ANCHORS & SAILS: Becoming a TikTok chef

Brenda Kelley Kim
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“Cooking is the art of adjustment.”

—Jacques Pepin

I have a new habit, and while it’s been fun and enlightening, it’s also a bottomless rabbit hole of time I should spend on work, grocery shopping, lawn care, and so much else. Still, I can’t seem to stop myself from spending way too much time on TikTok. No, I haven’t learned any dance moves, and I haven’t turned my wee pug Penny into an Internet star (yet), but I’m learning how to make food. Food that the fussy people in my house will actually eat. The good thing about TikTok videos is they are super short. The cooking videos are about two to three minutes long, and in that time, you can learn how to make oven-fried chicken with veggies, cowboy pot roast, and seafood chowder. None of the recipes are hard to do, and since it’s a video, you can follow along, pause the feed, and watch a few more times if you missed a step. It’s life-changing for this kitchen-challenged girl with a hungry family. 

Some of the videos are to help me learn how to make a dish. Some of them are just fun to watch. There is a trend among younger people, and I know this because I have young adults around me, of finding videos that are “satisfying” to watch. It depends on the person and what they like, but many of them are about food prep. I guess some people find it relaxing. While I admire the talent some of these preppers have, I will never get to their level, no matter how many videos I watch. They are so much fun to watch, especially the Bento box fans. They are primarily moms, and I am not worthy!

I was the evil mother who sent my kids to elementary school with a juice box, a bag of chips, a PBJ on white bread, and a Twinkie if I was feeling generous. These Bento box people, though? They are next level, and I am not up to that challenge. Plant-based paté sandwiches cut out in the shape of flowers and fresh-cut vegetables decked out to look like zoo animals. Oh, and no bags of Utz chips in a Bento box; it has to be homemade organic potato chips with a scalloped edge and a teeny tiny tin of fat-free yogurt ranch dip. I want to meet the kid that will eat any of that. I’m glad my days of packing school lunches are over because I feel like the rest of the moms at school would shun me, and my kids would have to sit alone at the un-cool table with their preservative-laden snacks in a plastic lunchbox that isn’t phthalate-free. 

Despite my barely basic abilities in the kitchen, cooking and recipes have always fascinated me. I like watching people who have a skill I don’t possess, kind of the same way I like watching figure skating. I’d fall and bash my bionic hip and my recently repaired back, so I don’t skate. I’ve set fires boiling water, but I enjoy watching others excel at what I can’t do. I’ve always been a big fan of the competition baking shows, but TikTok has shown me a new way to enjoy the art of baking. Some people can decorate a cookie with this liquid icing, piped on to detailed shapes, and the results are mind-blowing. It starts off with this flat little sugar cookie, and the next thing you know, Van Gogh’s Starry Night appears, all from a few pipes of icing and some blending. It’s more complicated than that, but I can burn up a whole hour watching cookie decorating videos, and it’s getting in the way of my real life. You should see the laundry pile in my basement. 

As I headed into the grocery store today, after watching just one quick video about a new way to bake chicken, I wondered if this new form of escapist video bingeing was a bad thing. It’s a time suck, for sure, but am I too old for TikTok? Am I trying to be that cool mom in a huge awkward overreach? Is it too late for me to start trying to be a kitchen hero? Well, probably not. My family still has to eat, and at least if I’m staring at my iPad and watching videos, it’s for a good cause. I’m adjusting my attitude to a more “can do” point of view when it comes to cooking, and I’ve added an easy chicken recipe to the dinner rotation. Also, just the other day, I made cookies from scratch. No icing art on them, but they were good, and it was a recipe I found on TikTok that involved browning butter. That’s a real thing; you can brown butter. Who knew? So, if you’re bored with the same old meals, check out TikTok, but be warned, you could burn hours finding the best way to cut up a watermelon.

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