TOnna Spearing started baking when she was eight or nine years old, making gingerbread cookies in her family kitchen in Southampton and watching endless YouTube videos full of “really delicious ingredients”, in a period she refers to as “the times simpler “.
Now 15, she’s still baking, though the recipes have gotten more diverse and the videos more snappy and much shorter. Having discovered TikTok, the social video-sharing platform used by all his friends, he now frequently cooks dishes based on his viral 60-second videos, with earworm song soundtracks and edited at rat speed.
Lockdown has accelerated his interest in cooking, he says, “because it’s one of the only things left to do. [When her school was open] I barely cooked anything. Whereas now I cook dinner twice a week and bake two or three times a week, which I would never have been able to do before. I mean, it’s one of the things that brings joy today. “
Among all the disadvantages accumulated on young people through this pandemic, many have discovered at least one unexpected blessing: a new interest in cooking sparked, in many cases, by TikTok.
Precise figures on the phenomenon are difficult to quantify, but the social network, which is still dominated by its audience and Chinese claims more than one billion active monthly users worldwide, it has exploded in popularity in the UK, especially over the past year, where it is downloaded over a million times a month and is expected to reach 10 million users by the end of 2021. The largest group of them are between the ages of 18 and 24, but many are much younger.
Highly addictive to its fans, and often unnerving for those new to the platform, TikTok relies on short, edgy videos that can be viewed and shared, and thrives on viral memes. While trends in dance and music tend to predominate, countless thousands of food videos they are uploaded weekly, mixed with your algorithm, and served over and over again to users who show some interest in the topic.
“It’s so easy to get sucked into,” says 17-year-old Lois Turkington from Belfast, who also uses Snapchat and Instagram to chat with her friends, but has mostly relied on TikTok for the long months trapped inside. “You’ll click on a link and half an hour later, you’re still on it.”
She has also found herself turning to TikTok recipes for lunch and snacks, particularly while negotiating with her parents and siblings who are also using her kitchen. “They just cut off a lot of the faff, there aren’t all the extra parts. Just say, add this, add that, pop it in the oven. Instead of all the details that a recipe goes into. “
As cooking has become more popular on the platform, so have some of the dishes, which often work particularly well if labeled as a nifty “hack” or shortcut. A simple recipe for korean style milkshake coffee skyrocketed to instant popularity last year; The most recent favorites on the platform have included a nifty way to fold a tortilla and a one-pot pasta sauce made from tomatoes and feta cheese.
A spectacular beneficiary of the growing interest in cooking on the platform is Poppy O’Toole, who at this time last year was a busy London chef, trained at Michelin and with a passing knowledge of TikTok. After losing her job due to the confinement, the 27-year-old “felt a bit lost” and decided to record some videos of her home cooking to upload to the network.
A clip on how to recreate McDonald’s hash browns in your feed @poppies caught the attention of the press. “And then I did a video of some crispy diced potatoes that I was having for dinner and it got 100,000 views.
“That’s when I started to see what my audience wanted. Something like crispy potatoes, it just skyrocketed. And that’s how I got to where I am today, thanks to the humble pope. “What he means is 1.4 million followers and a editorial agreement with Bloomsbury for a cookbook to be published later this year.
Many of his followers are young people who may have tried the viral eating tricks, but have fallen in love with cooking a bit more challenging, O’Toole says. “Those trends like [whipped] coffee, they are so much fun. But people must be able to take away the real skills.
“So here’s a skill set to make it easier for you, and at the end of the day you can say, I did that, and it’s delicious, and show off.”
For brothers Emily and Dominic Bool, 15 and 13, who live with their British family in Zurich, cooking on TikTok is part of daily life; Emily likes to bake cakes, often basing her decorating on viral tips, while Dominic recently cooked the family steak and fries based on a recipe from the app.
Do you think TikTok has made cooking great for people your age? “Definitely,” says Dominic. “Because when your parents tell you to cook, it’s like, you know… it feels like a great process. But if you’re watching a really nice video, it doesn’t seem so bad anymore, not like you’re being forced to. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism