Computer bytes by day, macaroni bites by night

by Ross Cristantiello / Beacon Staff and Jackson Ellison / Beacon Correspondent • February 8, 2017

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“The crew of BoxMac draws thousands of views on YouTube” Courtesy of Francis Frain
“The crew of BoxMac draws thousands of views on YouTube” Courtesy of Francis Frain

Two friends stand side by side in a small, well-lit kitchen. One wears a clean white chef’s outfit and holds two boxes of store-brand boxed macaroni and cheese. His friend, garbed in a casual hoodie, holds back a smile. To their left, large pots of boiling water sit on a stove, steam shooting out from holes in each lid. To their right, a wooden table is covered in various cooking utensils.

“How low can we go, Frankie?” Jon Hunt, the man in the chef’s garb asks his companion.

“Thirty nine cents? 40 cents?” Hunt says as he gestures to each box. The duo is attempting to determine the best bargain-bin macaroni from their local grocer.

“It’s the battle of the cheapest, today on BoxMac!”

So begins a 2015 episode of BoxMac, a YouTube show created by Francis Frain, Emerson’s director of information technology infrastructure, and his longtime friend.

What follows is around 15 minutes of friendly banter, simple cooking, taste tests, and lots of laughs.

So far, the pair has created 70 episodes of BoxMac, each exploring and testing a different type of boxed mac and cheese.

Frain and Hunt have been friends and collaborators for over a decade. They both grew up in Westport, Massachusetts. When Frain was in high school, a mutual acquaintance put them in touch. They soon started Red Cow Entertainment and even produced a feature-length film before college. While Frain attended Emerson, Hunt would commute the hour into the city to work on film projects with him. They released three more films during Frain’s time at Emerson.

After graduation, Hunt came up with an idea for Red Cow’s YouTube channel. The result was BoxMac, which launched in February 2015.

A cooking show that shows you how to make a food product that comes with directions on the box might seem impractical, but this has become the running joke of the show.

“That was the comedy concept of the thing—that it’s a cooking show about the thing everyone can cook,” Frain said.

The draw of the show isn’t the pasta, but the chemistry between Frain and Hunt. Not only are they showing off the best macaroni and cheese around, but they also center conversation on pop culture and personal anecdotes.

To Frain, most of the comedy in the BoxMac videos comes from the amount of work he and Hunt put into the filmmaking process. For simple footage of two friends cooking mac and cheese in a home kitchen, the show looks smooth and professional. The pair also frequently edit in outside content such as news articles about celebrities or old videos of their high school graduations.

“If it was funny that we were putting all this time into a benign food as a cooking show. It was even funnier to up the production value as much as possible,” Frain said.

Early on, one of the Boxmac videos was posted by a fan on a prominent Reddit thread. This proved to be a catalyst for the show, exposing Frain and Hunt to a global viewership. Fans even started sending them boxes from places like Switzerland, Germany, Japan, and Iceland.

Now, Frain and Hunt have a running database of all the macaroni they’ve cooked up. One loyal viewer is even attempting to create a web app that automatically finds the cheapest, best mac and cheese for the hosts.

Granted, BoxMac is not quite a viral sensation yet. Red Cow Entertainment has a little over 6,000 subscribers on YouTube, and each BoxMac video gets around 1,500 views. Frain and Hunt try to release one episode each week.

The show should continue to grow, and Frain is targeting a goal of 20,000 subscribers by 2018.

“I think if we stopped doing [BoxMac] tomorrow,” Frain said, “there’d be tears.”