Billy Parisi in the Chicago Tribune

By Margaret Sheridan

When the video camera rolls, Billy Parisi tosses an electric smile at the lens. When the camera is off, the grin stays and the banter between the chef and Thatcher Kamin, his business partner/man-behind-the-camera, returns. Welcome to the set of, a video-based cooking Website that streams from Parisi’s Humboldt Park condo kitchen.

Here, viewers dictate the show, and the Parisi/Kamin team produces it. Recipes in need of help are e-mailed to the 27-year old Parisi who will research, fix and improve them. By noon everyday, there’s a fresh posting. “That’s how we hook cooks,’’ says Kamin, “the daily fix.’’

This morning, Parisi tackles brining brisket for a viewer named Becky. This afternoon, he’ll improve a runny peach cobbler for a cook in California. Their site, which started in November, gets around 50,000 video views per month, says Kamin.

Extension chords snake around the kitchen floor. The tripod holding the camera (“same one used by ABC Channel 7,” Kamin, 26, volunteers) makes maneuvering between and around counters, lights and refrigerator, tricky. Parisi, dressed in black, stands in front of the blonde cabinets, imprisoned by professional lights. Only a pivot is required for him to grab a stock pot or food processor off the metal racks.

Kamin, a native of La Grange Park, prefers to operate the camera. The on-going basketball game on the big screen TV in the living room goes unwatched. Vernon, a rambunctious red Doberman, is sequestered in the bedroom of the 580 sq. ft. condo.

Parisi and Kamin met while students at University of Missouri, Columbia, Mo. Both worked as part-time waiters at the local Olive Garden and fused dreams about big careers in video production. Parisi, from Detroit, graduated in Communications and Spanish, then got a culinary degree from Scottsdale Culinary Institute, Scottsdale, Ariz. Thatcher earned a degree in Broadcast Journalism.

The idea for the culinary video website came last summer. Parisi was waiting tables at a Chicago steakhouse. One evening, a table of four, onion producers from Florida, engaged him in conversation about Chicago, local TV and cooking. He mentioned his culinary degree. “The customers tossed out the idea about a show on cooking.” Within days Parisi and Kamin created a 5-minute pilot video and a 17-page Power Point, and flew to Florida. The investors liked what they saw.

Parisi enjoys being a foodie Dr. Fix It. Most recipes need more flavor, he says. He instructs cooks to take time to caramelize onions for more flavor, for example. Dry cake? Try vegetable oil or yogurt. Lifeless almond macaroons? Instead of nuts, use almond paste. Be bold with flavor. If you like basil, add more. Taste, season, then taste again is his mantra. When he imagines his audience, he sees his parents in Ann Arbor, Mich. as typical. “My dad enjoys cooking, but feels intimidated by many stars on the Food Network such as Emeril Lagasse.’’

No recipe, so far, has stumped him. When in doubt, he phones former culinary teachers and chef friends. His condo neighbors are well fed; the freezer is rarely empty of tested samples. Going to the gym and running Verne keeps the weight off.

Kamin sums up the gig as “Mr. Food Meets 2009.The site isn’t a moneymaker, yet. But he plans to provide media companies with a widget for their own web sites.

Parisi’s goal for now is to pay some bills, like college loans and, bottom-line, provide fail-proof recipes and fun. “If this fails, I can always go into catering,’’ he says motioning to the rack of equipment. “Look at all this stuff.’’

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