ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Tofurkey is a mouthful. It's a tongue twister (say it 20 times quickly and you'll definitely work up an appetite) but more importantly, it's the type of meatless alternative to the traditional Thanksgiving bird that helped University of Michigan student Tasha Edwards' vegan cooking show, "The Sweetest Vegan," become a YouTube Next Chef participant.
According to YouTube, the contest will help launch the career for the next great YouTube chef.
Edwards, 23, a U-M School of Public Health graduate student, gets $5,000 in video equipment, plus 12 weeks of training and mentoring from culinary stars such as editors from CHOW.com. After the training and mentoring portion concludes, Edwards will receive $10,000 in Google advertising to promote her channel across YouTube.
"For me it means that I can promote health and wellness through a passion of mine, good food," Edwards said. "With YouTube there is no gatekeeper. I don't have to pitch my show idea to the Food Network and get rejected. I can go to YouTube, straight to my audience and host my own vegan cooking show."
Edwards had been vegan for about a year, hoping to lose weight gained as an undergrad, before starting her YouTube channel. She lost the weight, but one thing was missing from her new menu—sweets.
So on Aug. 2, 2010, Edwards launched "The Sweetest Vegan" out of the necessity to marry two warring food philosophies: her vegan lifestyle and her love of desserts. She began by reviewing vegan desserts and teaching viewers to prepare vegan goodies from recipes she'd "veganize." Now she's expanded her posts to include a variety of meal ideas, because her ultimate goal is to help people develop a healthy relationship with the foods they eat, she says.
In 2011 her show was accepted into the YouTube Partnership Program, and Next Chef is a partner development program. Sixteen cooking channels were selected from five countries and among hundreds of competitors.
For Thanksgiving, Edwards also has YouTube posts on vegan pumpkin pie, vegan sweet potato pie, vegan macaroni and cheese, and vegetarian mushroom gravy.