Chicago Chef Bobby Parrish Of FlavCity
Bobby Parrish is working it. The self-styled chef holds court in the kitchen of his Chicago condo, hosting another video installment of his popular YouTube show, “FlavCity with Bobby Parrish.” In this episode, the boyish 39-year-old chef instructs viewers on how to prepare his recipe for yogurt-marinated chicken. Over the course of the 12-minute video, Parrish methodically seasons poultry thighs in a paprika-based spice rub, then scorches the meat in a cast-iron pan until the chicken yields a crispy, glazed crust.
Parrish slices off a chunk of the bird and samples his handiwork. “Guys … that chicken is bangin’ with flavor!” he exclaims.
Watching Parrish go through his paces on FlavCity, a viewer gets the sense they are glimpsing a multimedia superstar at the embryonic outset of his career. Aided and abetted by wife and co-producer Dessi, the Parrishes are fast becoming an online sensation. Capitalizing on their photogenic appeal, the couple won a televised Food Network competition hosted by celebrity chef Guy Fieri, as well as cooking contests sponsored by Pepsi and Anheuser-Busch. The FlavCity YouTube channel boasts a subscribership of roughly 113,000 people (for comparison, Rachael Ray’s nationally syndicated show has 117,000 YouTube followers). Between his Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat pages, Parrish boasts a social media following of more than 400,000 fans.
The buzz surrounding the Windy City couple has intensified to the point that high-profile companies including Honda Motors, KitchenAid, Tabasco/McIlhenny, DiGiorno Pizza and the National Pork Board have partnered with them. Recently, Parrish was named host of an online video series produced by the culinary entertainment company Flavored Nation. He will also be a featured culinary talent at the company’s food festival October 28-29, in St. Louis.
FlavCity’s broadening appeal can be attributed to a variety of factors, not the least of which is Bobby Parrish’s on-screen charisma. Though he possesses the voice and youthful looks of a wave-trouncing Southern California surfer, the YouTube star makes deft use of catchy colloquialisms that lend him a certain cross-cultural appeal. But, ultimately, Parrish’s success can largely be traced to FlavCity’s promotion of affordable and expedient weight-loss recipes that are also intensely flavorful.
“I started FlavCity from the standpoint of showing that home cooks can be rock stars in the kitchen,” Bobby says. “Our recipes are easy to make, but they’re also really creative. We recently did a Mexican-inspired recipe with al pastor marinated pork chops with a coconut pineapple sauce. So, we’re talking really satisfying, hearty flavor from meals that are very healthy for you.”
Some might flinch at the implication that pork chops can be healthy, but Parrish would beg to differ. “I think a healthy recipe is anything you make from scratch, with ingredients that are whole,” he says. “Any time you start using processed ingredients or pre-made ingredients, you don’t know what’s in that. So, it really is using natural, raw ingredients, and 100 percent homemade. Once I started gearing my videos towards that, people really started resonating with it.”
The roots of FlavCity extend back to 2014, when the Parrishes posted their first YouTube clip: a recipe for crispy tilapia with couscous. “We didn’t know what we were doing,” Parrish recalls. “The video shoot took five hours, and the edit took us another 8-10 hours … I looked back at that video a while ago and thought, ‘This is the worst video ever!’”
What Parrish lacked in experience, he made up for in business knowledge. Boasting a finance degree from the University of Wisconsin, he tapped his business know-how to impress potential partners. “A big factor in our success is that I’m able to coordinate with brands,” Parrish says. “I have the experience where I can give companies business proposals, marketing sheets and things like that.”
As if Parrish’s business credentials didn’t give FlavCity enough of an edge, his wife Dessi applied her Northern Illinois University computer science degree in her tech-intensive job as videographer, film editor, photographer and graphics designer. Yet, still, she says her co-producer gig has been a trial-by-fire experience. “It was difficult to learn how to handle a camera and create a set where the lighting and audio is right,” she says, with a Russo-European accent that reveals her Bulgarian roots. “So, I learned from looking at other people and watching a lot of Food Network.”
Raised in Chicago suburb of Highland Park, Parrish’s culinary career was inspired by his late mother. “My mom had piles of cookbooks on her baker’s rack in the kitchen,” he recalls. “She instilled the cooking bug in me at an early age, and I honor her with a lot of the stuff that I do now in the kitchen.”
He never imagined that those hours spent in his mother’s kitchen would lead him to the precipice of fame. He admits he would eventually love to join the high-flying ranks of Chi-Town network TV legends like Oprah Winfrey, Phil Donahue, Jerry Springer and Steve Harvey, but for now Parrish’s hands are full managing his thriving online enterprise.
“When I started FlavCity, I thought it would be a great platform to be discovered for a TV show,” Parrish says. “But I quickly realized that TV was dramatically changing. Viewerships were going down; the digital age was rising. We’re growing so much, and so many opportunities are coming our way that we’re really in a prime place now with digital.”