The Untold Truth Of Frankie Celenza

We all know how hard it can be to balance a healthy diet while also keeping an eye on our budgets. It can be even more difficult when the prospect of entering the kitchen on our own is daunting and overwhelming. A fledgeling cook could be lost before they even begin and totally give up before splurging on quick take-out. Frankie Celenza believes there is another way.

"To those who say they can't cook: Can you physically not do it? That's the only legitimate excuse for not being able to cook. Give it a shot, maybe you'll fail — it's no big deal, do it again ... you'll have an excellent skill for life, so there's really no downside to learning to cook," Celenza said (via CNBC).

His can-do attitude is infectious, and he specializes in teaching beginners on a budget how to cook on his viral series "Struggle Eats" from Tastemade, available on Youtube. The show has been in production for a few years, but surged in popularity as people were stuck at home and looking for affordable ways to invigorate their efforts in the kitchen (via Fast Company). It also doesn't hurt that he's funny, full of energy, and just plain fun to watch.

Frankie Celenza has had quite the journey to success, and we absolutely had to do a deep dive on how he became our go-to cooking teacher. Read on for the untold truth of Frankie Celenza.

How Frankie Celenza started cooking

Frankie Celenza started cooking and sharing his approach to food in a really relatable way: as a college student at NYU who was fed up with the expensive meal plan and needed a more affordable option. The NYU meal plan was outrageously expensive and ran the students up to $15 dollars a meal, so he started cooking in his dorm and then in the loft where he and his friends built a kitchen, sharing the cheap, but delicious meals he made with fellow students (via CNBC).

He had experience cooking from his summers as a kid, which he spent with his Italian-American family in Italy using fresh ingredients and no recipes to whip together great meals. He used his experience to make healthy meals on a budget in what he called a pasta-and-burger dinner club, where his fellow students would pay him less than the NYU meal plan price to cook for them (via Acorns). As his friends started to encourage him to film himself cooking, he realized he had an exciting opportunity to share his knowledge.

Frankie Cooks on local access television

While it's hard for us to imagine Frankie Celenza's content anywhere but the internet, since that is where his wildly popular content is currently available, when he was first starting his career as a culinary host the show was not made to be online.

After getting his start cooking for friends at NYU, Frankie Celenza's first success came on local television. After launching his show "Frankie Cooks" on his Youtube channel, Celenza realized the Youtube cooking show field was packed with competition, so decided to produce his content on local access television (via CNBC). The program was shown as 19 half-hour episodes on NYCLife. The show explored different types of food and cuisine around New York.

The show was co-produced by NYC Media, the official network and production arm of the city. The show was successful and garnered Celenza his first accolades. In 2014 the show won a New York Emmy for "Outstanding Informational/Instructional Series" (via Frankie Cooks). In 2016 the show won the New York Emmy for "Lifestyle Program: Series" in 2016, and Celenza won for "Best Host." The show's success started to get attention, and it led to the next steps in Celenza's career.

Frankie Celenza's work with Tastemade

The success of "Frankie Cooks" set the stage for Celenza's progression as an on-camera culinary host. The television program's 19 episodes were edited into short segments that were also uploaded to Youtube. The digital media company Tastemade became interested in Celenza's work and started to commission him for work on sponsored videos with brands such as Starbucks, Avocados from Mexico, and Pepsi (via CNBC).

This led to the development of Celenza's own series for Tastemade, which premiered on Facebook Watch and then migrated across several platforms, including Snapchat, Youtube, and Tastemade's own streaming platform. Of course, we're talking about the extremely popular "Struggle Meals." The show is filmed once and then edited to be shown in different formats, with shorter versions on Youtube, interactive versions for Snapchat and Instagram, and longer 22-minute videos on the Tastemade website (via Fast Company). "Struggle Meals" has surged in popularity and helps teach millions of viewers how to make a yummy meal on a budget.

Celenza cooked with Michelle Obama

As Frankie Celenza's work with Tastemade was just starting to take off and garner him attention –and as his audience was growing — he was honored with the opportunity to participate in Michelle Obama's campaign to bring awareness to healthy eating and lifestyle habits during her time as First Lady. During her last Spring harvest in 2016, she invited Rachael Ray and Frankie Celenza into the White House vegetable garden to assist her in spreading information about good diet and exercise to the children of the nation (via Washington Post). Celenza helped teach young students from around the country about fresh food at the event.

Celenza used a few ingredients straight from the garden to make some healthy dishes. He made a video on Tastemade that shared all the information about the event and Michelle Obama's initiatives. This opportunity is a clear example of Celenza's interest and dedication in spreading information about accessible, healthy foods and was an indicator of his rising profile within the culinary world.

Struggle Meals during the Pandemic

When the pandemic started, filming was indefinitely delayed and it appeared that "Struggle Meals" would be on hiatus. The third season of the show was airing, but it was not clear when Tastemade and Frankie Celenza would be able to create new content for the show in the studio. However, the large audience had more questions about how to cook on a budget than ever.

Celenza started to film content and stream on Instagram Live from his home in Idaho. The shift was a hit with fans of "Struggle Meals" and viewership surged, growing by 40% between March and May (via Fast Company). The new formats enabled Celenza to engage with the viewers as they watched and bring on celebrity guests like Shailene Woodley, all while continuing to teach the audience affordable ways to cook delicious meals. The exciting work Celenza was able to do during the pandemic did not go unrecognized. Snapchat's head of editorial content commented, "It was so inspiring to watch Struggle Meals, in particular, quickly shift strategy at the onset of COVID-19 to deliver topical episodes that really resonate with Snapchatters and offer helpful solutions during this unprecedented time."