But a week later, via email, the immigration officer said he had subscribed to Spaffords website, Sorted Food, one of the most popular cooking channels on YouTube. Keep up the good work! the man wrote.
Created in 2010 by Spafford and three British partners, Sorted Food now has more than 8,65,000 subscribers. More than a quarter come from the US the channels largest audience segment, followed closely by Britain.
What started as a part-time venture is now a full-time job for Spafford, his partners and their 14 employees, who work in a studio in North London. Sorted Food expects revenue to reach $3.5 million this year.
It is remarkable growth for a site that generates more than 11,000 hours of viewer traffic a day and whose most-viewed video is a three-minute segment, watched about 8,00,000 times, showing how to make a microwave cake in a coffee mug.
While still not as popular as comedy or gaming channels, which measure their audiences in tens of millions of subscribers, cooking and food is the fastest-growing genre on YouTube.
Last year, YouTubes top 20 cooking channels generated nearly 370 million views and more than doubled their subscribers. Among cooking channels, Sorted Food is YouTubes top performer.
The typical video for Sorted Food features one of Spaffords partners, Ben Ebbrell, the only trained chef in the group, creating dishes as varied as a simple mac-and-cheese and elaborate-looking les flottantes floating islands of soft meringues enveloped in a caramel cage. Its all about easy, cheap and tasty recipes that look great, said Ebbrell.
Ebbrell, Spafford and the other partners, Barry Taylor and Mike Huttlestone, met at school in Hertfordshire, north of London, and went their separate ways. But on visits home, they would meet in a pub. And the talk often turned to food. At university, Spafford said, we were all eating complete rubbish. With one exception: Ben.
So Ebbrell, who at the time was studying culinary arts management, started sharing cheap and easy recipes with his friends on backs of beer coasters. Those recipes grew into a self-published cookbook, and, in May 2010, the four started the YouTube channel.
It became an obvious way of sharing the recipes with more of our friends, Ebbrell said.
Then the videos started gaining traction beyond their circle of friends. It began by Wow, weve got a hundred views, Ebbrell recalled. But weve only got 40 friends on Facebook, so who are these other 60 people
That following quickly grew.
My dream as a child was to be a chef, to create my own recipes and cook in a restaurant for 50 to 60 people a day, Ebbrell said. What we are doing now is exactly the same, but its not just 50 or 60 people, its hundreds of thousands from all around the world.
So what next for Sorted Food A cooking show on television Spafford and Ebbrell say that is unlikely.
We are yet to find a way that TV would work for us, Spafford said. With YouTube we have complete control of what we put out, when we put it out and what we edit. Its also much more interactive.
Instead, the partners are seeking growth opportunities through their Sorted Food iPhone and iPad apps. The app allows users to create profiles, upload recipes, repost cooking videos and follow other users. Since its July 1 debut, the app has been downloaded more than 35,000 times.