Tyler Capps is not a professional chef. That is, he has no formal cooking training other than experimenting on his own in his small apartment kitchen. However, his blog, Cooking Comically, in which he cooks, photographs and creatively illustrates everyday recipes, has become an Internet sensation. A self-taught artist, Tyler is 28 years old and currently based in Asheville, N. C. After serving in the U.S. Navy for almost five years as a meteorologist, he was honorably discharged in 2007 and began work as a freelance graphic artist. He started Cooking Comically in 2011 after his photographic comic, “2AM Chili,” went viral on Reddit, a popular social news website.
We sat down with Tyler to chat about all things cooking, comics and what it is that makes his site so popular.
We also asked Tyler to give Cooking Channel the Cooking Comically treatment. So he recreated our Deep-Dish Pizza Recipe as a comic strip.
Where did the idea for the photographic recipe comics come from?
I’ve been into photography since high school. I was a full-time student when this all started, and in a photography class, one of the assignments was food photography. The idea of a comic just landed on top of that.
Why did you decide to start Cooking Comically?
Comics and I go way back. I grew up reading comic books. I read Calvin and Hobbes religiously, and I’ve always drawn as long as I could remember. I would always make comics about whatever I was into at the moment. I rarely showed them to anybody but my friends, but then I showed one of them the chili comic and she insisted that I put it online. The first two comics I made, 2AM Chili and The Bananarama, I put on Reddit and they got really popular. So I decided I would start a blog and keep doing them.
Do you have any cooking background or training?
I have absolutely no background in cooking whatsoever. Most of my training comes from the art side of things. The 2AM Chili recipe started with my brother, and I changed it around and adapted it to be my own. I just started cooking in the past year and a half. I started cooking as soon as I moved into this apartment. That’s the first time that it lined up — to have the space and the time. That’s when I really started to go crazy and cook as often as I could. I always wanted to learn how to cook. Now, as I’m learning, I’m also trying to teach.
What has been your most popular recipe thus far?
The chili was probably the most popular and then a really close second would be the sexy pancakes.
What has been your favorite recipe to make?
I have to say the pizza. That was pretty fun. Deep-dish pizza is my favorite kind of pizza, and I’ve never made it before. It turned out really, really well. It was fun to make and fun to eat, and that translates into a good comic. Because the comics really depend upon whether I can get excited about the recipe itself, the ones I get the most excited about always turn out to be the most fun all around.
What, then, would you say is your culinary point of view? What kinds of recipes do you gravitate toward?
Basically, I try my best to only use ingredients you can find at a regular grocery store and keep it as simple and cheap as possible because ultimately, [the blog] is for people who don’t know how to cook at all.
What do you think is the appeal of your blog? What made it so popular?
I guess it has to do with the idea that there hasn’t really been cooking based on “geek culture.” I also try to break [recipes] down as simply as I can. I hope that’s why it’s popular, because it’s easy to do.
Do you think the blog’s popularity has something to do with today’s Facebook/meme generation potentially having a much shorter attention span for processing information?
The whole meme generation and shorter attention span might have something to do with it. But part of it is I try to take the recipes and break them down to be the simplest possible explanation, and that inherently makes them shorter. And there is more visual information, which caters to the younger generation.
Who would you say your blog is primarily targeted toward?
I direct it mainly at guys. It’s directed at guys who never learned how to cook, whether they’re in college or living on their own and never got around to learning.
That’s very interesting, particularly because you don’t really see many cooking blogs these days targeted toward men. Most of the ones I have seen are by women and typically for women.
I’ve never seen any for guys specifically. But the funny thing is that I direct [the blog] specifically at guys, but most of my audience is still women. If you get the traffic data it gives you the target audience reading your stuff, and for my blog it’s mostly women ages 35 and younger.
What kind of feedback have you gotten since the blog launched?
I get at least one or two people a week that email me saying, “Thank you for getting me to cook.” It’s weird for me, really. It’s nothing I ever really expected starting out. The fact that anybody would be cooking what I cook because I told them to is strange for me.
I noticed on your site that you get criticized for some of your cooking methods. For example, for your artichoke dip recipe, some people were critical of you using pre-grated Parmesan instead of fresh Parmesan. What would you say to those critics?
I respond to that saying that’s what most people use. Chefs may go for the fresh ingredients, but the average American person will buy grated Parmesan from the regular grocery store because it’s cheaper.
Do you ever get help or work with anyone for your comics?
So far it’s just me. The cooking, the drawing and photography are all me, but I do run recipes by some of my friends because they cook more than I do to see if they’re worthwhile.
What in your kitchen could you not live without?
Onion, garlic and cayenne are the ingredients I use a lot. As far as utensils, the wok and a rubber spatula.
What do you like more, cooking or drawing?
Now I like them both equally. For the blog, the food always has to come first, since the recipes are what the blog is all about. But I don’t want the art to be too far behind, because that’s what makes the comics entertaining.
What’s in store for you in the future? Any plans to get formal culinary training?
I’ve thought about doing formal training in cooking, but that’s something that would be way down the line. Now I’m really just focused on keeping up with the site and working on my book. I’ve only got about six months to get everything done for the book, so it’s been pretty intense. Looking beyond that, I have no idea where this is going at all. I always feel like I’m riding by the seat of my pants, really.
Do you have any advice for young aspiring cooks like yourself?
Do it. Just cook. Persist, because you’re not going to get better at cooking unless you keep trying.
Be on the lookout for the first Cooking Comically cookbook, which is slated to come out in the fall of 2013 by Perigee Books. According to Tyler, it will be made up of mostly new material, with a few of the more popular recipes from the site.