Eitan Bernath, a 19-year-old TikTok star with more than 1.6 million followers, began posting cooking content on the platform in 2019. Like many Generation Z TikTok chefs, he taught himself how to cook by watching YouTube and the Food Network. He would share the things he did on Instagram but never gain much traction.
However, within 24 hours of his first TikTok being released, he had amassed tens of thousands of followers. Mr. Bernath, whose demeanor is bright, upbeat, and approachable, began sharing short, easy-to-prepare recipes that other novice chefs and his teenage colleagues could make at home. The videos took off.
“TikTok is the biggest thing that has happened to me in my career and, frankly, the reason I’m where I am today,” he said.
When TikTok was officially launched in America in 2018 – it was already hugely popular elsewhere in the world – the app was synonymous with lip-syncing and dance challenges. However, food contents exploded on the platform in early 2020 when millions of people were stuck at home during quarantine and cooking became a pastime. Videos with the hashtag #TikTokFood have accumulated 25.2 billion views, and the app regularly generates viral food crazes like whipped coffee and a noodle dish of baked feta and tomatoes now known as “TikTok noodles.” A video showing you how to make a three-ingredient oreo cake received more than 42.1 million views.
TikTok has also spawned a new generation of cooking stars who haven’t worked in a professional kitchen or a glossy grocery magazine for years and often come up with recipes they can find online rather than developing their own. You have become famous remarkably quickly on the internet.
“What makes TikTok special compared to other platforms is the speed it scales,” said Eunice Shin, director of media and entertainment at Prophet, a growth strategy company. “When something goes viral, you can go from zero to millions of followers in a matter of months. This is really hard when you take a traditional trajectory. “
Nobody has seized this opportunity faster than Gen Z members. “The trend we are seeing is that younger talent is making a name for themselves by adopting the platform,” said Jad Dayeh, director of digital media at WME. a top talent agency.
Many Gen Z stars on FoodTok, as some call the food community in the app, are wondering why someone would pay their fees in a grueling restaurant job if they could build their own brand online. Others are leaving the restaurant business to pursue full-time careers as content creators. And some monetize through TikTok’s Creator Fund, which pays content creators based on the number of views their videos have, as well as through advertising contracts and sponsorships.
Developers on TikTok can make anywhere from a few dollars to millions of dollars. Lifestyle content producer Addison Easterling, TikTok star, earned more than $ 5 million in 2020 alone, according to a Forbes report. Tabitha Brown, a vegan chef, has attracted more than 4.7 million followers on TikTok and will be releasing her first book of inspiring personal stories this fall. Christian Paul, an Atlanta-based baker with more than 1.3 million followers on TikTok, created his own line of candy bars.
Some aspiring food manufacturers say they are already making six-digit numbers. Ultimately, they want to start their own business, whether it’s by launching a line of cookware, publishing a cookbook, or opening a restaurant. What they don’t want is to work for someone else.
Many say their lack of conventional education is an essential part of their success.
“If you look at the main characters in traditional food media,” said Mr. Bernath, “they are all classically trained or restaurant chefs.” They have a lot going for them and a huge amount of culinary knowledge, but I think what TikTok did to Gen Z and taught people to cook is just more reliable. The feedback I keep hearing is, “If this 18-year-old Eitan can cook this so easily, so can I.”
Each platform leads the way in a new kind of viral food content. Facebook and BuzzFeed Tasty ushered in an era of easy-to-understand recipes made by two disembodied hands. YouTube provided a home for more complex recipes and 20-minute cooking vlogs. Instagram brought camera-ready viral goodies with photos of cronuts and ramen burgers to the masses.
If TikTok has a dominant food video format, it’s a camera that stands on a counter while a person cooks in front of you. It’s almost like giving a friend FaceTiming while they are making their own dinner. The result is a casual, personality-focused cooking clip that is easy to follow. Most TikTok chefs are people who prepare food in their own kitchens and it’s common for friends or family members to get in the frame.
“Recipes that go viral on other social platforms are only visually appealing. You drool on them, but you never make them,” said Ahmad Alzahabi, 24, a TikTok food star in Flint, Mich. 7 million followers. “TikTok has made it possible for people to document their family gatherings, what they do at home. It doesn’t have to look so pretty. “
TikTok also makes it incredibly easy to create content. Users upload videos up to a minute long and set those videos for sound. You can add title cards, captions, and fun effects like zooming or face warping. While editing videos for YouTube requires knowledge of third-party editing software, you can easily record, edit, and publish videos to TikTok from your phone. With TikTok, power users can organize their videos in collections such as “cake recipes” or “dinner ideas” and offer functions such as live streaming to motivate fans.
But it’s the app’s algorithm that makes it easier than ever to become a food sensation overnight. At TikTok, users primarily use video through the “For You” page, an algorithmic feed of content delivered to users based on what they’ve seen or used in the past. Once a user starts viewing and engaging with content, there is a snowballing effect where that user is served more and more of this type of content. For example, if the algorithm finds that you like Mexican food, it will show you more cooking videos in this area.
This algorithmic content distribution system allows users to traverse deep rabbit holes and program their feeds with niche cookery content. There are a seemingly endless number of videos devoted to any dietary restriction, region, or culture: vegan cuisine, keto-friendly recipes, North African street food, Midwestern cuisine.
For food manufacturers, the resulting growth is explosive.
Just as Food TikTok launched during the pandemic, many top TikTok chefs started when they were quarantined at home. Halle Burns, 19, an Atlanta TikTok grocery maker with more than 1.8 million followers, began creating soothing vegan cooking videos last spring. “I had nothing else to do, so I started making food videos,” she said. A year later, her relaxing, rhythmic videos led fans to refer to her as the “Bob Ross of Cooking.”
The 28-year-old Brandon Skier started his cooking channel on TikTok under the name “Sad Papi” after the restaurant where he worked in Los Angeles was closed due to Covid-19. Unlike many of his younger colleagues, Mr. Skier attended cookery school and uses his traditional culinary skills to teach people how to cook five star meals at home. In a real TikTok way, however, he keeps the recipes accessible to beginners. “It’s gourmet food and techniques, with a vibe that you just hang out in your friend’s kitchen,” he said.
Mr. Skier also produces content for Hedley & Bennett, a popular apron brand. He has no plans to cook in a restaurant kitchen again.
Some TikTok chefs are already making the transition to Hollywood. Mr. Bernath signed with WME energy agency last year and announced in December that he would be attending the Drew Barrymore Show as the program’s culinary expert.
Mr. Bernath has also upgraded his kitchen since he found fame. He recently rented a large loft in downtown Manhattan for video shoots, a big step further than his former kitchen-cum-living room in New Jersey. “I own my production company and it has expanded in the past six months. So I now have three full time employees who help facilitate and create all of the content, ”he said. He plans to hire more employees every few months.
Newton Nguyen, a 22-year-old TikTok grocery maker with more than 6.9 million followers, recently moved to Los Angeles to make a name for himself on social media all day. He hopes one day to be able to create his own food travel show or “maybe a cookbook”. When looking for his apartment, a good kitchen was the key. “I had a list and number one was a very nice kitchen,” he said. “I don’t know if you saw my old TikToks, but I used to live in a mobile home. My kitchen was very small. “
Accessibility is important for young TikTok chefs. Food manufacturers said they wanted to let their audience know that anyone can cook great food, regardless of background or budget. “What TikTok has created a space is food that is extremely accessible,” said Bettina Makalintal, a food and culture employee at Vice.
Many find their recipes on social media and other websites, and incorporate cooking tips from platforms like Reddit and Snapchat into their videos. “A lot of my recipes come from the internet,” said Nguyen. “I’m going to find something in a friend’s Instagram story that looks interesting.”
Mr. Alzahabi said Gen Z TikTok food stars are also “a little bit more creative in the kitchen”, routinely preparing foods from different cultures or blending dishes together. (Some TikTok chefs – but not all – include the cultural origins of their dishes in the comments section of their videos.)
“I think the older generation is very cookie cutter,” he said. “When you want to make a recipe, they think there is a certain way to make it. I think that this younger generation, especially in America with all of the cultures intermingling, is going to give a new generation of crazy foods that connect all of these cultures and ethnicities together. “
As fans become better cooks, some start their own channels. Mr Skier said that because of TikTok, new names are popping up in food every day.
“A couple of people I’m friends with are just about to blow up and they started a month ago,” he said. “If you make good content and good food, you can blow up too.”