When you’re able to rise above the glut of cat photos, crazy stories about Nicholas Cage, and every meme possible to reach the top of Reddit, you’ve accomplished something. Such is the honor bestowed upon Tyler Capps, perhaps better known to the Internet as “the 2am chili guy.” From that humble Reddit beginning Tyler moved on to creating a website that he updates frequently with more comic strip recipes.
Most recently he was able to parlay this amazing recipe style into a book deal and the result is Cooking Comically: Recipes so Easy You’ll Actually Make Them, the cookbook. I met Tyler at NYCC, where he was selling his book along with a bunch of other stuff all branded with the now infamous Angus Cook, the stick figure who provides the excellent commentary on all of the recipes. This was Tyler’s first time at the show and we talked everything from what it was like to “win” Reddit, where this crazy awesome idea came from, and of course, Tyler’s desired superpower.
Castles & Cooks: So to start with the chili thing, you really weren’t into cooking, but then you got into it because of your brother?
Tyler Capps: That’s right, me and my brother had this little tradition we used to do. I would go up to his house a couple hours away and we would always debate to try and figure out what to make for dinner, and it always came back to chili, because he had this chili recipe we used to cook that we really liked because you just throw it in the pot and let it simmer and catch up and talk and usually around 2:00 AM it was done and we’d stuff ourselves with chili and pass out for the night.
C&C: So where did the idea come from to post it on Reddit and do drawings, and create this stick figure character and narrate how to make chili?
Tyler: I guess it starts way way back, because I’ve been making comics for a really long time. It always starts with little small stuff, whatever I’m into at the moment – I’d make comics about Guitar Hero, you know, silly stuff like that. So when I got into cooking three or so years ago, I just started thinking about comics about food. Then I had a class – I had been in school during the whole thing – I had a photography class where the assignment was to create a story between four or five frames of photos. So I did mine on food photography and made a really crappy recipe that ended up at a restaurant.
So I kind of thought there might be something there and so I kind of got the idea to shoot an actual recipe in photographic format as kind of an instructive thing. And just on a whim I decided to draw a stick figure guy with silly jokes and stupid stuff. And I showed it to a friend of mine, because I wasn’t sure if it was good at all, if it was a piece of shit or if it was worthwhile. So I showed it to my friend and she definitely said ‘yes you should definitely put it somewhere.’ So I put it on Reddit and it proceeded to get to the top.
C&C: Does the stick figure have a name?
Tyler: Yeah he does, his name is Angus Cook.
C&C: Why is he so vulgar? Not that it’s a bad thing. He’s just got this great attitude. Where did that idea to give him that particular personality come from?
Tyler: I have no idea. It was just the mood I was in that night I guess.
C&C: So the basic element of your comic is to make cooking easier for people, or at least reveal to people that this isn’t rocket science, it’s not hard. What do you think the barriers are that make people thing cooking is really difficult?
Tyler: I think the biggest barrier is that if you screw up cooking your meal is screwed. There’s a lot of room for failure, but essentially what it comes down to, what it was for me was seeing a big wall of text and a list of ingredients half a page long. And it’s just daunting.
So to put it in a visual format where you can see what I bought, you can see exactly what I do with what I bought, I think that breaks it down and makes it a bit more friendly and inviting. But yeah, the biggest barrier is that there’s a consequence for screwing up in that you don’t have any food anymore.
C&C: So what was the first thing that you learned how to cook and felt comfortable with?
Tyler: It was the simplest thing. It was spaghetti and meat sauce. Basically it was: brown the beef, cook the noodles, and open the sauce can. I learned to cook that when I was a little kid. I always liked making it even though it was so simple.
C&C: Is there anything that you can’t cook? Anything that you’ve tried, but you just can’t get it right?
Tyler: Yeah, tons of stuff. [laughing].
C&C: Is there a top 2 or 3?
Tyler: Making stir frys from scratch. I’m okay at it, but I can’t make them really good. I don’t know how they do that at the actual Thai restaurants, or Chinese restaurants. I’ve been working on that, but just can’t quite get it right. There’s complicated stuff like baking, because baking is scientific you have to measure things exactly and make sure things are exactly the right temperature, I still can’t get that really well either. There’s a ton of stuff I’m really not good at… [laughing]
C&C: Are there any foods that you dislike, either individual ingredients or types of foods that you’re like ‘get that the hell away from me’
Tyler: Yep, there’s one big one, cilantro and parsley. Because those leafy green…I don’t actually know the scientific name for them…everyone seems to love them, but to me it just tastes like soap.
C&C: Tastes like soap to me too.
Tyler: It’s genetics, it’s actually genetics. So I just read about that a couple months ago, and I’m like ‘I’m not crazy!”
C&C: You’re not crazy and you’re not the only one.
Tyler: I found ihatecilantro.com, a site dedicated to hating cilantro.
C&C: So when you’re drawing or writing what is your favorite food or drink to have? Or do you prefer to keep all that away from the artwork?
Tyler: Seasonal beer.
C&C: Alright, seasonal beer. What are you drinking right now?
Tyler: Oktoberfest. No particular brand, I’m from Ashville, NC and we have a huge micro brewery scene. There’s like 30 breweries within the city limits so we have these really nice seasonal beers. I probably go with the Highlands Oktoberfest.
C&C: A lot of times in the recipes you’ll have a moment where you need to wait and you’ll put a screenshot of a video game and say ‘go play this.’ What are your top couple of video or tabletop games that you’re into playing?
Tyler: It fluctuates. Trying to pin down my favorite game is impossible because I play so many. What I’m playing now when I have time is DOTA2, Saints Row IV, Bioshock Infinite, FTL (Faster Than Light), Kerbal Space Program. Kerbal Space Program is a big one, I always go back to that one. Tabletop games…I love Settlers [of Catan], City of Horror, Game of Thrones. Everyone once in a while we get six or seven of us together and play a whole round.
C&C: If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
Tyler: [after a long pause] I would have Longshot’s power, where everything just goes your way. His superpower is luck so if something can go his way, it goes his way. I think that’d be kind of nice.
C&C: So what’s next for Cooking Comically? Do you have plans for another book or another project?
Tyler: No real plans yet. I would love to make another book, absolutely, but it kind of depends on how this book does. If it does well – or well enough – I will definitely make another book. As far as Cooking Comically in general, the site’s going to keep going. I’ll keep making recipes as long as I can. And I’m looking to try and incorporate other cooks. Bring in actual chefs to make their recipes. Gonna have them make it, then photograph it and put the comic spin on that instead. I think that would be a good way to mix up the recipes a little bit.
Even spending just a few minutes with Tyler, it’s impossible not to like the guy or get why his comic has taken off so well. Just Look back at his answer for the barriers to cooking, you can see he just gets it and has a simple approach to the kitchen. If you want to understand more about Tyler, where he came from, and how Cooking Comically evolved, check out this video for American Express Passion Projects that Tyler was featured in:
In his first visit to New York Comic Con, Tyler sold out of books before Sunday. The book is exactly as Tyler describes, an extension of the Cooking Comically site, with all the wit, personality and hi jinx that we’ve come to love and expect from Angus Cook. Beyond all the jokes and drawings, the book really is a great introductory cookbook and is composed in such a way as to make cooking a fun endeavor rather than something to fear.
More than anything Tyler seems to have created, in Angus Cook and his comic recipe style, the perfect culinary wing-man for the uninitiated or those just hoping to gain some stability in the kitchen. You want this guy and his book in the kitchen with you, or at the game table for that matter.
Cooking Comically: Recipes so Easy You’ll Actually Make Them is available on Amazon, and be sure to check out new recipes and updates from Tyler at Cooking Comically.