Illustration by Joel Kimmel

Home Cooking

The food videos she shoots in her kitchen have made Mary Bryant Shrader ’80 an unlikely YouTube star.

Six years ago, Mary Bryant Shrader ’80 stood in her Texas kitchen and filmed a video of herself explaining how to roast a chicken. That cooking tutorial would soon transform Bryant Shrader, then sixty years old, from a retired tax attorney into an Internet celebrity chef. It became the first video she posted to her YouTube channel, Mary’s Nest, which today has more than one million subscribers and helped her land a publishing deal for a cookbook.

“I figured, okay, maybe a hundred people will be interested in this,” Bryant Shrader said of that video from 2018. “I was shocked at how quickly my channel grew.” Bryant Shrader’s channel teaches her followers how to cook entirely from scratch, with videos demonstrating everything from how to soak grains before baking bread to how to culture dairy while making butter. It’s all part of her belief in the traditional-foods movement, which encourages people to consume fewer processed foods.

Each of Bryant Shrader’s more than 650 videos has been filmed by her husband in their kitchen, with a new one posted every Saturday. In her pleasant, maternal way, she begins each video with her signature introduction of “Hi, sweet friends,” and ends with “Love, and God bless.”

Bryant Shrader, who worked as a tax attorney for nearly ten years, closed her practice in 1998 after she and her husband welcomed their son, Ben. When Ben left for college in 2017, he suggested that Bryant Shrader, who liked to host cooking nights for friends, start posting videos of her cooking sessions to YouTube for fun. Ten months later, Bryant Shrader had ten thousand subscribers.

The secret to her success, in part, is that her videos are about perennially relevant topics (she searches—what else?—YouTube for ideas), like the best methods for long-term food storage and how to make sports drinks at home. That helps even her oldest videos attract new viewers—a 2019 video on how to make flavored extracts, for instance, has built to nearly eight hundred thousand views. “During the pandemic,” she said, “I received a lot of subscribers who wanted to learn one little thing that I shared, and then stayed with me over the long haul.” All this despite the fact that Shrader’s detailed videos often stretch to an hour long, an eternity in a social media landscape where popular videos usually run for just a few minutes. Her husband, Ted Shrader, said her comforting screen presence helps to explain the channel’s popularity. “We see comments of people saying how much they love her,” he said. “She’s like a mom or a grandmother to them.”

Bryant Shrader, now sixty-six, recently extended her success into a new platform. Last summer, DK, a British publishing imprint that is part of Penguin Random House, released The Modern Pioneer Cookbook, Shrader’s collection of eighty-five traditional food recipes. “It’s just unbelievable. I have a million subscribers on YouTube. Are you kidding?” Shrader said. “I go to Barnes & Noble and Target and my book is on the shelf. I’m like, What? Me? How did this happen?” ◽