El Guzii Dishes On His YouTube Channel And How He Creates Recipes - Exclusive Interview

There's something indisputably intoxicating about watching Gustavo Figueroa — aka El Guzii — on YouTube. Figueroa makes content that is the opposite of Michelin-inspired, but in the best possible of ways. His videos are warm, accessible, roll on the floor laugh-inducing, and everything you didn't know you needed. Are you not interested in whether or not "Gucci eggs" (the really expensive ones) truly taste different than cheap eggs? Have you never asked yourself how to make KFC cupcakes? Are Fruit Loop donuts not top on your list of must-make desserts? It's hard to explain, but catch El Guzii talking about any of these things, and you're well and truly hooked.

The California-based foodie was a graphic designer before jumping into the YouTube world in 2012 (via Linkedin). But there's no question that spending his days doing fast food taste tests and teaching people how to make Kung Fu Panda dumplings is what El Guzii was put on this Earth to do. His nearly 6 million YouTube followers and 2.5-million TikTok followers know that. In an exclusive interview with Mashed, El Guzii takes us behind the scenes into his recipe-creation processes, his favorite foods to make, and gives us an enticing hint of a new project in the works.

The first thing that El Guzii remembers cooking

You say that your first time cooking was with your mom when you were 5 years old. I'm super interested in memories you might be able to share from your childhood cooking experiences?

There's something about cooking that just draws my whole attention, everything. And when I was a kid, I believe I was 4 or 5 years old — I love food — and my mom would be making food. And I'm like, "What is she doing? Why is she spending so much time in the kitchen?" And I wanted to cook. One thing that really stood with me, a really good memory [was when] she helped me, getting a sausage, a regular sausage frank, and a fork and just turned on the stove. I was just there, like at summer camp, just frying that little hot dog like this, and turning it. Just the process of that frank just getting blistered and cooking and charring, and then [it] tasting different than when it's cold, it drew my attention. I'm like, "Wow, I want to see if I could cook some other foods." That's one of my memories that I think will never go away. I love that memory.

What was your favorite thing to cook growing up, or favorite thing to watch your mom cook growing up?

I think one of my favorite things that my mom used to cook was chips. Back in the day, we didn't have that much money at all. And my brother and I, we wanted chips, like the other kids. They were eating Doritos and Cheetos and my mom didn't have that much money. So she would go into the kitchen, I remember this, [and say] "I'm going to make some chips for you guys." I'm like, "Really? How?"

She would take these corn tortillas and just make these triangles and then fry them with a little bit of vegetable oil. They would crisp up, and then she would put some salt [in], take them out. And we would take this bowl of chips, homemade chips, and go outside and hop on top of our mom's car and just eat there. I remember just my brother and I sitting on the rooftop of our car and just eating chips. I think I was 6 years old at the time. And that was — I mean, chips, tortilla chips — is so basic, but it's the experience and that love, family love.

Yeah. And homemade chips are another level.

Yes. Actually, one of the most-watched videos in our channel is making potato chips at home, using a potato peeler and some potatoes, just peeling your potatoes. The actual peel of the inside of the potato is what you fry. People were like, "Wow, I could make so many potato chips with one potato." I don't know. I love that. I love finding out how we could make more food on a budget. It's amazing.

The surprising dish El Guzii has tried over, and over again

Can you give us an example of [a recipe on your channel] that's just been a complete flop?

At the beginning, I would have so many issues making macaroni and cheese. I love macaroni and cheese, and I've seen a lot of videos on how to make macaroni and cheese. And I was like, "I can make this." I think I tried making macaroni and cheese ... I think five times. I tried making macaroni and cheese five times and it failed. The milk and the cheese solid separated, and it was grainy. It wasn't creamy at all. I'm like, "how?"

In those cases, if I make those recipes and they don't work out, I don't upload the video ... I get this feeling of self-competition, I guess, if you want to say. I'm like, "No, no, I can't let the mac and cheese beat me down. I have to do this again." And I try to do it again, and now I'm an expert on mac and cheese. I think we've done three or four different mac and cheese recipes, and I love it. My kid, Max, loves it as well. It's so crazy. Mac and cheese is so simple.

What's the secret? What finally made it all come together for you?

I think what I was doing wrong was I was using too much high heat. So, I was overcooking the cheese and the milk and that made it separate. And I was making something else, cottage cheese, maybe, yellow cottage cheese. But I think it's just practice, practice with everything. When you read recipes or you see other videos, sometimes they don't tell you about certain things to look out for before making a recipe, so that's something we try to do. We learn from our mistakes and we tell people, "You know what? I did this recipe five times. Here's how you could not do it, so you could do it on the first try."

How El Guzii decides what recipes to make

Take me through your recipe innovation process. How do you figure out what to do week after week? What's that like with your team?

I think our whole process of making these videos and these recipes — we owe that completely to our audience. Sometimes, there's things that I like and I create in my mind, or maybe I went to a restaurant and I tried something that I really enjoyed. And I'm like, "I want to do this in the channel." So, I go ahead and do it. But then as people start commenting in the videos, "Hey, you should make this. You should make arepas. You should make lumpia. You should make this and that." I'm like, "Ooh, let's check these recipes out."

So my team and I, we get together and we look up to the comments and we're like, "All right. These people were asking for this recipe, and then this group of people were asking for this." We put that together. We're a group of six people. We just try to say, "Okay, if they want hot dogs, how about making our own sausages from scratch or making our own bread?" And hot dog bread or hot dog buns, they're really simple, but sometimes we try to say, "Hey, why don't we add some more flavor to the hot dog buns by creating a brioche bun, which has more butter than a regular [bun]." I think regular hot dog buns do not have butter. It's just your imagination.

How long does it usually take you to come up with the recipe that you're going to film?

If we sit down together and think about a recipe, it usually takes about two hours, maybe, two hours to look at the comments and say, "Oh, maybe we should do this." And then use our experience to [think about], "How can we add more flavor?" So about two hours, then another hour, maybe, to write the actual recipe down. Then, I would have to try it out [to see] if it works or not. I mean, some things work on paper until you test it out, and sometimes it doesn't work out, sometimes it does. When it does, we get ready to film. So it usually takes about three to four hours, maybe, for that whole process.

The recipe El Guzii sometimes craves

It's obvious from your YouTube channel how much fun you have with cooking and how much fun you have combining different kinds of ingredients you wouldn't [normally] think to put together. What's been your favorite dish to develop?  

We've made a lot of foods that are unique and a lot of foods that are a little crazy — for example, [the] Nutella tamales. But one — it's not necessarily a dish — but [there is] something that has lived with me, and sometimes I crave this. It's the jailhouse burrito. I've never been to prison. But in prison, sometimes prisoners, they eat the same thing over and over again. So they save up their money and they try to eat something new, something with more flavor. And there's a lot of junk food. There's Doritos and Cup of Noodles and ramen and Slim Jims and all that kind of stuff, beef jerky. So they take all those things and mix it together.

One of those things that we tried was a jailhouse burrito. I think it's a bag of nacho cheese Doritos, and you mash them up and you mash up a bag of ramen and you mix it and you just add boiling water. And you squish it around and you roll it into a burrito and just let it sit there. So the ramen and the Doritos, they absorb all that water. And it's crazy because it actually tastes good. I have no idea why — maybe all the MSG. I don't know, but it tastes like rice. It tastes like cheesy rice. It's crazy. I mean, I know right now many chefs, they're like, "What is this guy saying?" But you should try it out. It's really good.

Behind the scenes on El Guzii's Mexico vs. United States fast-food taste tests

So you did a Burger King taste test in the United States and Mexico and your conclusion was that the United States' Burger King was better than Mexican Burger King. Is that true, really? Was there a huge difference? What was that taste test about?

Yeah, we did taste test Burger King. Actually, we taste-tested a McDonald's and then Burger King from the U.S. compared to Mexico. And surprisingly, there's a big difference... The one in Burger King, we tasted chicken nuggets. The ones in the U.S. were really good. The texture... I'm salivating. The texture there was way different. It was soft on the inside, crispy on the outside. And the ones I tried in Mexico were a little dry. And I think while that was just one of the taste tests we made, after a few times tasting different Burger King items from different Burger King restaurants, we noticed that maybe there's an issue with quality control because sometimes it would taste better in the U.S. and then sometimes it wouldn't. But the one that really — The quality control in McDonald's is beyond crazy. And we compared cheeseburgers and Big Macs, and in Mexico, the meat actually tastes better. I don't know why.

In McDonald's?

At McDonald's, yeah. That's something that, to this day, I'm trying to figure out. I don't know why. I don't know. And that's 100% true... I've tried that so many times, [at] different restaurants.

And now you need to go to different parts of Latin America and compare! Your next challenge.

Yes. It intrigued me. I want to see the Asian McDonald's, maybe like a Japanese McDonald's. I know they have a lot of unique items that you couldn't find anywhere in the world. I guess every country has its own McDonald's menu. And I think a new series is about to happen, thanks to you.

El Guzii's surprising fast-food guilty pleasure

Another big difference between Mexico and the United States cuisine-wise is what is a taco? Give me the down-low on that debate. What is a real taco? What's not a real taco? 

I'm not a hater. I believe a taco is anything that you could grab with your hand, for example. But the real definition of a taco is a tortilla, either corn or flour tortilla, and you add different types of meat. It could be carne asada, ahumada, al pastor, cheek, whatever, and just whatever else you want. I like to experience different flavors. I love — I call a taco, maybe — a tortilla made out of a lettuce leaf and then add a plant-based guiso on top, a Mexican guiso, flavored championes or — I love all that. So I call that a taco. I've gone to the extreme where we make tacos with cheese, carne asada, and add chips [to] it.

A taco is really just that, a tortilla, whether it be corn tortilla or flour tortilla and your fillings, whatever you want. It has to have a protein, [which] it could be beans ... A taco could be just a tortilla, and you smear beans on top and you eat it like that, that's a taco. There's no rules. There's no set rules for a taco, and I think it's as big as your imagination.

What are your guilty pleasures?

My fast-food guilty pleasure? Being Mexican, I think a lot of people get offended, but I love Taco Bell. I said it, I love Taco Bell. And a lot of times I would have to hide it because our audience, they hear Taco Bell and they just get upset. They're like, "Oh, those aren't real tacos," and this and that. And I really enjoy tacos. I don't like [the] tacos because they're Mexican, it's [not] Mexican food. I love Taco Bell because it's Taco Bell. It's like a portable nacho. That's basically what it is. It's nachos. They're nachos and I like nachos. That's my guilty pleasure.

The Mexican food El Guzii thinks you should know about

What is one Mexican food you think people in the States should be more excited about or talking more about?

I know right now everyone's going crazy with the birria tacos, and the quesa tacos. But I think one underrated, or under-appreciated Mexican dish is... I think the most Mexican dish is a "chiles en nogada." Not a lot of people know what a "chile en nogada" is and it's a chile relleno [stuffed pepper], and it's a poblano pepper that's been cooked on the flames. The skin has been peeled off and it's filled with pork, with apple, with cinnamon, with just vegetables like peas, different types of food elements in there. And it's a little bit sweet. It's sweet and savory at the same time.

Some people eat it when it's "capeado," which is lightly battered in egg whites and fried. And there's a sauce. It seems like a cream sauce, but it's actually a — Oh, what is it? — walnut. It's a walnut sauce on top. And it's very creamy. It's white. And they put a little [bit of] pomegranate seeds on top and also parsley. And it's the color of the Mexican flag.

Not a lot of people know about that, but it's actually really good. When I first found out about this dish and I heard that it was kind of sweet, I said, "I just want tacos. I want spicy tacos." But wow. It has a lot of history and it's very delicious. And it's pretty as well, very pretty.

Why El Guzii cut down on his fast-food consumption

On your YouTube channel, you went through a 30 days of eating healthier [challenge]. Can you tell us the story behind that and what drove that?

Me eating healthy, it's been an ongoing war with myself. There's ups and downs. But the reason why I started eating healthy at the beginning was I was playing with my son, Max, and I noticed that I was getting real tired, real quick, very tired. He's 3 years old. I remember we were at the park and we were running, and I said to myself, "I'm going to outrun him. I'm just going to keep running and playing with him until he gets tired." But to my surprise, I was the one who got tired first. And he still wanted to play, like, "Come on, Daddy, come on. Let's play." And that really hurt. That really hurt. I'm like, "Wow. I can't keep up a simple game with my son. I need to change something." And that's what inspired me.

Now sometimes I eat things that maybe are not that healthy, but my wife is always helping me out. So if we go eat tacos somewhere, and I want to eat a big taco or a huge quesadilla, I'd rather just eat two small tacos. And tacos go well with Coke, so I'm like, "I can't have that." I try to drink something else, like an agua fresca or maybe just a bottle of water. And my family is the one who inspires me to do that change.

Do you have any advice for anybody who was looking to cut out fast food or not eat as much fast food?

Oh, man. I wish I did. I wish I did have advice for anybody who's struggling with fast food. I love fast food, and I have a few guilty pleasures there.

El Guzii's favorite fan interactions

You said earlier that you spend a lot of time looking through comments and getting your inspirations for the next video off of comments. Do you have any nice memories of people interacting with you that's kept you going?

Yeah, occasionally we get these emails or these messages on our social media, especially kids. They're going through a rough time and their parents, they contact me saying, "Hey, my kid is battling cancer. My kid is battling mental illness and they just want to have a message from you." So that really — it hurts. And I'm like, "Yeah, let's help these kids. They're the reason why we're here." Our audience is the reason why we have this business. And although we can't do this for everyone, I do do it on occasion, and just send a video message to these kids.

And I remember there was one kid from Venezuela. I think he had terminal cancer. And his mom contacted me [and told me] that that's all he used to watch, "El Guzii, El Guzii." And I sent a little gift over and they were really happy. He was really happy, and that motivates him so much. And then the other, there was another experience — we make music in our YouTube videos sometimes. And it's funny music, it's not anything serious. I don't even remember the lyrics to my songs, when we do these Mexican-inspired songs. But sometimes there's these kids and they come up to us in the supermarket or something, "Hey, I know your song." And they start singing the song. I'm like, "I don't even know it!" That motivates me so much.

When being a YouTuber gets hard

 What was the first moment you realized that [being a YouTube foodie] is what you were going to be doing as a career? 

When I first started, I think when I uploaded my first video, it was to help a friend cope with depression. I think it was back in 2008. When I uploaded that video, being a chef, that was something I really wanted to do, but I never had the chance to study that. At first I was just doing it for fun, because I've always wanted to be a chef and just be involved with food. And I saw one YouTube creator, his name is Shane Dawson, I remember. [He] was on the news, on the local news.  I was seeing how he was living the life of content creation, and just having his own apartment, just living life out of doing what he loves. I'm like, "Wow, he's getting paid for this. I love doing all this. So why not me?" So it wasn't a moment that I realized that this was going to happen. It was in me that I wanted to do this. I'm like, "If they can do it, then I can do it too." So that's something that I did.

Any downsides to being a YouTuber and stepping off of comments and interactions?

The downside to YouTube videos — I see it like it's a little monster that you create on YouTube. You create a little monster and now you have to feed it, feed it and feed it and feed it, or it will go away. And the downsides is that there's a lot of burnout, a lot of burnout in this field. Sometimes, even I've noticed that we would have to take breaks. Maybe four or five times a year, out of the whole year, just take a break completely — maybe a week of nothing about anything. Because we make four pieces of content a week and there's some YouTubers and some other content creators that create more content. But I wouldn't trade it for anything. That burnout, and just recharging my batteries and then coming back, it motivates me, and I love it. I love it. I love the fact that it's not a nine to five. It's more of a 24 hour, 24/7. You work more, but it pays off. 

What are your big plans? What are your dreams for El Guzii? And where do you see yourself, in an ideal world, in a couple years?

Big plans. There's a lot of plans that we have that we like to keep to ourselves. We want to surprise people. The whole reason that we have this channel is to inspire people, to educate people and to entertain people. So we want to take those three things, three elements, everywhere we go. We are planning something that I can't say.

You guys will have to wait, but it does involve going around the world.

For more of El Guzii's crazy recipes and ingenious taste tests follow him on his YouTube channel. Also, be sure to check out his Instagram and TikTok for weekly doses of food inspiration and humor.