just internally break my heart sometimes.”
Vee’s journey into the culinary world started when she was just a kid, “When I first noticed that I love to cook, was just watching the Food Network with my mom.” Her mother loved watching Iron Chef America, and the pair would quip about who they wanted to compete against, or what type of chefs they would be. Her brother even got in on the action, “He loved Giada [De Laurentiis], like that was his girl.” Vee jokes. Her passion for cooking was fully realized when Vee’s parents were at work, and the kids would have to come up with what to eat, “Me and my brother were just trying to figure things out. And I think that was when we bonded, even though we kind of low-key hated each other, [Vee laughs] we would cook. That’s when I started really liking the flow. I think it was the fact that I was just creating things.”
Going into college the interest remained, and Vee was “the cook of the house”. She even made her parents a full thanksgiving meal by herself when she was just 19. Even though there were clear signs she was interested in cooking, “I honestly didn’t take cooking seriously, probably til the beginning of the pandemic.” Vee got her degree in Broadcasting and Television Production at the Academy of Art University in San Fransico, and had been working in marketing when her whole department was laid off. After which, she had a sort of come-to-Jesus moment where she spoke to her boyfriend, who encouraged her to follow her passions. That, along with her already ever-present interest in cooking, gave her the strength to make the move, “I made up my mind. I told him I’m gonna go 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?” Vee ended up starting her own catering and private chef business. Something she did for a while before, “At some point, see the cop kid, I was like I need to have a schedule. I need to be structured.”
Enter the YouTube channel Good Mythical Morning, well, Mythical Kitchen specifically. Vee was applying for a whole bunch of jobs when she came across Mythical on LinkedIn, “It said culinary assistant, I was like ‘oh cool, I don’t mind starting from the bottom.’” Two days later, she had her interview, and two days after that, she was hired, “I was like, oh my God, I’ve been talking about working on a food show since I was young. I actually did it.” The only other time Vee had come across GMM was while she was working at the corporate office for the 99 Cents Only store, “I was in marketing and I did all the media work on social media. 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.”
Even then, Vee hadn’t realized how big the channel was or how life-changing this opportunity would be. She didn’t even know she was going to be on camera, let alone be a big personality on MK. Mythical Kitchen has over 2 million subscribers, but Good Mythical Morning, the main channel, has nearly 18 million. With the diversity on the channel as scarce as it was, Vee instantly stood out and this came with both pros and cons. Growing up, Vee always felt othered due to being biracial, “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.” In middle school she was bullied and told to ‘pick a side’, “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 while that’s true, especially given the platform she now had, it also worked the other way.
So much of what we talk about here at Latinitas has to do with representation, and not seeing that representation enough in the places that matter. While yes, some people will unjustly judge Vee simply for the color of her skin, she’s also a representation for kids who identify with her and share that same experience. I couldn’t help but tell Vee how grateful I am that not only was she talking to us, but also she was willing to be that person for people. More than that, she welcomed it, “Honestly that was probably the biggest thing I really wanted when I got hired.” The conversation actually got pretty emotional, and Vee was passionate about how much she wanted to be that person people identified with, “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, that makes me so happy and that’s what I wanted. I want people to connect to me.”
When it comes to being a BIPOC, especially in the public eye, she was honest about how difficult it can be, “It’s always gonna be a challenge to be a Person of Color doing anything because people just naturally see us differently. 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.” She says half-jokingly, “So it hasn’t been that challenging because I have so many people around me at work that just support me and show me equal love.” As a fan, it was reassuring to hear just how supportive and accepting of an environment GMM has, “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. [It] 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 like the best part about being in Mythical honestly.”
There was a lot of advice Vee shared for people interested in entering the culinary field, “Culinary is tough. Feeding people is not easy because everyone’s picky, and has a different palate than you. You might think that steak’s good, but somebody else might not.” Still, if you’re interested, her best advice is don’t be afraid to go for it, “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 so determined…Just know you’re always going to make mistakes, that’s just what happens when you’re trying to be better.”
When it comes to starting a YouTube channel and creating videos, her best advice is to stay true to yourself, and always keep things fresh, “The main thing I would say is not repeating things. You want to keep things different. You want to keep it fun.” And if you’re starting from scratch, make sure you have a plan, “Content is something you can’t just dive into.” Try your best to have a team, even if its just a few buddies, “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.”
One of Vee’s favorite videos she was ever a part of (read the full transcript to see why!)
I cannot express to you how meaningful it was to get to speak with Vee. She was hilarious, empathetic, and down to Earth. Throughout our whole conversation, I kept feeling like I could see myself in this person and her journey. Even though we grew up in completely different places, in completely different ways, I identified with her. I too grew up binging Food Network with my mom. I knew the struggle of facing that language barrier with your family, and how embedded the culture is even without the language. I knew what it was like to have a huge family you do everything with, or what it was like to make do with food when your parents were out working. I related to her creative passions, and even more to her determination to stick by her guns and follow those dreams. I’m extremely grateful such a kind-hearted lovely soul like Vee was given the platform she now holds.