"Work your fingers down and around the thigh, and get that butter right up against the leg."
Three cameras zoom in on the action as Ian Knauer massages roasted-garlic-infused butter under the skin of the raw chicken lying on the cutting board in front of him. Surrounded by gleaming granite countertops and stained wooden cabinets, Knauer is working in a spacious professional kitchen in the Icehouse building in LoDo, the former home of the Mise-en-Place cooking school that's now functioning as a full-scale film set. Before the cameras rolled, the director carefully walked Knauer through the shot -- massage in the garlic butter, stuff the bird with orange and thyme, then truss it up -- referring to a lengthy script that details every move and comment that Knauer is supposed to make. Between takes, a chef's assistant hurries over to wipe up errant chicken juices from the cutting board. A finished, roasted chicken lies on a nearby countertop; it will stand in for Knauer's chicken later in the segment so they don't have to wait around for this bird to cook. It's already starred in an "action shot"; earlier, when Knauer pulled this chicken out of the oven, a cameraman was right there with him, capturing the smoke and sizzle of the freshly roasted bird.
A Pennsylvania-based farmer/chef who was a food editor at Gourmet magazine and star of the PBS show The Farm, Knauer is used to high-end cooking productions -- but even he is struck by the sophistication and polish of this three-day film shoot, for which he was flown to Denver. "This is a much bigger production value than our PBS show," he says once the cameras are off. "This is the real deal."
But this segment isn't for a big-budget cable cooking show. Instead, the results of this shoot, which is likely to end up costing more than $10,000, will go up online, a place where most kitchen tutorials are either bare-bones YouTube clips or viral memes depicting what happens when you microwave a lava lamp.
The film shoot is the work of Craftsy, a local online-education company that's breaking all the rules of startup culture. Since 2011, the operation has been producing three- to five-hour video tutorials on some of the most traditional, tech-averse subjects imaginable, including quilting, knitting, sewing and cake decorating -- but those old-fashioned subjects are now luring 350 new class enrollments every hour. And over the past year, Craftsy has expanded its curriculum to include classes on subjects like cooking, among them Knauer's The New Chicken Dinner, which will go up online early in 2015.
While some people wonder whether online-education programs can ever make money, Craftsy has been charging $20 to $50 per class from the get-go and collected more than $24 million in revenue in 2013, double what it made the year before. The vast majority of its users are female and over forty -- the antithesis of the typical tech audience -- and its enrollment now stands at a total of five million students from all fifty states and 180 countries.
Ignoring all suggestions to move to Silicon Valley, Craftsy has been quietly thriving in Denver, outgrowing one office space after another. It now boasts 225 employees and plans to hire 100 more in the new year. Last spring, Governor John Hickenlooper designated May 21 as "Colorado Craftsy Day," celebrating the company as one of the standout successes in the region's growing tech scene. And Coloradans aren't the only ones taking notice of this unusual startup. In November, the company raised more than $50 million in financing, nearing $100 million in total venture capital.
But Craftsy is doing more than turning heads and making money. It's fashioning a bold new way to digitize the burgeoning maker movement -- turning quilting teachers into online celebrities, cake-decorating aficionados into successful small-business owners. And it won't stop until it has revolutionized the $30 billion U.S. crafts market, one crochet stitch and frosting curlicue at a time.More »
As Knauer says between takes of his cooking-class shoot: "These guys are pros."