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How Youtube Chef Tito Charly Gained Internet Fame During The Coronavirus Pandemic

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

The latest YouTube star in Mexico is a retired 79-year-old grandfather who started his own cooking show during the pandemic.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TITO CHARLY: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tito Charly, whose real name is Carlos Elizondo Frias, broadcasts every Sunday from his small city kitchen, wearing an apron, surrounded by his well-used appliances - no fancy cookware here. He makes traditional Mexican dishes and, as you heard in the clip there, adding things like butter, he says, not because the recipe needs it but because he likes the taste.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TITO CHARLY: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I caught up with Tito Charly yesterday at his home in Monterrey, Mexico, and I began by asking him if he always liked to cook.

TITO CHARLY: (Through interpreter) Yeah, I always liked cooking from when I was a boy. But when I was a kid, it was only grilling meat. When I got married, my wife was a really good cook - my father-in-law, too. And that's how I learned something from both of them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tito Charly used to have a trucking business. But when his wife died and his children grew up and got married, he was left alone. And he says he realized he didn't need to make as much money anymore. So a friend encouraged him to get a part-time job at a local supermarket bagging groceries. And he did that for seven years until the pandemic struck.

TITO CHARLY: (Through interpreter) Because of the pandemic, they prohibit us from working at the store, especially us young oldies. And so that was over. And then, here at home, my family didn't even let me stick my nose outside the door. I didn't even know what color the sky was.

And so one day, my daughter came into my room, and she saw that I was pensive with my head down. And she said, Dad, you've finally become an old man. I said, no, no. I'm just bored and fed up. I'm very active, and the chores around the house I can do really quickly. And the rest of the day, what am I supposed to do?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: His daughter answered, you like to cook, right? Let's open up a YouTube channel for you.

TITO CHARLY: (Through interpreter) And I told her, I have no idea what that is. But OK, let's do it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: His first show was on May 24. And already now, he has almost half a million subscribers. Now, Tito Charly is following in the footsteps of other elderly YouTube cooking stars in Mexico who have taken off in recent years. I ask him why, though, he thinks he's gotten so popular so fast.

TITO CHARLY: (Speaking Spanish) I don't know - maybe because I'm so charismatic. What else can I say? It's not to boast. Also, it's my manner and the way I talk. People like it. And at this moment when we're all shut inside doing nothing, I guess to hear this old man chatting and doing his cooking show is charming and something to have fun with.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The show is a family affair. His daughter does the video work, and his grandson helps with the technology. They even started a line of branded foods that are selling pretty well. But the best part - he's no longer feeling so lonely. His old-timer friends, though, are astonished at his new career.

TITO CHARLY: (Through interpreter) Yep, they are pretty rattled. Where did all this come from, they ask me. You were always so quiet. And I tell them, I was hiding it all this time.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Carlos Elizondo Frias, or Tito Charly, talking to me from Monterrey, Mexico. Also thanks to NPR's William Troop for the voice-overs.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.