Unexpected TikTok Stars At The Helm Of The Food Revolution

Just a few years ago, if you were to ask people to name their favorite chefs, you'd likely get a similar list. Celebrity chefs such as Gordon Ramsay, Rachael Ray, Jamie Oliver, and Ina Garten dominated the food industry for years. But, if you were to pose the same question today, you would probably receive much more varied answers. Social media has opened up the food landscape; anyone with a smartphone and a vision could become the next big food influencer.

First, food blogs made it possible for at-home chefs to share their favorite recipes. Now, many foodies take to TikTok, where they share recipes, reviews, and food vlogs with their followers, often garnering massive traction. The short engaging videos allow users to absorb the content quickly and give the TikTok chefs a direct line of communication with their audience. Creators like Keith Lee, Emily Mariko, Karissa Dumbacher, and more have used the platform to build successful careers in the food industry from their own kitchens, cars, or travels. The influence of these TikTok chefs seems to only be growing. Discover some of the popular accounts paving the way.

Leah Victoria

One of the content creators changing the way we see food is Leah Victoria, known on TikTok as @leahscucina. Since she started making videos, the home chef has amassed almost 400,000 followers. As a stay-at-home mom who learned to cook from her own mother, Victoria's approach feels like an easy way for beginners to learn. She's not stuffy or intimidating and her content feels casual, almost as if you're talking to a friend. Victoria will sit in front of the camera as she makes meals for herself and her kids, reveals what she bought at the grocery store, and eats. This style of content feels more accessible for kitchen novices than a more polished and professional setup might.

Speaking to Vox, Victoria explained that she enjoys the social nature of TikTok. In the past, she used Instagram to promote her catering business but didn't reach the same level of success that she's achieved with her TikTok videos. After joining the video app, she was amazed by the community she could build. "People were actually socializing with me," Victoria said. "Once a week I'll hop on live and we do like a live cooking show, and it's fun for me too. A lot of people tell me that they learn a lot from that stuff."

Keith Lee

Keith Lee was once a professional fighter but his career has taken a huge pivot. Now he's known for his TikTok account @keith_lee125 and food reviews that he primarily films from his car or his "Paw Patrol" folding chair. His videos have earned him almost 14 million TikTok followers and garnered 582 million likes and counting. His content was even noticed by the platform itself, earning him a spot in TikTok's Visionary Voices list in early 2023.

But what exactly is so special about Lee's content? In his own words, he's "just a guy who records himself eating food" (via Today). But his content achieves much more than that. His reviews pull in viewers because they're entertaining as well as genuine, and his massive audience gives him a valuable platform that he often uses to promote local businesses. Due to his wide reach, a good review from Lee can make a big difference to small restaurants and local chains.

Looking at his massive success, it's easy to assume that Lee might be happy to sit back and enjoy how far he's come. But, according to him, he's far from done changing the food game. "I know a lot of people have seen my journey and [they're] like, 'Oh, you're at your peak. You need to get it while the getting's good,' but honestly, I think I'm at the very beginning. I think things are just starting for me. And I'm just enjoying the journey," he told NBC.

Justine Doiron

Justine Doiron, aka @justine_snacks on TikTok, connects with her 2.3 million TikTok followers by bringing them innovative but achievable recipes with many plant-based options. Before becoming a content creator, Doiron got her degree in hospitality and worked in publicity. Her TikTok career came as a surprise to her and began as a result of wanting to help her boss. 

"I knew my boss was going to ask me how [TikTok] works," Doiron told Vox, so she got on the app to figure it out for herself. "And then once I gained a substantial enough following, I was asked to choose between my job or my social media." The choice was easy enough, and Doiron has continued as one of TikTok's most popular recipe developers ever since. She also has her own website where she shares her recipes.

Doiron uses her platform as a way to connect with her followers and guide them toward a healthy relationship with food. In videos, she's discussed her history of disordered eating as well as her current method of intuitive eating. Her recipes and videos offer her followers a safe place to enjoy food in a way that's both mentally and physically healthy.

If you need help with an eating disorder, or know someone who does, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).

Emily Mariko

If you've spent much time on TikTok, you've likely come across at least a few Emily Mariko videos on your "For You" page. She uses the platform to share her recipes, as well as more general wellness and lifestyle content. Her aesthetically pleasing videos and easy recipes have gained her 12.7 million followers on her @emilymariko account alone.

So, what is it about Mariko's food content that has drawn so many people to her? It could be, in part, the soothing aesthetic of her videos. In a social media sea filled with music, big personalities, and loud voices, Mariko's content is a calming respite. She shows the process of making healthy dishes without any music and typically without speaking. The only sounds come from kitchen noises like the coffee maker running, food sizzling, or the sound of her knife on the cutting board. Something about the vibrant colors, background noises, and delicious food keeps her viewers coming back for more.

Another element adding to Mariko's growing success may be how doable she makes healthy living look. As The Cut's beauty director, Kathleen Hou put it, "She's eating real food. I think it's the start of a new type of wellness. Less lemon water. 'Hot girls drink regular milk,' but they also eat bread." Mariko's content manages to effortlessly bridge the all-too-wide gap between aspirational and achievable to get viewers excited about her content and recipes.

Alexandra Johnsson

Social media has opened up the world of food to people who may have previously found it out of their depth. Instead of getting restaurant reviews and complicated recipes from intimidating chefs, users see people just like them enjoying and making food in a way that feels like something they could also achieve. That's exactly what Alexandra Johnsson is doing with her TikTok page @simplefood4you.

As her username implies, the Swedish influencer is focused on making cooking fun, quick, and, of course, simple. She recently released a cookbook, "Simple Food 4 You: Life-Saving 30-Minute Recipes for Happier Weeknight Meals," which fans can purchase for a more in-depth look at the creator's popular recipes. 

In a video posted on the day her cookbook was published, Johnsson thanked her 2.7 million followers for making the book possible. "This book is all for you. I started writing this because I got a lot of questions about my recipes, and now we can cook together. [...] This would not have been possible without your love and support." Just as the social media platform has helped many users change the way they see food, it has also increased opportunities for creators like Johnsson, who may not have been noticed or published without it.

Alejandra Tapia

Alejandra Tapia, aka @nanajoe19, has gained almost 7 million TikTok followers. She's most known for posting her lunchbox videos, in which she shows the process of cooking and packing her midday meal from start to finish, all while voicing over to explain each step to the viewer. She also shares family recipes, delicious drinks, and other innovative foods on her page. Her cooking directions are always easy to follow, making it possible for viewers to prepare the same meal at home.

The creator is originally from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, so she shares many traditional Latin recipes while adding her own creative and fun spin. Tapia's recipes often include affordable convenience foods like flaming hot Cheetos or Velveeta, which make her recipes feel even more doable. Her modern additions to classic dishes help liven things up to keep her cooking fresh and exciting.

In October 2022, Tapia was selected by TikTok as part of their Creator Spotlight Series. She explained how she uses her platform to share her culture and connect with others, saying, "I've always been interested in history and storytelling, both of which flow seamlessly into my passion for sharing traditional recipes in my TikTok content. I'm able to bring my modern palate and cultural background into the kitchen to put something truly fresh on the table."

Tiffy Chen

Tiffy Chen is a Taiwanese content creator with over 3 million followers on her TikTok page, @tiffycooks. Chen has several recipe series on her platform, including realistic dinners made using ingredients she already has in the fridge, and "better than takeout" meals, where she demonstrates how to make simple and tasty versions of popular takeout orders.

Chen grew up surrounded by a family of food lovers. She's shared videos creating traditional Taiwanese dishes with her grandmother, and while speaking to The Spruce Eats, she recounted that her father used to take her out of school early to try new restaurants and food stalls, giving her a deep appreciation for cooking from an early age.

Now, she uses her platform to spread that love of food to her audience. She encourages her followers not to be scared of cooking or even of failing at cooking. "I am a strong believer in the ethos that there's no right or wrong in cooking. I am a proud home cook with no knife skills, and I'm okay with that," she told The Spruce Eats. "Never be intimated to try new dishes — especially if you're trying dishes from another culture. If you love it, that's what matters. Well, that and if you're having fun doing it."

Karissa Dumbacher

While many food creators use their platform to share their original recipes, others simply use it to share their love of food. That's what Karissa Dumbacher does on her TikTok page, @karissaeats. Most of Dumbacher's content consists of her trying food from different restaurants and travel destinations. Scrolling through her page, you can find her enjoying street food at a Chinese festival, tasting cookies in New York City, and sampling restaurants in Dubai. She shares all this with her signature cheery voice and big grin, getting her followers excited about her latest food discoveries.

Her TikTok career started when she was quarantined in China due to Covid-19. She told Tubefilter that she initially used the videos as a way to journal her experience, but after quarantine ended and she eventually went back to the United States, she never stopped making the videos. Now, Dumbacher uses her page to share her travel and culinary adventures. Dumbacher explained that she's always loved food and likes to showcase herself eating a wide variety of it in her videos. 

Despite women often receiving messages about eating small portions, Dumbacher wants to celebrate the love of food in all its forms. Speaking of her inspirations, she said, "Anthony Bourdain, Mark Wiens, these guys who just travel around and eat everything, they're not afraid. But there hasn't really been a niche for that for women, in my opinion. I think we should just start doing it more."

Kevin Noparvar

Kevin Noparvar, or @how.kev.eats, is a TikTok food reviewer with over 3 million followers. Unlike traditional food critics, his restaurant ratings aren't published in newspapers or food magazines. Instead, the LA-based influencer films himself eating takeout in his car and offers unfiltered reactions to his viewers, ending each review with his rating of the dish out of 10. 

While his videos now garner hundreds of thousands of views, that wasn't always the case. Noparvar explained to Voyage LA that building his platform was "definitely not a smooth road." He learned by doing and by failing many times before his social media content became as successful as it is today. "It was difficult for me to learn how to take the right photos, how to edit videos, basically all the skills needed if you want to take this seriously but after a lot of messing up, it started to look better and better," he said. "Now some of my videos are getting 500,000+ views by people all over the world."

Shay Spence

Compared to most of the food influencers on this list, Shay Spence (@theshayspence on TikTok) took a far more traditional approach to getting into the food industry. Spence attended culinary school before landing a job working for Rachael Ray and then moving on to become the food editor for People magazine, where he first began making online content. While traveling on job assignments, Spence started an Instagram account to share what he ate in the exciting locations. He often visited Disney and other theme parks for work, and his food reviews at parks remain some of his most popular content. 

At first, he kept his side content a secret. "I didn't tell any of my colleagues because I thought it was embarrassing to try and start an 'influencer' account," he told Room 1903. But secrecy became harder as his page grew, and things really took off when Chrissy Teigen shared one of his posts, bringing an influx of followers from her seal of approval.

Eventually, he was able to quit his job as an editor and make content creating his whole career. "At the time, there was so much need for escapism that my page really resonated and grew quickly," Spence said as an explanation for his success. Now, he labels himself a "professional eater and traveler." He has 1.6 million followers on TikTok, where he shares recipes, travel vlogs, and food reviews.

Owen Han

Owen Han has gained an impressive 4 million followers on his TikTok account @owen.han, where he shares his original recipes. Scrolling through his page, you'll see many visually satisfying videos of Han's culinary creations, which the Italian and Chinese chef says are inspired by his cultural background. You'll also notice that a majority of the videos showcase mouthwatering sandwich recipes. These popular recipes have earned him the title of the "Sandwich King" on TikTok.

Chef Owen Han joined Jennifer Hudson on "The Jennifer Hudson Show" to discuss his rise to TikTok royalty. He explained that he didn't take the platform very seriously until a video of him making a sandwich went viral. Han continued to build his brand and TikTok career off of that sandwich success and is now best known for those videos. But, when asked what the secret to his massive views is, Han credited it to ASMR, saying it's actually the sound of his food preparation that the audience responds to most. "It's like when people eat, the crispiness, the crunchiness," he explained.

Sara Abdul-Aziz

Sara Abdul-Aziz uses her TikTok platform @nutrientmatters to show her 1.7 million followers how to incorporate more nutrients into everyday recipes. Although she promotes eating nutrient-dense foods, she tries to stay away from labels like "healthy" and "unhealthy." Instead, she puts emphasis on making wellness easy, tasty, and affordable. Perhaps it's this non-judgmental approach to wellness that has many consumers opting for content like Abdul-Aziz's these days. Along with her TikTok page, she also shares recipes on Instagram and in her recently published cookbook, "Nutrient Matters: 50 Simple Whole Food Recipes and Comfort Foods (Simple Easy Recipes, Recipes for Nutrition, Healthy Meal Prep)."

Speaking to Passion Fruit, the TikTok creator explained that she sees her page as a way to help people. "I want to pursue further education in holistic nutrition and align that with my social media and online presence. Even If I wasn't a content creator, I would still be in some sort of career that allows me to help people improve their life and well-being," Abdul-Aziz shared.