Three generations of the Lau family gather in their kitchen. Left to right: Jenny, Kat, Cameron, Chung Sun ("Daddy Lau") and Randy.
San Francisco CNN  — 

Randy Lau will never forget his 33rd birthday. Two and a half months after launching “Made With Lau,” he was “stoked” to find his Chinese family cooking channel had reached its first milestone: accumulating enough subscribers and viewing time to start making money through YouTube.

Their first check: $3.57.

“I was like, ‘Yes, we made it!’” Randy says with a laugh. “I was just really excited to see that, because it was such a promising signal, that we’re onto something here.”

In less than two years, “Made With Lau” became one of the fastest-growing multilingual Chinese cooking destinations online, racking up more than a quarter-million followers on TikTok and 700,000 subscribers on YouTube.

A thoughtfully curated mix of traditional Cantonese home cooking and familiar restaurant dishes, the channel has turned into something far bigger – and more meaningful – than anything the Laus ever expected.

Made with love

With more than 50 years of experience cooking professionally in China and the United States, Chung Sun Lau, known as “Daddy Lau,” had plenty of culinary experience – and since retiring, free time as well.

Randy had always dreamed of documenting his father’s recipes. Stuck at home in the San Francisco Bay Area in the spring of 2020, he realized the time was right, especially with his first child on the way.

“I just wanted to spend time with my dad, connect with my culture, and just be able to pass something down,” Randy tells CNN.

The chef was quick to get on board.

“A lot of people love to cook, but they don’t know how, especially Chinese food. So I want to show them all my knowledge, my skill,” Daddy Lau explains, via his wife, Jenny Lau, translating. “I want to make this video to pass to the next generation.”

Centering the project on food made total sense for another reason; it was a bridge in the Lau household.

“I’ve always had a language barrier with my dad,” says Randy, who can hold basic conversations in Cantonese but does not consider himself fluent. “I never really doubted that he loved me because he’d always make this delicious food for me. So that kind of transcended language – food was our love language.”

Inclusion and accessibility were priorities for Randy. He refused to dub over his father to preserve his speech and personality, opting instead to subtitle their entire videos in English and Chinese, mainly so Daddy Lau could follow along, too.

“It takes a lot of time, like 10 to 20 hours, probably, of subtitle work. But I think it’s really important because I don’t want anyone to be left out,” Randy says.

Relying on his background in digital marketing, he spent the next six months in development and production to get the channel up and running. When it finally came time to shoot, Daddy Lau turned out to be a natural on camera, nailing recipes in only one take.

“The whole thing wouldn’t have worked otherwise,” Randy admits. “He has a lot of self-confidence … he really knows his stuff.”

Recipe for success

The first “Made With Lau” video featured a Cantonese version of mapo tofu, a classic Chinese tofu dish. Besides teaching the recipe step-by-step, the video included the history of the dish and an audience question-and-answer section – now-signature elements of “Made With Lau’s” productions.

For the next few months, the channel’s audience grew with the support of friends and family, several Facebook cooking groups, and a boost from fellow YouTubers Chinese Cooking Demystified. But it really took off around Lunar New Year 2021, jumping from a monthly average of 100,000 views to millions.

Putting it in perspective, Randy says his father’s former restaurant sat somewhere between 60 to 80 customers at a time. “But now, every day he gets to reach hundreds of thousands of people, millions of people a month. So I think it’s really cool to put a jet engine on his generosity to share his knowledge with so many people around the world every day.”

Based on YouTube data, Randy says 40 percent of their traffic comes from the United States and Canada, while the rest comes from the Philippines, the United Kingdom, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia.

Randy points to a combination of factors for “Made With Lau’s” rapid growth: beginner-friendly instruction, his father’s expertise, and emotional engagement. Plus in 2020, that kind of content was needed more than ever. “We launched during the pandemic, like peak pandemic. I think people were just cooking more at home, missing their families more.”

That was precisely the case for Nancy Wong, a fellow second-generation Chinese American in the Bay Area who first visited “Made With Lau” on a cousin’s recommendation. She says the videos alleviated the boredom she experienced not being able to work for more than a year.

“It was such a big help to me,” Wong says. “Some days I literally would wake up and think ‘OK, I’m going to thumb through some “Made With Lau” recipes and I’m just going to cook all day.’ That was something that filled the void in my days. And it just made me happy to know that it was something useful I was doing with my time, but on top of that, I was feeding and nourishing my family.”

Reconnecting roots

While Randy initially started the channel as a family project to share with his children, he noticed many more food lovers in the “Made With Lau” community benefiting as well.

“As we started to connect with more and more people, I started to see the broader mission of just preserving Cantonese cuisine and culture and language,” he says. The most gratifying messages they received were from viewers who said their recipes brought back happy memories of late loved ones.

Pam Yip, a Chinese American fan from New York, can relate. Losing her mother at 17, Yip says “Made With Lau” gives her a chance to reconnect with the language and comfort food of her childhood.

“One of my regrets is that I wasn’t able to kind of learn these things from my mom before she passed,” Yip says. “Finding the channel in some ways, as simple as it sounds, helped me figure out ‘OK, there is a way to learn these things.’”

Wong is also one of those viewers reconnecting with her roots after losing several close family members, including her mother-in-law and own mother, who didn’t allow her in the kitchen growing up.

“I feel like I would be lost if I didn’t have those recipes to fall back on,” Wong says, calling the channel “a treasure.” An avid home cook, she admits some of “Made With Lau’s” recipes are even tastier than her family’s versions.

“I made the taro cake, wu tao gou. And I remember when my husband took his first bite, he literally stared at me bug-eyed and said, ‘This is phenomenal!’ And I said to him, ‘Do you realize we’ve been married for almost 32 years and you’re just now telling me something I’ve made is phenomenal?!’”

Born and raised in Guangzhou, China, Jenny and Chung Sun ("Daddy Lau") came to America in the early 1980s and raised Jennifer and Randy in California.

Family style

“Made With Lau’s” strong family ties are key to its success, and everyone pitches in.

Besides lending his cooking skills, Daddy Lau, also an accomplished flautist, supplies the theme music. Jenny, Randy’s mom, helps answer viewers’ questions and shares memories of growing up in China.

Kat, Randy’s wife, helps ask pre-submitted audience questions and provides commentary. Jennifer, Randy’s sister, appears in some videos and is helping develop “Made With Lau’s” upcoming wok and cookware.

Kat and Randy’s son, Cameron (also known as “Cam Cam”), provides a cute addition around the dinner table. Viewers will soon meet the newest member of the Lau family, Kat and Randy’s newborn daughter, Maya, who arrived in March.

Jenny says their family was tight-knit even before starting the channel, but making the content gives them an opportunity to see each other more. “Since we have a video, we are more close,” she says. “This is not only for our family, for a lot of people enjoy it.”

‘Much more than a cooking show’

The family mealtime portion of the videos is a big draw for many fans who see themselves in the Laus.

“My family just loves food. That’s how we express our love for each other,” says Belinda Cheng, a second-generation Chinese American from Seattle. “I have a son who is a similar age (to Cameron) and so it just warms my heart … and it makes me want to emulate that with my family.”

Much of the audience comes for the food but stays for the connection. Gloria (last name withheld at her request), a Patreon supporter from San Francisco, says she has learned lots of tips, like steaming fresh chow mein noodles before stir-frying them. But ultimately, she adds, “it’s much more than a cooking show.”

Some recipe videos double as home movies for major milestones, from Cameron’s birth to Daddy Lau’s 75th birthday and Jennifer’s engagement, so viewers feel like they’re a part of the extended Lau family. On a recent trip to an Asian grocery store, they were stopped three times by fans who wanted to meet and take pictures with them.

“It feels almost like another home,” says Rebel-Osmar Adrian Rice, a “Made With Lau” supporter from Ontario, Canada. “My parents have passed away now so it’s kind of nice to see another family fully connected.”

As with viewers like Rice, Randy acknowledges that “not everyone who watches the channel is Asian or has Asian roots” – and that’s a good thing since “it’s building a sense of empathy as to who we are.”

Using food as a gateway, “Made With Lau” subtly challenges Western stereotypes of Asians as cold or reserved, showing instead warmth and generosity. A recent recipe video on egg foo young also explored the history of anti-Chinese discrimination in America.

“Food connects everyone around the world,” Randy says. “If you’re interested in food, you get that, but then you also get to spend time with our family and see like, ‘Oh, we’re actually pretty similar.’”

A prosperous future

“Inching towards” a seven-figure run rate, “Made With Lau” has come a long way since that first $3.00 check. Between their social media accounts, website, brand deals, and 500-plus Patreon supporters, the project has grown so much that Randy had to hire additional support for editing, writing, research, community management, translation, and partnerships. Most of the expanded team speaks Cantonese and all are passionate about the goal to “warm the hearts, homes, and bellies” outlined in its mission statement.

The irony of “Made With Lau’s” success is that Randy – who started the channel to learn his father’s recipes – has been too busy to cook much. He’s made “seven or eight” recipes with mixed reviews from his father – an “A” at Christmas but a “C” for Mother’s Day. Randy hopes to start cooking alongside his father in future videos and have the family conduct blind taste tests.

Randy would like to see “Made With Lau” reach one million YouTube subscribers by its second anniversary in the fall. In the meantime, the family is thrilled to see viewers replicating their recipes in their own kitchens.

“I feel really, really happy,” Daddy Lau says. “That is only the beginning for our audience to make at home, but they will improve.”

“More than the views, subscribers, revenue, I think it’s just really cool to see people making the food,” Randy adds. “If you believed in us that much, take an hour or two, and spend money on ingredients, that’s really cool.”