RICHMOND — Betty Givan is not a big eater — two eggs for breakfast, tuna and a banana for lunch, an occasional Ritz cracker with cream cheese spread as a snack.
Despite her ascetic eating habits, Givan is one of YouTube's biggest draws in the cooking arena. Her cooking channel, Betty's Kitchen, has a devoted following worldwide — viewers in Asia have a particular fondness for her buttercream frosting recipe.
Givan has appeared on the ABC television show 20/20, making granola bars with newscaster Robin Roberts, and on the business news website Forbes.com, where she said her videos had a total of 36 million views.
More than 112,000 subscribe to her YouTube channel, which launched in 2009.
Once, Givan opened the door of her home near the Eastern Kentucky University campus, where she taught math for 25 years, to find a man with a favor to ask. His wife, who could not get out of the car, was a fan, he said. Would Betty mind coming out to say hello?
Betty Givan and husband, Rick Givan, a retired EKU professor of criminal justice who is her cameraman as well as her spouse of 44 years, record two or three videos a day in their kitchen. On a recent Monday, Betty mixed the ingredients for oatmeal pie while Rick ran the camera, pausing while Betty used the buzzy electric mixer.
Betty Givan grew up on a farm in Wayne County, the youngest of six children, trading off cooking duties with her sisters.
"I didn't eat in a restaurant until I was 12 or so," she said.
She attended EKU and taught math at schools in Clark County, Monticello and Louisville before moving to Richmond with her husband. She had their daughter, Chelsea, and was an at-home mom for three years before returning to Eastern, where she taught classes including calculus and programming languages and was a lecturer for large classes of college algebra.
"I try to instill some respect in them," she said of her students. "Not everything in life is easy."
For example, math experts developed the video games about which so many students are enthused, Givan said. She would also talk to students about the mathematics of compounding saved money, which brought home the lesson for many of them.
She retired in 2006, her husband Rick in 2008.
"I never really started it as a business," Givan said of her YouTube startup. "It was just a matter of getting recipes together."
She showed off collected, hand-written recipes in her kitchen after preparing the oatmeal pie. She tastes finished recipes on-camera, which once led to her wincing a bit at a spicy dish. She rerecorded the tasting to note, dryly, that the need for spice might vary.
Sometimes Givan and family go out to eat on video — at Boone Tavern in Berea, for example, or Lexington's Coba Cocina. Rick Givan showcased his own cooking skills in a 2013 YouTube video in which he made New York-style, Sonoran, Cincinnati-style and Chicago-style hot dogs under the Betty's Kitchen label.
"I felt a compulsion to get all these recipes done," Betty Givan said. "I worked like it was forced on me. ... It was because of all the hard work I did at the beginning that I broke out from the pack."
She has recorded more than 1,600 videos and has two published books, The Bettyskitchen Collection and The Bettyskitchen Cookbook: 2013 Recipes.
How does Givan make as much on YouTube as she did teaching?
The power of commercials.
When you click on a Betty's Kitchen video recipe, a commercial touting Stouffer's macaroni and cheese cups will preface the content. Thus the channel makes money. And so does Givan.
Givan's recipes run the gamut of good eats — from Betty's magical mayonnaise biscuits to Betty's Oreo cheesecake cupcakes to Betty's Mother's Day chicken marsala — but she occasionally finds the diet police raising objections in her comments section: "I have learned a lot about what people consider to be healthy and not healthy."
She intends her food to be special-occasion and treat food, she said, and she doesn't intend for anyone to exist on a steady diet of fat and sweets without exercise or sensible eating. If she goes on a cruise or goes out for a special occasion, she's happy to eat whatever is offered, but when she returns home, she eats and exercises regularly, and the pounds fall off, she said.
Her purpose is to create "a clean, family-oriented channel" for cooks like her daughter, who will call up her mother's recipes on her laptop and follow them step by step, she said.
"I have made a lot of friends around the world," Givan said. That includes two folks from Budapest, Hungary, who gave her some music for her intro clip, and a man from India who helped put together her website. A woman who moved away from Kentucky told Givan that she listened to her videos because she missed hearing a Kentucky accent.
"I smile a lot," Givan said of her video persona. "There are a lot of people out there who are just looking for someone to smile at them."