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Entertaining with Brunch with Babs

Former preschool teacher Barbara Costello— aka @brunchwithbabs—is a home cook, mother of four, grandmother of eight, and the adopted grandmother to more than 3 million viewers and followers on Tik Tok and Instagram.

Costello captured the hearts and kitchens of her fans during the early days of the pandemic when, at the suggestion of her daughter Liz, she began posting easy meals to make at home. These were short video clips of recipes she had collected in her trusty wooden recipe box over the years from family, friends, magazines and newspapers. She soon began feeding people more than just food with her uplifting and homespun life lessons on everything from winterizing your home to how to check your grill propane levels. Fans showed up for the easy, crowd-pleasing recipes, but stayed for her motherly warmth and homey life lessons. “People were looking to me as a mother/grandmother figure and we realized a mother doesn’t only feed your tummy she feeds your soul, too,” says Costello, a Bethel, CT, resident.

Her loyal followers are quick to say how much Costello reminds them of their own mother or grandmother. “You would not believe the number of messages I get where people share that their mother passed away and I am the closest thing to remind them of her. Or that I’m the grandmother they never knew,” she says. “It’s very emotional when you read these things—I get tears in my eyes!”

Demand for “more of Babs!” resulted in her bestselling cookbook Celebrate with Babs, which came out last spring. Costello has spent a life – time cooking out of love, and the deeply personal cookbook shares the cherished recipes and family traditions that have enriched her life. Divided into holidays and celebrations—a very big deal in the Costello family!—the book offers creative ideas for everything from Super Bowl parties and Mother’s Day brunch to Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. We pulled up a seat at Babs’ table, where she dished on everything from most-watched videos to what it’s like working with family. 

When did you start collecting recipes?

I got married in 1970 and as a new bride, I was doing things for the first time in my own household. I was always interested in cooking because my mom and grandma were great cooks and I came from an Italian-Lebanese family where food was sacrosanct. When I went to someone’s house and they served something great I always asked for the recipe. This was before the internet and all of that business of saving things online. We had recipe boxes and everything was written on a recipe card. I even put my mom’s recipes in there instead of her just telling me about them. I would go over and write the recipe on a card while watching her make it.

What do people relate to most with you?

People always say authenticity. My friends that have known me for over 50 years will say, “Babs, you are the exact same on camera as off!” I think people sense that this is really who I am and that resonates. What do you attribute the immediate popularity of @brunchwithbabs to? When we posted the first video, it was right at the start of the pandemic and people were hunkering down at home. I think they felt cut off from family and friends and were anxious. People had more time to spend on social media because they were stuck at home and they come across this older lady making food and doing normal everyday things. On some level, I was a grandma figure that was feeding people and that was comforting.

What is your most-watched video?

I have some videos with more than 22 million views. They always have to do with me teaching people new things, which comes naturally for me from my teaching days.

Have holidays always been a big deal in your family?

For sure! My grandparents had nine children and 22 grandchildren. At that point, life was less complicated and every Sunday everyone would go to Grandma’s house for Sunday dinner which was served at 1 in the afternoon. For holidays my mother, my grandmother, and my aunts would start cooking weeks in advance and there was all this build-up. Food and holidays and church with family were a super special time. I love how you dedicated the cookbook to mothers–especially Hazel–your “mother-in-love.” When we were growing up you would never think of calling your in-laws by their first names. It was a sign of respect to call them Mom or Dad. Hazel was a tiny little thing and she gave me one of the greatest gifts of my life–my husband. She was the mother of eight children and had 42 grandchildren and she was a beautiful person. I wanted to acknowledge her in the book by calling her “mother-in-love.”

What is it like working with your daughter Liz?

I only started this because of Liz’s encouragement and now it’s been going on for over 2½ years! It makes it so special that we’re a mother-and-daughter team and this whole thing came about unplanned. It’s now become a family affair with my grandkids and Mr. Babs both being in the videos.

What has been the best part of all of this?

I’ve always been close to my daughter but because of this, I see her constantly! I see my grandkids all the time and that’s a great blessing because, to me, family is the most important, ultimate thing. My daughter and my grandkids are now part of my daily life, and to be with them so much is a blessing. Plus, I love teaching and this has offered another opportunity for me to teach online and in person. This year, I taught eight classes on how to make German Beer Cheese Dip served with pretzels at the NYC Wine & Food Festival.

Who is the most exciting person you’ve met?

Drew Barrymore welcomed me so warmly and lovingly that I can’t even tell you! Here I am, this little old lady from Connecticut and I went to her studio for her TV show and she could not have been kinder to me. She is just an adorable gal and couldn’t have been nicer. I was on Rachel Ray’s show and I had a wonderful time. I appeared on the Today Show with Hoda and Jenna as well. These are people I really and truly would never have thought I’d interact with, so this has all been very, very much a surprise to me!

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