The Untold Truth Of Andrew Rea

Since 2016, a growing number of us have been Binging with Babish, learning (cooking) Basics with Babish, and even just Being with Babish. Four years and eight million subscribers later, we've become happily familiar with the low-key YouTube culinary sensation. His mellow baritone and tattooed arms have guided countless followers (a whopping 85 percent of them young men) to master the art of rustling up a simple yet sophistical pasta alla limone or reproduce cinematic recipes such as Il Timpano from Big Night. But when all is said and (well-)done, what do we really know about Babish's real-world, beyond-the-kitchen, alter ego, Andrew Rea?

Mashed dove deep into the digital ocean to unearth the backstory of Rea and his burgeoning culinary empire. We traced his trajectory from a Garbage Plate-gobbling Rochester boy to a full-fledged, film-making man with an aversion to bananas and a pronounced weakness for sharp knives, top quality whisky (a glassful is an obligatory accessory in the Babish kitchen), not to mention Jon Favreau. And then there are the tattoos. Over the course of our Rea-search, we were able to deconstruct the meaning of the vast majority, tying them into key moments in his life and helping us to reveal the untold truth of Andrew Rea.

Andrew Rea is a proud son of Rochester, New York

Born on September 2, 1987, Andrew Rea grew up in Rochester, New York, a fact of which he's proud. Although he subsequently moved downstate to New York City, Rochester remains very much in his heart, not to mention on his arm (more about that below).

In interviews, on social media, and in his videos, Rea gives generous shout-outs to his hometown. As a native Rochesterian, he feels contractually obliged to cheer on the home team, the Buffalo Bills (Buffalo being only 76 miles away from Rochester). And one of many visits home left him so "tumescent with hometown pride" that he devoted an entire episode to rustling up the Rochester's official dish: the Garbage Plate (Rea's version consists of a pile of home fries, macaroni salad, and grilled "white hot" sausages topped with smashed burger scrapings and lashed with ketchup and mustard).

A more permanent testament of his Rochester love is what he referred to in a Wired Q&A as his "hometown pride tattoo". Located on his right inner forearm, the stylized EKC represents the original 1911 logo of the homegrown Eastman Kodak Company. Aside from paying homage to his Rochesterian roots, Rea claims the tat serves as a constant reminder to never get stuck in his ways, but to keep looking forward.

Andrew Rea's mother taught him to cook as a child

Rea insists upon the fact that he's not a chef, but rather an "enthusiastic" home cook. As he confesses in a Wired Q&A, the sum total of his restaurant experience consists of gigs as a crepe-maker at Simply Crepes in Rochester and a dessert plater at Brooklyn restaurant called The Chocolate Room. 

In a Forbes interview, Rea credits his mother for his love of cooking. As a young boy, she taught him how to make comforting essentials ranging from hearty stew to chocolate chip cookies. Tragically, Andrew was only 11 when Annie Rea died. Cooking became — and continues to be — a means of connecting with his mother and honoring her memory.

Despite his love for cooking, Rea emphasizes that he's no expert despite having acquired countless tricks and techniques since he began cooking on cam for Binging with Babish. He prefers to describe himself as "your local goofball screwing things up and burning things now and then." In his opinion, owning his culinary errors (and disasters) makes cooking more accessible to those who tune into his videos and are reassured that they don't have to be Martha Stewart-perfect to set foot in a kitchen. In fact, Rea credits the owning of his culinary limitations as a big reason for his ongoing success.

Andrew Rea is a fanatical Frasier fan

How much of a Frasier "superfan" is Andrew Rea? Well, in 2016, when he uploaded his first Binging with Babish videos to YouTube, the signature opener was a clip from the Frasier theme song, "Tossed Salad and Scrambled Eggs." Although he reluctantly relinquished the tune when he decided to monetize his YouTube channel, he never dialed down the love for the 1990s sitcom.

Rae has paid more explicit (and appetizing) homage to the series in two episodes of Binging with Babish. One was devoted to Eggs Florentine (with English muffins made from scratch!). The other was a "Frasier Special" dedicated to the memory of actor John Mahoney (who played Frasier's father, Marty), on the occasion of his death. The homage featured Rea preparing Cornish game hen with pomegranate honey sauce along with Marty's favorite barbecue flavored pudding chips. As Rea confessed on Twitter, "I sometimes fool around about Frasier — the fact is, it's been an important fixture in my life." Indeed, Rea credits the show for bringing him and his own father closer together.

Underscoring the series' indelible significance in Rea's life is his Frasier tattoo, depicting the Seattle skyline from the show's opening credits. As Rea confessed to Uproxx, one of the bonuses of having his Frasier tat is that people notice it and exclaim: "Oh you're from Seattle!" to which he confoundingly responds: "I've never been to Seattle."

Andrew Rea's tattoos are deeply meaningful

The aforementioned Frasier and Kodak tattoos are only two of the many bodily engravings that have become as instantly recognizable as his beard, bald pate and black-framed glasses — a trifecta that constitutes the Babish logo)

Long before viewers laid eyes on Babish, there were the tattoos. In his early videos, the only visible parts of Rea were his torso, arms, and hands. Prophetically, Rea's first tat was a chef's knife and whisk on his inner left forearm. Rea recalls at the time he was fighting with his "significant other" for his right to get one. Once he wore her down, he took off for the nearest tattoo shop. Today the tattoo is a badge of pride, "a reminder to be true to yourself." Below it, a banner reads "Born & Bread"; the name of his fantasy bakery.

Other significant symbols have followed. On his right forearm is a lens focal length diagram. His inside right bicep displays "Katrina Code," a survival cry that was spray painted on houses in the wake of Hurricane Katrina (New Orleans is Rea's favorite city). There's a moon, a chicken, and a frame forward symbol (an ode to his editing days). Then there's the giant cilantro tattoo on his upper left arm. As he confessed to Harper's Bazaar, it's an herb he actively avoids because he hates cilantro so much — which is why the tattoo grows straight out of his armpit.

Andrew Rea had a pre-YouTube career in film

It's no coincidence that Binging with Babish revolves around recipes cited in iconic films and TV series. Andrew Rea attended Hofstra University, in Long Island, New York, where he majored in film studies and production. After graduating in 2009, he interned and worked part-time for various post-production companies before landing a job, in 2010, as a flame artist, creating 3D visual effects and editing digital images for a boutique commercial finishing house.

He was still working full-time when he made his first Babish video in February 2016. As he tells Inverse, he was at a low point in his life, feeling depressed and unfulfilled. With the idea of spreading his wings as a freelancer, he invested $6,000 in a digital camera, lights, and software and tested the equipment by making a tutorial for a gourmet turkey burger featured on an episode of the hit sitcom Parks and Recreation.

Rea uploaded his video to Reddit with the name Binging with Babish. Babish — a minor character from The West Wing — was his Reddit handle. Feedback from some 2,000 viewers was so positive that Rea followed up with subsequent videos, spending more time on the filming and editing processes. Inverse notes that the videos felt spontaneous and experimental, but they were meticulously produced, and dubbed over in Rea's voice. As a fan commented on his Parks and Rec video: "This is the beginning of an era."

The Moist Maker sandwich was a life-changer

In 1998, the iconic series Friends aired a Thanksgiving episode in which the character of Monica gifted her brother Ross with a sandwich made of Thanksgiving leftovers. The key to the sandwich's success was Monica secretly placing an extra slice of gravy soaked bread in the sandwich's middle.

Just as Monica's recipe was a hit, Rea's recreation of it on a Binging with Babish episode also went viral, with various media, including BuzzFeed, Entertainment Weekly, GrubStreet and The Washington Post touting Rea as a rising star of "the new media elite."

Uproxx notes the genius of Binging with Babish's concept from a marketing point of view: When Rea entered the YouTube-iverse as a next-to-nobody, his content was linked to popular shows with fan bases ripe for tapping into. Rea agrees, pointing out that the "Moist Maker" episode scored him over two million views and tens of thousands of new subscribers. The overwhelming response also got him thinking that it was time to start applying himself. Thanks to a major injection of funds from Patreon donors ($10,000 a month), Rea was able to quit his day job and devote himself full-time to producing weekly episodes of Binging with Babish. All thanks to Monica's Moist Maker.

Jon Favreau is Andrew Rea's guru

Andrew Rea has confessed the happiest day of his life was when he met his hero, Jon Favreau, the ridiculously prolific actor-director-producer-screenwriter-chef. In the culinary universe alone, Favreau earned acclaim for his 2014 film, Chef, which spawned his equally acclaimed Netflix cooking series, The Chef Show.

Considering his impressive multi-hyphen-ity, it's understandable that Rea was pretty "stunned" to one day find himself tweeting with Favreau. The filmmaker had discovered Binging with Babish after his kids forced him to watch it. As Rea tells Forbes, after trading tweets, he sent Favreau an "impassioned" letter, asking him if he wanted to have a beer — or make an appearance on Binging with Babish. Much to his surprise, weeks later Rea was flying out to LA to be on The Chef Show and have Favreau appear on Babish. Even more surreal was being gifted Favreau's carving fork from Chef, the one with which he plates pasta to Scarlett Johannsen (Rea subsequently tattooed the fork's likeness onto his arm). When Rea later published his Binging with Babish cookbook, "the man himself" brought him to tears with a beautifully written foreword.

Unsurprisingly, Rea's favorite onscreen recipe to date is pasta aglio e olio from Chef. Although he also cops to being "Jon Favreau-biased," Rea admires the recipe for its simplicity, that even first-time cooks can master — which is why he couldn't resist getting a tattoo of the dish!

Andrew Rea is banana-phobic

In a GQ feature, "10 Things Binging with Babish Can't Live Without", among Andrew Rea's self-declared essentials (which range from serious underwear to quality bourbon) are his arsenal of meds. There's Lactaid for his lactose intolerance, antidepressants for his depression, and Flonase for allergies. There's also an Epipen he keeps with him due to a potentially fatal allergy to "a mysterious thing." On two occasions– at a protest and on the way to his wedding — exposure to the "mysterious thing" caused him to go into anaphylactic shock

On both occasions, doctors failed to detect what caused Rea to turn red, swell up "like a frigging" balloon, and struggle to breathe. As he told Wired, since the only thing he'd eaten prior to these episodes was a banana, Rea assumes bananas are the culprit and avoids them like the plague. Proving bananas' innocence would involve taste-testing the fruit in the presence of an Epinephrine-wielding doctor, an experience Rea deems far scarier than boycotting bananas, which he never really liked.

Despite his banana-phobia, Rea boldly tackles banana-centric recipes on his shows. In one episode of Binging with Babish he whipped up Banana Pudding Pizza, albeit with his friend/business partner Sawyer acting as a taste tester. In another, Banoffee Pie from Love, Actually, he invited his girlfriend Jess to perform tasting duties.

Once married, Andrew Rea's now attached

In the aforementioned Banoffee Pie Binging with Babish video, Andrew Rea not only brings on his girlfriend Jess to sample his pie. In a fit of romanticism, he also takes a page (card) out of the film that inspired the pie by reenacting Love, Actually's famous scene in which Andrew Lincoln declares his love to Keira Knightly via giant cue cards.

Rea has historically been discreet about his amorous life. However, shortly after launching Babish, in a Reddit Q&A from 2016, he confessed to having married his high school sweetheart in 2014, after they'd already been together for 10 years. Four years later, in a Reddit AMA, he mentioned that he'd gone through a divorce in 2017. Without entering into details, he claimed it was a "Looooooong story." In commiseration, a commenter pointed out that his ex was "missing out on some bomb cooking."

During a 2020 GQ interview, Rea alluded to his marriage when he copped to having a country barn wedding, on the way to which he went into anaphylactic shock. This was probably induced by having eaten bananas, but in retrospect, Rea wryly suggests it was an "omen."

Meanwhile, as evidenced by his Banoffee Pie gesture, becoming "attached" to editor/producer Jessica Opon in 2019, has made Rea a happy man. In October 2020, he commemorated their first year anniversary on Instagram by giving a shout out to his best friend, confidant, love of his life — and new producer.

Andrew Rea is the center of a culinary universe

Proof of how high Andrew Rea's star has ascended since Babish's 2016 debut is that he's now master of his own culinary universe. In 2017, Rea launched Basics with Babish, a series that teaches basic cooking techniques to beginners. Two years later, Being with Babish offered Rea the chance to expand his horizons as he traveled around the country, cooking and connecting with fans.

Then in 2020, everything changed. COVID-19 hit, forcing people to stay at home, watch YouTube videos, and cook, often one comforting pandemic pastime feeding the other. As the Los Angeles Times reports, since mid-March, average daily views of YouTube videos whose titles include "cook with me" soared by over 100 percent.

Rea was already in an expansive frame of mind. Aside from a new producer (and girlfriend), he had a new business partner and two editors. Meanwhile he'd moved from his SoHo apartment into a six-floor Brooklyn townhouse with a two-kitchen studio. Then in September, he introduced his eight million subscribers to Stump Solha, a new series starring Sohla El-Waylly, the YouTube sensation who had famously left Bon Appétit due to alleged race-based pay discrepancies. These changes coincided with the rebranding of his channel from "Binging with Babish" to the more ambitious "Babish Culinary Empire". Hollywood Reporter predicts this is just the beginning of Rea's empire building, in which he's poised to become "a major publisher of cooking and lifestyle content."

Andrew Rea's bearded face graces his new cookware line

The Babish Culinary Universe is about more than just videos and to prove it, at the end of 2020, Andrew Rea is launching his own line of cookware, produced by Gibson USA.

The Babish-branded collection isn't Gibson's first co-effort with a celebrity; it also carries lines created by Martha Stewart and Chrissie Teigen. However, as Homeworld Business points out, it does mark the first collaboration between the company and an online influencer, providing Gibson access to a younger segment of consumers that follow self-taught, creators of cooking content such as Rea. Even before the products go on sale, Rea has been showcasing them in his videos, creating culinary buzz for the unique, Rea-designed equipment, an example of which is a pan whose tapered edges make it easier to whisk over a flame. As Rea told Homeworld Business, Gibson's developers went all out in helping him bring "every hair-brained idea" that crossed his mind to high quality, utilitarian life.

For his part, Rea has assiduously test-cooked with every pot, pan, and knife to guarantee they live up to his exacting standards while still promoting fun in the kitchen. As he confessed to The Hollywood Reporter: "Literally, the bottoms of the pans have my face on them, so my face is in the fire."

Andrew Rea dreams of opening a Brooklyn brew pub

Regardless of the galaxy, no culinary universe is ever quite complete without a restaurant, or in the case of Brooklyn-based Babish, a brew pub. In a 2019 interview with Forbes, Andrew Rea floated the idea of opening up a brew pub (very) tentatively named "The Babery." Aside from coming in for Babish-prepared drinks and nibbles, customers would be able to check out Rea in full-on Babish mode, filming in the brew pub's studio — or rather the studio's bar. Once filming wrapped, viewers/drinkers and their host would get to kick back together for some beers. In an interview with FFWD, Rea admits his dream in creating a brewpub-studio-space is to provide the kind of lively interaction offered during the early days of Disney-MGM Studios, when visitors to the Orlando film and TV studio could eat and drink on the working lot, mingling with stars and crew.

Rea's utopian vision is that anybody who wants to can come and host cooking classes, demonstrations, and tastings as well as culinary and cultural events. Although the concept is still in orbit, unfortunately, it's not due to land anytime in the near future. As Rea confessed during a March 2020 interview with Wired, due to the pandemic, plans to open the pub in 2020 have been pushed back to 2021.