Delia Smith goes digital – but who else is on the menu?

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After shifting 21 million books, appearing in countless shows and giving an unlikely boost to cranberry growers, Delia Smith is turning her back on television. But to the relief of nervous egg boilers everywhere, the 71-year-old is hanging on to her apron to reinvent herself in the increasingly competitive world of online cookery.

On YouTube and beyond, clips made by cooks with varying degrees of expertise are winning audiences that would be the envy of Nigella and Heston. Smith will challenge de facto online head chef Jamie Oliver, who last month launched his own YouTube channel, Food Tube. Dozens of videos offer recipes  as well as entertainment including a chilli chopping world record attempt. In total, the channel has 13 million views.

At the other end of the kitchen scales are people like Barry Lewis. The quantity surveyor from Cardiff was watching a cookery show in 2010 when he realised he could barely make toast. He’s since quit his job to run his own site, My Virgin Kitchen. family-friendly clips (Angry Birds tortilla pizza, anyone?) have almost a million hits, and he has a deal to post videos on Oliver’s channel.

The advantages of online cookery are plain in the evidently low budgets thrown at videos shot even by chefs worth millions. Increasingly slick TV shows are hugely expensive to produce. The demands are different, too, as Delia described when she announced her telly retirement.

“This is the future for me and the population,” she said during a demonstration of her new baking tins at the Spring Fair in Birmingham. “If you do a TV programme now, it’s got to entertain... You have someone telling me I haven’t got time to show this, or I haven’t got time to show that.”

Smith announced she would launch the Delia Online Cookery School later this month, creating recipes designed to be followed in the kitchen on mobile devices. She and supermarkets, the fleetest-footed of which have benefitted from what became known as the “Delia effect” (she caused a cranberry shortage when she featured the fruit in 1995), will hope it’s a hit.

Smith and Oliver should direct their own devices to Sorted Food, meanwhile, a group of four former uni friends whose wit-laden clips have earned them more than 20 million views and, last year, a recipe-book deal. The Sorted stars deserve their own TV show, too, but then, according to Delia, that would now be a backwards recipe for success.

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