When Vietcetera first interviewed Sonny Side, the personality behind food-themed channel Best Ever Food Review Show, the year was 2017 and Sonny was a newcomer to Saigon’s creative scene. No longer a newbie, today Sonny is firmly established in Saigon and his unique brand of comedy has earned him millions of subscribers on YouTube and Facebook.
While the punchy delivery is still there and Sonny’s food choices are as daring as before, the tone has changed. We catch up with the American YouTuber as he tells us about the new perspective he has gained, what it takes to produce viral content and where his mission to encourage empathy and understanding of other cultures through food has taken him.
How has Best Ever Food Review’s content and direction evolved over the last four years since you’ve lived in Vietnam?
One of the biggest changes for Best Ever Food Review Show is that our videos are now longer than they used to be. As the channel has evolved, we’ve focused on incorporating more storytelling.
Instead of going to a restaurant to feature a single dish, we’re more focused on making meaningful connections between the foods we try and the culture each dish represents. We seek out interesting people or foods that have a story behind them, diving deeper into those topics to facilitate a more educational and immersive experience for our viewers.
To give an example, we recently published an episode on Nigeria, where we visited a floating village that’s home to over 200,000 people. Of course they had interesting, unique food, but what was even more interesting is the livelihood of the Makoko residents. Their culture and food are very closely tied together, so much so that it’s impossible to talk about one without referencing the other. As best as possible, in every production, our team aims to document the natural connection between the food and the people.
What actually makes Best Ever Food Review Show the best ever in its category?
I think what makes us the best is that we have a dedicated team of creatives. We’re all experts in our fields and are absolutely determined to work together, bettering our craft each week. We’ve vowed to never be complacent and always try to outdo ourselves, which only gets harder and harder every time. After every trip, we try to visit even harder-to-reach places, find rarer foods and discover more untold stories that other people just wouldn’t put the time or resources into finding.
In a previous interview with Vietcetera, you admitted that “you are not a foodie” and that the only reason you are on the show is because “[your] camera gives you a purpose.” What is that purpose and when did it come to you?
I still think the camera gives us a purpose. Most tourists or travelers don’t get to see a lot of the unique cultures and foods we cover on our show.
I recommend anyone traveling to have a project to undertake during their adventure, whether it’s blogging, vlogging or photography. Paradoxical as it may seem, having a clear understanding of what you’re hoping to find will allow you to notice a lot of amazing things. For our channel, that means that the show is not only about eating good food.
Our channel’s mission and purpose is to hunt down and document the most unique cuisines from around the world, encouraging empathy, understanding and appreciation of different cultures through their food.
What are three lessons that you’ve learned from documenting the lives of the people behind the local foods featured on your channel?
Lesson 1: The restaurant business is no joke. I have great respect for the individuals that undertake this incredible challenge of preparing fresh food every day, dealing with retailers and customers and maintaining a certain business standard. All of this is rewarded with pretty slim margins at times. I respect the tenacity of these people to keep going, whether it’s a street food spot in India or a fine dining restaurant in Tokyo. It’s truly a business that you genuinely have to love and be passionate about to endure.
Lesson 2: Food and culture are inseparable. What people eat is greatly affected by their religion, climate, geography, elevation etc. The food that people eat often reveals something about them.
Lesson 3: Happiness and income do not correlate; there’s no inherent connection between the two like we’re led to believe. I’ve realized this as even in some of the undeveloped places I’ve been to, where families have only what they need to survive, there’s pure, genuine happiness.
How can you ensure that the portrayal and discussion of ethnic cuisine in your videos remain faithful and respectful?
I can’t. Whatever you see in a video is a snapshot of my understanding, coming from our research, experience and footage. When you’re in this business and you become a sort of media outlet, you realize how incredibly easy it is, especially for big media houses, to make simple mistakes along the way. We try our best to relay the right, genuine message.
With current travel restrictions, how does your team plan to continue creating diverse content in Vietnam?
Failing to make content while we’re in Vietnam would only reflect a lack of creativity from our team. With the borders closed, we’re trapped in Vietnam right now with no idea when we’ll be able to travel again. But truly, there’s no other country I'd rather be trapped in.
We’ve already produced 90+ Vietnam videos, but every time we dig a little deeper, we find more topics that we never knew existed. Between Vietnamese cuisine, the 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam plus the international restaurant scene here, I don’t think we’ll ever run out of food to eat and stories to document.