Life-Changing Kare-Kare: How Viral Chef Ninong Ry Handles Fame, Fortune, and Bashers
Content creator. It’s a term that has become so ubiquitous that it has somehow become a dirty word for some. But whether you approve of it or not, it’s a crucial part of today’s digital economy and has become a legitimate source of livelihood. For some, like Ryan “Ninong Ry” Reyes, a chef who has almost five million Facebook followers, it’s even completely changed their lives.
The Kare-Kare that launched a career
There have already been plenty of features on Reyes’ life (including a guesting on Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho, which seems to be the popularity barometer these days) and it’s because of the incredible nature of his rise. He started posting cooking videos in July 2020 to pass time while recovering from walking away from a failed restaurant business, the passing of his father, and being left behind by his ex-girlfriend. To top it off, he was also buried in debt.
In just two months, however, his how to cook kare-kare video went viral, and his tongue-in-cheek, accessible, and comedy-filled style resonated with netizens. The fact that he has an actual culinary degree only added to his credibility.
The result? A community of followers who call themselves inaanaks or godchildren, boosted by the virality of his kare-kare video (which now has over 628 million views on Facebook and about a million more on YouTube.) To his surprise, he also started receiving ad payouts from his videos.
“I started this because I just wanted to be busy to avoid having anxiety due to the pandemic,” shares Reyes. “Then one day, the first payout appeared on my bank account. I didn’t believe it at first because it was just numbers on a screen, it was all still digital. So, what I did was I withdrew it all, and that’s when it started feeling real to me.”
And real it indeed became, as Reyes started having regular five-digit payouts (in pesos) from ad revenues and by December, it was at six digits. Oh, and that didn’t even include brand deals and sponsorships, which also started coming in at the same time.
Reyes was then still working for his mom’s palengke business in Malabon, so he sought permission first if he could do full-time content creation.
“I had to ask for my mom’s permission because at the time I had no money, and she was funding everything. She spent for the construction of the kitchen. She also spends for the ingredients because the dishes I cook and post online? Those are our actual meals every day!” he laughingly admits.
While most of us would probably think about all the shoes, gadgets, or clothes we’d buy if we ever come across a considerable windfall, Reyes invested in his craft as soon as he had his mom’s blessing to focus on making videos.
“The first thing I did was to buy a camera for my channel. I’m more fortunate than most that even when I had no job, I had food on the table because I was living with my mom. My basic needs were met so I focused on trying to improve this content creation thing.”
“I still had debt as well, so I wasn’t in a position to buy anything other than what I need to earn more and grow my platform,” he adds.
With a new camera, he was able to upload more videos faster, which led to even more exponential growth. More views and followers led to more brand deals and sponsorships, so he had to hire a dedicated editor just to keep up with the commitments. By December, less than half a year after posting his first few videos, he was neck-deep in brand partnerships.
Not without its pitfalls
Content creation might be a new industry, but it also has the same challenges as any other profession. Reyes, for his part, found contracts and rates to be particularly difficult initially.
“I didn’t know what I’m supposed to charge brands or companies, I had no idea,” Reyes says. “I had to ask fellow creators and managers what my rate should be, and they would say a figure and I would not believe them,” he laughs. “I just didn’t think brands would pay amounts like that for me, but apparently they would.”
“I also had to learn how to negotiate contracts. Thanks to my lawyer friends, I learned that you could refuse to include things you’re not comfortable with or don't align with your principles. And most of the time, if a brand really believes in you, they will still get you.”
Oh, and there are bashers, as always.
“A person once called me out for ‘selling out’ because I did this dance craze once. What he didn’t know was the brand didn’t even require me to do that,” says Reyes. “I did it because I wanted to give them something extra for being great clients. So, I just ignore bashers if they’re talking about things they don’t know about.”
This attitude endeared him to companies. With major partners such as White Castle, Knorr, and others, Reyes has a stacked lineup.
So, how much does a content creator with almost five million followers on Facebook, 1.32 million subscribers on Youtube, and 179,000 followers on Instagram earn?
“Of course, I can’t disclose the brand deals, they will fire me and you might ask me for money,” jokes Reyes. “But from purely online ad revenues, it’s around seven digits.”
That’s at least a million pesos per month, to those wondering.
A horologist in disguise
With income at those levels, it’s easy to imagine Reyes being a straight-out baller. But Reyes doesn’t live a luxurious life. He doesn’t even own a car.
“I didn’t buy a house because I still live with my mom, so I just renovated our house. I also don’t have a car since my work revolves around the kitchen, so I’d be spending millions for something I’ll use less than five times a month. I do buy some polos now and then and I can also now buy new underwear.”
He does have, however, one hobby that’s a bit expensive - watches. In fact, Reyes’ knowledge about watches is so deep and vast, one can mistake him for a horologist. “My mom used to buy me watches every now and then when I didn’t have any money. So, when I started earning by myself, I kind of rekindled my passion for it.”
The first of what he considers an expensive watch purchase is his Seiko Marinemaster Emperor Tuna, which costs more than P100,000. Then he just continued buying watches and now has a 15-piece, high-end watch collection which includes a Panerai Submersible, an Omega Seamaster Ploprof, and a Rolex Seadweller Deep Sea.
“The first Rolex I bought was actually for my mom. I bought her a rare blue dial Rolex Lady-Datejust for Mothers’ Day in 2021. I never thought I’d buy a Rolex myself, so I figured I’d buy her one to thank her for her incredible support for me and my career.”
But Reyes says he has stopped buying more watches simply because it’s impractical at this point. “I only buy pieces that have meaning to me. And also, all those I’ve bought have already increased in value, so in a way, they’re still an investment. It just so happens I can wear them.”
The grounded chef
While his comedic skills partnered with his unique cooking style and as-real-as-it-gets personality are what draws viewers to his videos, Reyes readily admits that the support from his family and friends is his greatest asset.
“Without my mom’s support, I literally wouldn’t be here today, I would’ve starved to death. And without my friends who offered help at the start without asking for money, my brand wouldn’t be as big today. But now I pay them if they ask nicely,” he jokes.
In his own words, being naïve about the industry also helped him.
“A lot of people told me to just focus on one platform because I’ll end up confusing my audience. But since I didn’t know that before, I posted on both Facebook and YouTube, and what happened was I was able to earn from both.”
But now, with his brand still expanding exponentially, he now has a manager and a bigger production team to help him grow even more.
“After food, travel is the logical next step. But I want to focus on domestic travel and try out food from different provinces. And I don’t want to go to places that I’ve been to then pretend that I’ve never been there. I want to be just as surprised as my audience.”
Does fame and fortune ever get to his head?
“It doesn’t and I don’t think it will because my mind can’t comprehend it. Can you visualize five million people? I can’t. I’m just a guy who cooks and loves teaching people how to cook. The money is, of course nice, but as I said, even if I didn’t have all this, I’m lucky enough to still have food on the table, so all of this is literally a bonus that I want to share.”
A worthy Ninong indeed.