‘Struggle Meals’ was a pandemic hit. Now, Tastemade is remaking it abroad

A photo illustration of a frying pan.
Remaking the cooking show “Struggle Meals” in local-language versions is part of Tastemade’s international expansion plan.
(Photo illustration by Nicole Vas / Los Angeles Times; Cooker King / Unsplash)

This is the March 30, 2021, edition of The Wide Shot, a weekly newsletter about everything happening in the business of entertainment. Sign up here to get it in your inbox.

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, cooking show host Frankie Celenza had built an online following for his series “Struggle Meals” by coming off as an economy-class Emeril Lagasse for the dorm room set — the kind of guy who’d use a clothing iron as a panini press.

So in the early days of pandemic closures, his frugal foodie brand became newly relevant. Celenza’s videos surged in viewership as he started live-streaming cheap recipes on YouTube and Facebook. In April, he published an episode about going to the grocery store with $3 in his pocket.


Tastemade, the Santa Monica-based media company that produces “Struggle Meals,” sees the show as a key ingredient in its international expansion plans. The company is preparing to produce local-language versions for the Latin American market in Spanish (“Comidas Económicas”) and Portuguese (“Struggle Meals: Receitas que Cabem no Orçamento”).

Tastemade's "Struggle Meals."
(Photo illustration by Nicole Vas / Los Angeles Times; Tastemade)

It’s part of Tastemade’s larger push into international markets as the company — once primarily known for short-form recipe videos on social media — seeks a bigger chunk of global TV advertising revenue with its Food Network for the Digital Age programming.

As Netflix faces a drop in U.S. subscribers, the Silicon Valley streaming giant is expanding animated kids shows in India and other countries. Its new series “Mighty Little Bheem,” was developed in India but has become a global hit for Netflix.

Aug. 26, 2019

The nine-year-old firm launched the Portuguese version of its ad-supported linear streaming network in Brazil in December. That month, its Spanish-language channel also debuted in Latin American markets. The Spanish version, which runs in countries including Mexico and Argentina, is expanding to Spain in the coming weeks. On Tuesday, it launched an English-language network in India, its first Asian market. Additional rollouts are coming in Sweden and the Netherlands.

Tastemade cofounder Steven Kydd, who runs the company’s international businesses, said the firm is making “a couple dozen” original shows globally in 2021, roughly double what it produced last year. More than half of the new productions are for international audiences. They include local versions of the company’s half-hour recipe show “Make This Tonight” and a new series called “COMvida” (which translates to “With Life” and “Inviting”) featuring Ana Paula Xongani, a São Paulo-based activist and fashion designer.

 Ana Paula Xongani.
Ana Paula Xongani.
(Tastemade; Photo illustration by Nicole Vas / Los Angeles Times)

Programmers and studios have been taking their most popular series abroad for decades. But Tastemade’s expansion is a small example of a broader trend in which media companies are spending enormous sums on local-language movies and shows for international audiences. Netflix is planning to spend $500 million on content for South Korea this year and $400 million on Indian programming over two years.

Disney says it will have 50 original programs for its international streaming brand Star by 2024. And Netflix’s non-English-language shows now have crossover appeal for Americans, proved by “Lupin” and “Money Heist.”

Kydd said the audience’s openness to international content represents a generational shift.

“We certainly want to appeal to the local audience, but our audience, millennials and Gen Z, are far more open and excited to learn about things around the world,” said Kydd, who previously worked in international distribution for 20th Century Fox.

With about 180 employees, Tastemade is a small player. The privately held company doesn’t disclose its revenue, though it said it turned a profit in the second half of 2020.

“They’ve probably done well enough as a niche player,” said GroupM analyst Brian Wieser, who tracks the advertising market. And its streaming network is now available in more than 30 countries and 130 million homes through distributors including Sling TV, Xumo, Samsung TV Plus and the Roku Channel.


Its genres — food, travel and home improvement — are “naturally suited to the growth of global content,” said Lightshed Partners’ Rich Greenfield. “Even on YouTube, they did a really good job of finding talent from all over the world, and the genres they’re in travel really well.”

Exporting “Struggle Meals” isn’t as easy as just finding a local budget-conscious Anthony Bourdain, though. The Spanish-language version will run for viewers in Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Spain and Miami.

“We had to create our own currency,” Frederico Leonardo Dora, Tastemade’s managing director for Latin America, said in a video call from his home office in São Paulo. “We haven’t decided yet, but it should be something like, ‘equals five bananas’ or ‘equals a dozen eggs.’”

The search for a Portuguese host brought other complications. The company wanted to find someone whose backstory embodied “struggle” in a more serious sense, rather than the American version’s starving college student vibe. The ideal candidate: a person who grew up in the favelas and left to become a popular chef but still comes back to make Sunday meals for the family.

“One thing we had in mind for Brazil was that there are a lot of people struggling, and not in a fun way, but in a very real way,” Dora said. “We had to be careful to use that ‘Struggle Meals’ title with someone that resonates well with that concept.”

Brazil is in the midst of a mounting crisis because of the pandemic. Hundreds of Brazilian business leaders and economists recently published a letter criticizing the government’s response to the outbreak, and they called for new measures to control the spread. Because of the crisis, Tastemade’s Brazilian productions are on hold, though the company is still producing shows in Buenos Aires.


But Tastemade is betting that once the pandemic abates, the struggle will be worth it.

Stuff we wrote

— The unexpected death of actress Jessica Walter, known as Lucille Bluth and Malory Archer to my generation, was a major blow last week to “Arrested Development” fans, as anyone could see from the GIFs that flooded social media in tribute. From Robert Lloyd’s appreciation: “There was a youthfulness to her person — even as she did not bother to mask her age — and an adventurousness to her choices that made Walter interesting to an audience whose parents were not born when ‘Play Misty for Me’ was released in 1971.”

— Roger Vincent reports details of the $1.25-billion overhaul to bring Television City into the streaming era.

— Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. agreed to buy Investor’s Business Daily from O’Neil Capital Management for $275 million, “continuing the legacy media company’s push into digital publishing,” writes Meg James.

— Companies that stage live performances are “cautiously optimistic that the region is poised for a summer of cultural diversion and togetherness — outdoors,” writes Jessica Gelt. But it won’t be easy.

— Anousha Sakoui on the new grass-roots networks that are are boosting diversity on Hollywood film and TV crews, which, unlike vague proclamations from the industry last year, actually seem to be making a difference.


Also: On Monday, WarnerMedia and the Black List announced a “pipeline initiative to provide visibility and feedback for aspiring professional screenwriters to identify exceptional writers for episodic content, with access to decision-makers and creatives within WarnerMedia.”

WarnerMedia said the six-month philanthropic program will “identify up to 600 writers from historically underrepresented communities and provide a voucher to use The Black List’s platform for a free month of hosting and a script evaluation from professional readers.”

Number of the week

number of the week photo illo (45)

Forty-five days may be the new 90 for theatrical windows (the waiting period between a movie’s theatrical release and its home video availability). Last week, Disney’s news about release plans for “Black Widow” — showing in cinemas and Disney+ Premier Access at the same time — overshadowed Warner Bros.’ announcement that it had reached a deal with Regal owner Cineworld to follow a model of giving theaters 45 days of exclusivity for new movies, starting next year.

The news shouldn’t be a surprise. The studio had always said its 2021 plan of releasing all its movies in theaters and on HBO Max simultaneously was only for this year, though many were skeptical that the move was temporary.

Still, it’s a very big deal. Forty-five days is about half the length of the standard pre-pandemic window, and it’s also among the longer gaps studios have tried during COVID-19 theater closures. It’s not zero days, and it’s not 17.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros. continues its HBO Max “day-and-date” experiment with “Godzilla vs. Kong” this weekend. The film is expected to mark the highest box office grosses in the U.S. and Canada (where almost half of theaters are still shuttered) since the cinema lockdowns started a year ago. Box Office Pro’s Shawn Robbins said it could top $20 million domestically from Wednesday through Sunday. “Looks like it’ll provide a much-needed jolt to the domestic box office over Easter weekend,” Robbins said.

The movie’s international rollout got off to a strong start last weekend, despite coronavirus surges in Europe and elsewhere. The Warner Bros. and Legendary movie grossed $123.1 million, including $69 million from China, where Legendary distributed. It was the biggest opening weekend for a U.S. film in China since 2019, following a year of dominance by local Chinese product. China’s box office has rapidly improved since reopening theaters, now at 75% capacity limits.

U.S. studios and theaters are still hoping China is a bellwether.

— Nicole Sperling and Tiffany Hsu explore how brands like Nike are working with top tier filmmakers to get their messages out as ad-less streaming services gain in popularity. (NYT)


— Investors are trying to figure out why companies including ViacomCBS and Discovery took significant hits to their stock on Wall Street last week. ViacomCBS and Discovery fell as much as 35% on Friday. (Insider)

— Offensive WWE moments are being removed as classic matches move to Peacock. The Hollywood Reporter details some of the racist moments in question.

— Variety on how “Insecure” creator Issa Rae became a new Hollywood mogul with a WarnerMedia overall deal worth $40 million over five years.

— David Remnick on “the secrets Philip Roth didn’t keep.” (The New Yorker)

— The Onion, that’s all.

Hollywood silent on Georgia

A photo illustration of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.
(Illustration by Nicole Vas / Los Angeles Times; Associated Press )

After Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law sweeping new election rules, Democrats came out saying it would restrict voting access, especially for people of color. But the studios, which have previously threatened boycotts of filming in the state over controversial legislation, have been largely quiet. Why?

When the Peach State passed restrictive abortion legislation in 2019, multiple filmmakers said they would no longer shoot in the state, which is a top production hub thanks to government incentives. So far, in reaction to the election law, at least one filmmaker has declared a boycott in the immediate aftermath — “Ford v. Ferrari” director James Mangold. “I will not direct a film in Georgia,” he tweeted.

Disney, Netflix, ViacomCBS, Amazon Studios and NBCUniversal declined to comment on Georgia’s elections overhaul, which is already facing a legal challenge from voter advocacy groups. In a statement, WarnerMedia parent AT&T said it is working with members of the Atlanta and Georgia chambers of commerce that support “policies that promote accessible and secure voting while also upholding election integrity and transparency.”

As we’ve written before, Hollywood has a lot to lose if it exits Georgia. But this is an industry that was very vocal about racial issues after the killing of George Floyd by police. Amazon released a whole documentary about Stacey Abrams and voting rights.

It may be only a matter of time. In 2019, statements from Netflix’s Ted Sarandos and Disney’s Bob Iger about rethinking Georgia production came weeks after Kemp signed the abortion law, which was later declared unconstitutional. If a major player comes out swinging in response to the voting law, expect others to quickly follow.

But not everyone who opposes Georgia’s elections law thinks stopping the cameras is a good idea. Some argue that pulling out of Georgia would be counterproductive and hurt workers. Here’s a representative tweet from Atlanta-based Matt Goldberg, an editor with movies website Collider.


Notably, when major filmmakers called for boycotts in 2019 over the so-called heartbeat abortion bill, local production workers balked, saying their livelihoods would be harmed. Are statewide industry boycotts falling out of favor?

Finally... a debunk-a-thon

An illustration for the podcast "You're Wrong About."
The podcast “You’re Wrong About” is pretty much everything I want in a chat show.
(Photo illustration by Nicole Vas / Los Angeles Times; You’re Wrong About )

Over the weekend, I binged the podcast “You’re Wrong About,” in which journalists Michael Hobbes and Sarah Marshall humorously pick apart misunderstood moments in history and junk science — pretty much everything I want in a chat show. The episodes on the Senate’s “porn-rock” hearings (“Tipper Gore vs. Heavy Metal”), the anti-vaccine movement and the Stanford prison experiment were highlights for me.

Bonus track: The New York Times’ “Still Processing” podcast episode on the use of “the bridge” in pop music makes for a fun discussion of Olivia Rodrigo’s “Drivers License.” I’ll submit that few bridges can ever top the one before the key change in Celine Dion’s “That’s the Way It Is” for cheesy dramatic effect.