TikTok is the wild west of the food media world. It’s less professionalized than Instagram and YouTube, and it holds the promise of virality from the very first time you post. So we wondered: What actually makes a food TikTok go viral? To find out, we consult Bettina Makalintal, a food journalist and culture critic (who also makes her own TikTok videos), and Professor Emily Contois, who studies food on Instagram. Then we get advice from a TikTok star: Joanne Lee Molinaro, aka The Korean Vegan. (Joanne just published a new cookbook, The Korean Vegan!) Armed with tips and tricks from the experts — and a pecan pie — can Dan reverse engineer his own viral TikTok?
If you’re the type who likes to flip to the end of the book first, you can watch Dan’s TikTok right here.
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Bettina Makalintal: I think that like I think TikTok is sort of the place that all the new food trends are happening. It's where anyone who wants to be an internet food personality is starting out. It's like the place where it feels like you have the biggest shot of being noticed in the food space online, especially when platforms like YouTube and Instagram feel so professionalized and sort of so saturated with people who have been doing this for a long time. TikTok still feels like there's like opportunity there.
Dan Pashman: And I think we can agree that if you want to start off in the world of, like, food and food media, the last thing you want to do is start a podcast.
Bettina Makalintal: Yeah, probably … [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: This is The Sporkful, it’s not for foodies, it’s for eaters, I’m Dan Pashman. Each week on our show we obsess about food to learn more about people.
Dan Pashman: It's that time of year, you guys. I want to hear your New Years food resolutions. Record a voice memo on your cell phone, tell me your name, tell me where you're from — that's important — and then answer this question: what food do you resolve to eat more in the new year and why. Send me that voice memo at email@example.com. And you can hear yourself in our big year-end episode. O.K., let's get into it.
Dan Pashman: If you love food, which I’m guessing you do, then you probably spend some time every day looking at food on social media, right? Watching videos, liking, sharing. Occasionally, you may even be so moved by something you see that you actually cook it.
Dan Pashman: And I’ve often wondered, why do certain recipe videos and food hacks go viral, and so many others don’t? There are people whose whole job is to try to answer this question, to create viral content. And most of the time, they fail. It’s really hard — which kinda makes me want to see if I could do it.
Dan Pashman: Could I break down the most popular food videos into their component parts, and reverse engineer something viral? And if I could, what would it tell us about the way we connect with food — about what appeals to us, and what doesn’t? Today, I’ll try to answer those questions, by trying to create my own viral food video. And not just any food video: I’m going to make a TikTok.
Dan Pashman: Why TikTok? Because as you heard at the start of the show — that’s where all the new food trends are happening. It’s the wild west of the food world, where everyone has a shot at going viral. Now, I know almost nothing about it but I don’t want to fall behind. I don’t want to be out of touch.
Dan Pashman: And I know that if I’m going to do this, I need a guide. That person you heard at the start of the show is Bettina Makalintal. She’s an Associate Editor at Bon Appetit, and before that, she was a writer at VICE. She has her finger on the pulse of food culture. She’s written about food in the suburbs, the finer points of Filipino food, and also Food Tiktok.
Dan Pashman: I have had a TikTok account for a while, but I rarely look at it and I’ve never posted. As I tell Bettina...
Dan Pashman: To me when I first opened it up, it feels like … if you're in the right mood, it feels like you just walked into a party. And at other times, I sort of feel like I'm under attack.
Bettina Makalintal: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: You know, like, it's just so much being hurled in my face. I'm like, whoa, take it easy here. Like, I'm just trying to get through the day, you know?
Bettina Makalintal: Yeah, totally. But, like, when you've watched enough TikTok that it sort of knows what you like, it does feel like that sort of like walking into a party thing, right? Where it's all this familiar stuff that you — you see it and you're like, yeah, this is exactly what I want, and it just showed up just for me.
Dan Pashman: So maybe you’ll open Tiktok and it’ll show you a video of someone making nachos, then a dog jumping into a kiddie pool, then someone vacuuming their very dirty slippers, if you’re into that sort of thing. Bettina started posting on TikTok back in February. She got hooked pretty quickly.
Bettina Makalintal: I had like no followers on TikTok when I started. And I posted my first video and like as of — as we speak, it's at fifty-four-thousand views which, like I would say, is pretty decent for someone who's doing it as a hobby. So like, I think TikTok does kind of incentivize people. Like, your first video...
Dan Pashman: It's kind of like gambling. Like it seems like TikTok wants a certain number of people to like a deluge of positive feedback on one of their very early videos because you kind of get hooked on that adrenalin rush.
Bettina Makalintal: Yeah, exactly.
Dan Pashman: Bettina says the videos she posted after that first one didn’t do as well. Like with most apps, the TikTok algorithm is secret, so this idea that it gets you lots of views on your first video to get you hooked is just a theory. It is a popular one with people trying to “hack” the algorithm — but it’s been questioned by others.
Dan Pashman: So since I’ve never posted on TikTok, I might have a better chance of going viral with my first ever post there. And I should add, I’m setting an important ground rule for myself here: I am not going to use my non-TikTok platforms to make the video go viral. You know, I have about 40,000 followers on Instagram, and an even bigger audience that listens to this show. So, sure, if I shared it on all my channels, I could probably get it a bunch of likes. But I want this to be a real experiment. I want to test my ability to reverse engineer virality.
Dan Pashman: So I’m not using my platform to boost it. Well, now I am, I guess. But, spoiler alert: I already ran my experiment — I already made the video and posted it, with no fanfare. So the results I’ll present to you at the end will be legit.
Dan Pashman: But I’m getting way ahead of myself. I still need to figure out what works well on TikTok, and what doesn’t. I need to deconstruct other viral videos so I can construct my own. I ask Bettina to break down the different categories of successful food videos there:
Bettina Makalintal: People just want to see food, I think, that they either feel like they can actually replicate or something that they could never replicate. You know, like, I feel like it's sort of at the extremes where it's something I can do, which is the TikTok feta pasta. Or it's like this like, you know, this potato that takes 15 hours and I'm not going to actually do that, but I like to watch it.
Dan Pashman: Of course, you remember the TikTok feta pasta. You get roasting pan, put in some cherry tomatoes, olive oil, salt, and pepper, and then add a whole block of feta. You put it in the oven. When the tomatoes are roasted and the feta’s all melty, you add cooked pasta and mix it all up together. Finnish food blogger, Jenni Hayrinen posted it on her blog in 2019, and it was popular in Finland, but not beyond. Then in January, people started posting videos of themselves making it on TikTok, and the recipe went viral worldwide. The hashtag Feta Pasta has more than a billion views on TikTok. For a few weeks, there was a feta shortage at grocery stores across America.
Dan Pashman: So I'd definitely heard of that one. But what’s this garlic 15-hour potato? Bettina and I each bring it up on our phones and she walks me through it.
Bettina Makalintal: So like right off the bat, you've got this like sense of something is a process, and you've got this little, like, crispy nugget here that looks really, like, appealing, right? So as soon as you click on it, you get this nice crunch...
CLIP (POPPY O'TOOLE): Just look at that golden deliciousness. So you start by roasting off that garlic in the oven, for about half an hour. And then you got to press it into a gooey, delicious paste ...
Dan Pashman: It's very oozy. The garlic is oozing out ...
Bettina Makalintal: Yeah, you get the garlic, that's kind of like, a sight to behold to see it, like all squeezing out of the head. Then we've got this, like, quick process where the steps are pretty easy,
CLIP [POPPY O'TOOLE): Physically possible, lavish in a lot of smoked salt, smothering goose fat ...
Dan Pashman: Goose fat? She's got goose fat, potatoes, the roasted garlic ...
CLIP [POPPY O'TOOLE): To the over for three hours ...
Dan Pashman: Three hours?
CLIP [POPPY O'TOOLE): Then weigh them down and refrigerate for 12 hours. Then slice it up any shape you fancy, deep fry — and then the best bit. Is there a more beautiful potato?
Dan Pashman: Wow, that does look really good.
Bettina Makalintal: Right? It's like this thing that, you know, you're probably not going to make it home because you don't want to do a 15-hour potato, right? But like, it's nice to look at and there's a process and it sounds good.
Dan Pashman: Show me something in the world of food hacks, not so much as pure entertainment, something you might actually do.
Bettina Makalintal: O.K., so the salmon rice is this leftovers video, where this one sort of TikTok food influencer just — she makes leftover salmon, she puts it on top of rice. She microwaves it with an ice cube on top, and then she, like, mashes it up and eats it with a piece of seaweed. And so the hack is just her putting the ice cube onto the rice to help it steam when she microwaves it. So the ice doesn't melt when it comes out of the microwave. So I think people are fascinated, one, by the hack and, two, by the fact that it's like this confusing thing.
Dan Pashman: But like when I reheat leftover rice, I just sprinkle a little bit of hot water from the tap over the rice.
Bettina Makalintal: Yeah, that's what I do.
Dan Pashman: Yeah, and microwave it. And that like re-steams it. Isn't that better than ice?
Bettina Makalintal: I mean, I think this is contentious. I think that like I've seen stuff that says, "like the ice is really helpful," and other people say, "like, it's not actually that useful." So I think maybe it's just like the way that this creator, Emily Mariko, did it and then it blew up. But yeah, if I were doing it, I would just do the water. But that doesn't look as good on a video, probably.
Dan Pashman: So there are basically two categories of food videos — pure entertainment and practical. And really, this division isn’t new. If you look at cookbooks from hundreds of years ago, there are ones with everyday recipes and tips, and ones that tell you how to fill a pie crust with live birds, so when you slice open the pie the birds all fly out, to the delight of all the guests at your castle.
Dan Pashman: For my video, I think I want to stick with something practical, to put one of my many food opinions to good use. I think, I’ll share one of my favorite tips for making something more delicious.
Dan Pashman: It seems to me that when these kinds of videos work, they’re a little silly, a little out there, but it’s a food hack people might actually do. It has to use basic ingredients in a surprising way. It has to elicit delight.
Dan Pashman: Now that I know what kind of video I’m going to make, I need to think a little more about the nuts and bolts of it. I don’t really know anything about TikTok — I’m more of an Instagram guy. But I have a sense that what works on Instagram may not be right for TikTok.
Dan Pashman: So I turn to Emily Contois, an assistant professor of media studies at the University of Tulsa. She focuses on the cultural forces that impact how we look at food. Right now, she’s co-editing a book called Food Instagram: Identity, Influence, and Negotiation. And she agrees: Instagram and TikTok have very different aesthetics.
Emily Contois: So on Instagram, that was this world of like beautiful images. Everything is sort of artfully curated. And then maybe there are these like strategic crumbs, the strategic messiness. But it's life a far more beautiful, right, than our sort of actual lives.
Dan Pashman: Right. What's the word, uh, uh, sprezzatura, a studied carelessness.
Emily Contois: Yes, exactly.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Emily Contois: Food Instagram was one of these spaces that really perfected that kind of an aesthetic style. And so I think Tiktok was part of pushing back against that expected perfection of Instagram. That it’s much more real and purposefully amateur.
Dan Pashman: So it seems like I need to abandon any pretense of professionalism, and go for the janky vibe that TikTok favors. Hopefully, that means I can skip using my ring light.
Dan Pashman: Professor Contois has also written about gender in food, so I ask how her research on that front might apply here.
Dan Pashman: Is there also a difference in what type of food a person might be making? Where like, if you're going to grill a big hunk of meat — you know, like and you want to go viral doing that, you might need to be a big, burly guy. But if you're going to make like a pastry with pink flowers on it, people expect a woman. You know, I'm not saying that's right. I'm saying those are the society's expectations.
Emily Contois: I think your chances of going viral or to either stick to the conventions, right, of like what's expected or to like, totally blow them out of the water. So sometimes that big difference, right, of seeing a big guy, who bakes is perfect little things at home, serves into his daughter's — right? Like, you could see a context like that going viral because of the way it's pushing back against those conventions in a way that could seem funny to some people or could feel progressive to others.
Dan Pashman: I like where this is going. What about like a like a three-second break in the middle of the food video where it's just like a TikTok dance break and it's me and my daughter's dancing poorly?
Emily Contois: It depends how comfortable are you right to exploit the cuteness of your children to attempt to go viral?
Dan Pashman: Oh, that boat has sailed, Professor.
Dan Pashman: I mean, if you can't monetize your kids, why are you even having them in today's day and age? So maybe there should be one break in the middle of like three seconds where I just go like, "TikTok dance!", and me and my daughters are dancing badly and then another one could just be like, "Cute dog," and it's like one second of my dog is turning her head when I say, "Cute dog."
Emily Contois: But again, the more production value it has — it can go both ways on TikTok. It values the amateur. It's different than these other media spaces where production value gets you points.
Dan Pashman: O.K., I get it. Keep it low fi. Don’t try too hard. As we wrap up, Professor Contois has a warning for me:
Emily Contois: I think what's really interesting in trying to crack, right, this question of what goes viral, what really captures people's attention that there isn't as clear of a formula to that as we would like, right? If we really figured it out, everything that attempted to go viral would. There's still this wonderful degree of unexpectedness and inexplicability for why some things draw us in.
Dan Pashman: I take the professor’s point, but I still want to try to crack the code. I do think I have a good idea for a video. But can I make it go viral? Coming up, before I try to be a TikTok star, I get advice from a TikTok star. Stick around.
Dan Pashman: Welcome back to The Sporkful, I’m Dan Pashman. Hey, if you want to give cascatelli as a gift this year, you're almost out of time. As this episode drops, there may still be some limited edition gift boxes left, with the recipe booklet and the dish towel. But eve n if those are sold out, are still 4-packs of pasta available. My friend Jenny’s mom, she gave a box to her friend Sharon, and Sharon liked it so much that she ordered 32 boxes for Christmas gifts. That Joanne Molinarocould be you, but you have to get your order in this week if you want to get it for Christmas. So order now at sfoglini.com, that’s S-F-O-G-L-I-N-I dot com. All right, let’s get back to it.
Dan Pashman: Now I understand TikTok a little better from a critical standpoint. The next phase of my research is to talk to a certified food TikTok star.
Joanne Molinaro: I'm Joanne Molinaro, also known as The Korean Vegan.
Dan Pashman: And also up until very recently, an attorney, is that right?
Joanne Molinaro: Yeah, well, I'm still an attorney. I was up until recently a partner at a large law firm. Now I'm just an attorney at said law firm.
Dan Pashman: So you sort of like took a little less responsibility.
Joanne Molinaro: I took a lot less responsibility.
Dan Pashman: In 2016, Joanne created a food blog, The Korean Vegan, where she would make vegan recipes based on the traditional Korean meals she ate growing up. She’d also post recipes as The Korean Vegan on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram. She had a loyal following, but it was a hobby, or a side hustle. Then, last year, she got on TikTok.
Joanne Molinaro: I started TikTok mostly just to watch other people do things, like I wanted to laugh. And you know, because TikTok knew that I was a food blogger, because that's what that's what TikTok is so good at, it, like, knows you better than, you know yourself in some ways. You know, it was throwing food content in my direction and inevitably I was inspired. But I was also lazy and I was like, I don't — I don't want to, like, make anything pretty. I'm going to throw my phone up against this wall, see what happens and you know, post it. I thought, like nobody would see it.
Dan Pashman: Joanne shot a video of her making her Korean Braised Potatoes. She cuts up potatoes, Korean green chilies, red onion, and braises them in a pan with soy sauce, maple syrup, and sesame oil.
[CLIP BRAISED POTATOES VIDEO]
Joanne Molinaro: I didn't really add anything really unique to it, other than except this is my kitchen, and you can hear my husband yelling at his piano student in the background. That was really the only thing that made it different from everybody else's food Tiktok.
Dan Pashman: Joanne says she spent maybe 5 minutes cutting the video down, and then she posted it. It was the second TikTok she had ever shared.
Joanne Molinaro: All of a sudden my watch, which is connected to my phone, starts blowing up. I'm like, woah, what is happening? You know? And I start getting all these notifications, comment this, mentioned that, da-da-da-da. And I was like, well, what's — what is this? And I, you know, start seeing the views just racking up. I think within like 24 hours, it had like a million views, close to a million views and it was a complete rush. I had never experienced anything like that in my life.
Dan Pashman: Today, that video has nearly 2 million views. But Joanne’s path to leaving her role in the law firm wasn’t a straight line from there. The next video she dropped has 82 thousand views — great for an average person, but a far cry from her viral hit. I was curious to talk more with her about the ups and downs of a career in social media.
Dan Pashman: I, you know, did this pasta project launch?
Joanne Molinaro: I saw.
Dan Pashman: O.K., so you know, like I had a limit on my Instagram — time limit every day. And when we headed into that launch, I was like, I'm turning off the limits because I just, have to be on social media a lot and sharing and all that. And when the craziness started to die down, it was hard for me to get back down to the usage level that I was at before. It was like, you know, like Instagram had given me like the uncut shit, you know?
Dan Pashman: It was so intense.
Joanne Molinaro: Yes.
Dan Pashman: And I don't know how I get used to what's normal now. And I wonder if you worry about that at all, about sort of getting hooked on the likes?
Joanne Molinaro: Of course, I do. And I mean, imagine if you will, you came out with a second pasta, you know, and you put it out into the world with the same care and the same sort of hope and and all of that. And it totally tanks. And nobody likes it. Then all of a sudden you're like, "Well, I just suck. I'm a failure." So, you know, I think about, about four or five months in, right after I hit a million followers on TikTok, I experienced a little slump in my views. And yeah, I had to go see a therapist about it before I finally was able to be like, "O.K., I needed detach myself. Like, my worth is not tied to these metrics."
Dan Pashman: Oh, how did you get past that and back into doing it in a way that was positive?
Joanne Molinaro: Well, I think that which my therapist really helped me to realize is you have no why for your TikTok. What is the purpose of your TikTok. What is the purpose of The Korean Vegan. Like, why? Why are you doing all of this? And I had to sit back and really craft, I actually, literally, wrote down like a mission statement for The Korean Vegan.
Dan Pashman: Joanne decided her mission was to connect with people struggling with issues like mental health, disordered eating, and family relationships. She started incorporating her personal life into her videos. Nowadays, she shows a video of her making a dish and shares part of her own story as she cooks. Like her video where she’s making potato donuts.
CLIP (JOANNE MOLINARO): Undoubtedly, the single hardest day of life was the day that I left the home of that I had lived in with my ex-husband for many years. My entire family came to help me pack up and leave. My mom, my dad, my brother ...
Dan Pashman: Joanne makes it feel like you’re in the kitchen with her, like she’s cooking just for you. It’s very compelling. But it’s probably not the style I want for my video. I want to stick with something a little more fun and practical, instead of super personal. I ask Joanne for general advice, tips I can use if I want to go viral like her.
Joanne Molinaro: I think the first thing is a good hook. You need something that's going to grab at people, right? And so those first one to three seconds, that's your elevator pitch. Why should you not swipe up? You use your voice. You use your image. You use the video. You use the sound, whatever it is that you have at your disposal to make sure that one to three second pitch is as powerful and effective as possible. So how do you prevent that finger from swiping up?
Dan Pashman: I’ve been making shows for a long time, I understand the importance of a good hook. But one to three seconds? It takes me one second to breathe in, to put oxygen in my lungs so that I can speak!
Dan Pashman: Next, Joanne shares a tip about how to use TikTok’s loop feature. You know, when you get to the end of a video, it seamlessly starts playing again from the beginning. She says a lot of TikTokkers use that to their advantage.
Joanne Molinaro: The more you can make it ambiguous where video begins and where it ends, the likelier that people will accidentally watch it more than once. And those accidental more than once watches tell the algorithm, "Oh, lots of people are watching this video more than once," you know, So that's another, you know, little trick.
Dan Pashman: Got it. Oh, interesting.
Joanne Molinaro: Yeah, to creating a TikTok video that could go viral.
Dan Pashman: So ideally, you kind of want to begin and end on the same image?
Joanne Molinaro: Exactly, yeah. So some of the best, like my friend Dylan, DJ Lamey, he's the Ice Cream God on TikTok. He is a legendary for his loops, like you can't tell where it begins and ends. He finishes his videos in half sentences.
Dan Pashman: Yeah, if you listen it’s hard to tell where the video ends and starts again:
CLIP (DYLAN LAMEY): I've never made a waffle cone like this before. Normally, I'm burning my fingers off and rolling them up in my hand. So you've also never seen me use waffle dough, but you've only see me use waffle batter. I'm surprised they turned out really good. I know I've made hundreds of thousands of waffles in my lifetime, but I've never made a waffle cone like this before....
Joanne Molinaro: And so you end up watching his 17-second video, like 30 times by accident. You know?
Dan Pashman: That’s so interesting.
Dan Pashman: Joanne and I keep talking, and I float the idea of the dance break with my kids. She thinks I should skip it — it could come across like I’m trying too hard, which I’m learning is basically the worst thing you can do on TikTok. People there want authenticity — or at least a credible performance of it.
Dan Pashman: Seems like TikTok stars put a whole lot of effort into making it look like they don’t put much effort into it. Maybe they aren’t as different from Instagrammers as they like to think. Anyway, clearly, So I need to be authentic. But there’s a problem — my authentic self is old, at least by TikTok standards. I worry I won’t fit in with the crowd. Then again, Joanne is in her 40’s, too.
Joanne Molinaro: Just because you're older doesn't mean that young people can't appreciate what it is that you have to offer or that people can't find value in it. I kind of figure that out pretty quickly, because there are a lot of young people, why not embrace my age? And so I created this sort of auntie persona. And a lot of these auntie videos, where I'm giving advice to, in my head, my nephew, when he's 13, 14, 16, 20-years-old, these are the things that I would tell him, and that's the demographic that these auntie videos have really been hitting.
Dan Pashman: You're not trying to come on TikTok and being like, "What's up, young people? I'm just like you."
Joanne Molinaro: No. I could try that, and it probably would go viral, but for the wrong reasons.
Dan Pashman: Right, right, right.
Dan Pashman: As I’ve learned more about TikTok and what I think my approach should be, I’ve been moving closer to an idea for my video. Finally, after getting all of Joanne’s advice, I think I know what I want to do ...
Dan Pashman: So the concept that I'm working with, Joanne, is that is is I have a kind of novel way to eat a slice of pie.
Joanne Molinaro: Oh, I like where this is going.
Dan Pashman: So what I like to do — take a slice of pie, let's say pecan pie, big scoop of vanilla ice cream. Chop them all up with a spoon and stir them together so that the ice cream is like 50 percent melted and the pie is cut up into chunks.
Joanne Molinaro: Mm.
Dan Pashman: And each piece of pie is coated in ice cream.
Joanne Molinaro: Evenly coated.
Dan Pashman: Yes, but you want different sized chunks of pie you want to — like, you don't want everybody to be the same. And you still want some ice cream?
Joanne Molinaro: Hmm. Mm-hmm.
Dan Pashman: Then you throw on there, a shot of bourbon.
Joanne Molinaro: Oh! [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: Didn’t you see that coming, did you?
Joanne Molinaro: No.
Dan Pashman: Mix it up a little more and then sprinkle on top some flaky salt.
Joanne Molinaro: That sounds amazing.
Dan Pashman: And it's just like you get crunchy and a little salty and the liquor and the creaminess of the ice cream — it's just like — it's so, so good. But I grant you that it's a little bit weird.
Joanne Molinaro: I don't think it's — I mean, I think it's weird, but in like the good way. I could see that going viral, like just like Nature's Cereal or any of these other weird ...
Dan Pashman: Nature’s cereal, what's that one?
Joanne Molinaro: Oh, my gosh. So the Nature Cereal was literally like — just take like frozen fruit, like frozen raspberries and strawberries and blackberries and blueberries. Put them in a bowl and then just add coconut water to it. It took TikTok by storm. And that's what you want. And so like, people could take your sort of idea and then do it with apple pie. Do it with cherry pie ...
Dan Pashman: Right.
Joanne Molinaro: You know, and like, create sort of duets with you, stitches with you, and that's how you create a food TikTok trend. I could easily see you doing that. But I think the important thing again is like, it needs to be from you.
Dan Pashman: What exactly is the problem that my food hack is solving?
Joanne Molinaro: For me, when I eat pie, I'm always like fussing with it because I don't get the right proportion of ice cream to pie.
Dan Pashman: That's right. Right. The ratios — it's very hard to manage the ratios.
Joanne Molinaro: And that's like — it sounds like a silly problem.
Dan Pashman: No.
Joanne Molinaro: And that's O.K. like, and TikTok ...
Dan Pashman: This is a safe space, Joanne. That is not a silly problem.
Joanne Molinaro: See, this is what I’m talking about. See, like this whole thing is what is like a TikTok video.
Dan Pashman: O.K.
Joanne Molinaro: Like this is a safe space. Like, like, it, literally — like, that's... that's what they love. I mean, that's what will be funny and what will reach people. The idea that you have is great, but I would caution you: don't overthink it. If you overthink it, they'll know you ever thought it. That's the thing.
Dan Pashman: I think it’s a little late for that. I mean, we’ve already devoted a whole podcast episode to the process of thinking about it. Still, when it comes time to shoot my TikTok, I resolve to keep Joanne’s parting advice in mind. Now, I’m going in.
Dan Pashman: Equipped with an iPhone and a phony birth certificate that says I was born in 1998, your intrepid reporter prepares to shoot his first ever TikTok — or is it just a tok? A Tik? That doesn’t sound right. I head to my kitchen. Before I start shooting I feel like I should test my recipe. I haven’t actually done this thing with the bourbon and pie for a while ...
Dan Pashman: O.K. I have a slice of pie, and a scoop of ice cream in a bowl. Bottle of bourbon — right here. I have a shot glass. [POURING DRINK] Maybe we should just start with — try a half shot first and see how that goes. I’m gonna mix up the ice cream — first, just mix it up, ice cream and pie mixing together, chopping it. I’m gonna throw in half a shot of bourbon on top of my mixed-up pie and ice cream. That looks like a lot of bourbon, but let me try a bite. [DAN EATING PIE] That was too much bourbon. Yeah, a teaspoon of bourbon, that’s what we need here ...
Dan Pashman: A teaspoon is much better. I’m ready to record my TikTok, when Janie comes home from running errands ...
Dan Pashman: Sorry, I’m taking over the kitchen table, which is your office.
Janie Pashman: It's O.K.
Dan Pashman: Janie and I have been together long enough that she doesn’t even ask why I have a half-gallon of ice cream, a whole pie, and a bottle of bourbon out in the middle of the afternoon. But I tell her anyway.
Dan Pashman: I’m becoming a TikTok star.
Janie Pashman: Oh, are you — do you have to sing for that or dance? What does that mean?
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHING] There's a lot of food TikTok stuff out there, too.
Janie Pashman: So what are you making?
Dan Pashman: A slice of pie with vanilla ice cream and a little bourbon on top.
Janie Pashman: Are you sure you want to use this bowl?
Dan Pashman: Well, I need to be able to mix stuff up in side it, but I also want it to have low walls, so that you can see the cross section of the pie.
Janie Pashman: See, don’t you wish we kept those yellow bowls that you returned?
Dan Pashman: These bowls are beautiful.
Dan Pashman: Janie helps me with the first shot I want, which is a scoop of ice cream falling on to the slice of pie.
Dan Pashman: All right. 3, 2, 1, drop it. Woahhh. I think we got our first shot, thank you.
Janie Pashman: I bet Jake Cohen doesn’t take this long.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: With that, Janie walks away — this is not her top priority today. I finish shooting the video, and then it’s time to record voiceover. And since I’m a podcast host, I figure this should be the easy part.
Dan Pashman: Tap or long press to record ... the perfect way to eat a slice of pie. Nope, hang on. That’s my intro. So the end of the video should end with me saying like, “And I just showed you…” and it will loop back to the beginning, “the perfect way to eat a slice of pie.” Oh, man.This is some art right here.
Dan Pashman: Chop it up ... Chop it up some more ... Add ... That's ... Bahh. Messed it up. All right, this can possibly be that way that TikTok actually works ... Hmm. So melty. So crunchy ... but we're not finished yet! Add a teaspoon of bourbon ... Ugh... Let's try this again. Voice over, take 2 ... The most amazing way to eat a slice of pie. Oh my God, I think I lost, like the last five things I shot ... So crunchy, so melty, but we're not finished yet ... Ugh, this is so annoying.
Janie Pashman: You should just forget about it.
Dan Pashman: No, we made a whole episode based on me trying to make this dumb video. I can't get anything on TikTok to work right. Maybe that's the end of the story: Dan couldn't figure out TikTok ... [SIGHS] All right, this is my last piece of pie and the last ice cream. And I better know the shot or I'm gonna be screwed. Here we go ... And you just learned ... the most amazing way to eat a piece of pie ... Oh, yes! The loop works!
Dan Pashman: Oh my God. I don’t think I have it in me to be a TikTok star. Now that it’s done though that was kinda fun.
Dan Pashman: A half gallon of ice cream, 90 percent of a pecan pie, several shots of bourbon, and six dirty dishes later, my video is done. Well, till a few days later when I reshoot a couple things and make a few tweaks. Yep, definitely following Joanne’s advice and not overthinking it.
Dan Pashman: I decide I’ll post my video the Sunday night before Thanksgiving, cause, you know, people have pie on the brain around that time. But before I do, I set a benchmark. If the video gets 100,000 views in 24 hours, I will consider it viral. That’s a lot more than I’ve ever gotten on anything on Instagram. If I get a million views in 24 hours — that’s, like, super viral.
Dan Pashman: I post the video. I don’t share it to any of my other channels. This is the moment of truth. Will my TikTok go viral? Will I have to quit my day job as a podcast host, and my side hustle as a pasta maker, and move into the Hype House — which is, I think, a real place.
Dan Pashman: All right, my TikTok has been up for 15 minutes, and so far I have ... one view.
Becky Pashman: Who viewed it?
Dan Pashman: I don’t know.
Dan Pashman: As I tell my daughter Becky, at this pace, in 24 hours I’ll have 96 views. Not exactly what I was hoping for …
Dan Pashman: I’m kind of nervous. And there are really no stakes whatsoever but like ...
Becky Pashman: What could go wrong though? I mea, the worst that could happen is that you don’t get as many views as you hoped for. And maybe you’ll get more views tomorrow.
Dan Pashman: Becky’s right. And I do get some more views the next day ... 24 hours after posting, I call up Bon Appetit editor, Bettina Makalintal, who I talked to earlier in my journey. She’s seen my video.
Dan Pashman: So Bettina, it’s now been 24 hours since I posted my first-ever TikTok, and as of this moment it has 609 views, which I think we can safely say is not viral.
Bettina Makalintal: I ... As of this moment, it is not viral. The thing that we prefaced the conversation with last time is that you can never guarantee virality online. You know, I think it’s was — it's, like, a valiant effort.
Dan Pashman: Where did I go wrong?
Bettina Makalintal: I think the one thing I would do is in the very first shot, is like you holding up the bowl plate and bringing it up to the camera, and then the shoot of the ice cream going onto the pie. I probably would have done the ice cream going onto the pie as the first shot.
Dan Pashman: Really?
Bettina Makalintal: I think at first glance, it’s a little hard to tell what’s happening.
Dan Pashman: I mean, that makes a lot of sense. Right. So the very first shot is the finished product and it’s very melty. And I guess, since I know what it is, it looks amazingly delicious to me. But if — if, with no context whatsoever, it kind of looks like a bowl of slop.
Bettina Makalintal: It doesn’t look like pie immediately.
Dan Pashman: It’s a little too much to parse.
Bettina Makalintal: Yeah, I do think the second shot is really good though, that, like, perfect little, like, melty scoop of ice cream going onto the pie. Like, that looked good to me.
Dan Pashman: Ah, man. Man, you know, for the longest time, the video was gonna — it was starting with the shot of the scoop of ice cream going on the pie. And then, I thought, "No wait, it looks so good to me at the end and it tastes so good ..." you know, like a lot of videos, you know, like they start with a finished product to show you, and then they go backwards to kind of like hook you with the delicious shot. But I guess my shot of deliciousness was kind of like too visually confusing. You know what I did Bettina, I overthought it.
Bettina Makalintal: I feel like I always realize as soon as I hit post on a video, like something I would have changed, but, you know, it's always that thing about hindsight …
Dan Pashman: Right after my video posted, when I saw it wasn’t getting many views, I was disappointed. But very quickly I was like, whatever. I have other things to worry about. Then I talked to Bettina and she made it seem like I was so close! And I don’t get to redo it, you know, all the social media apps know when you’re posting something similar to a previous post. If it bombs the first time, there’s not much you can do to change the algorithm’s mind.
Dan Pashman: Just one bad decision about the first three seconds was all it took to relegate it to TikTok obscurity. It’s like I was playing blackjack and I needed a nine, and I got a 10. And when you get that close to winning, it’s hard to resist coming back for more. So this may not be my last Tok ... Tik? Whatever.
Dan Pashman: If you're curious to see my TikTok? You can find me on there right now, @thesporkful. Or check me out on Instagram. Now that the experiment is over, I did share my pie video there. On Instagram, I'm also @thesporkful.
Dan Pashman: Special thanks to Bettina Makalintal, associate editor at Bon Appetit. She’s on TikTok @bettinamak. We also heard from Professor Emily Contois, her new book, Food Instagram, is out next year. And Joanne Lee Molinaro just released a cookbook called The Korean Vegan, or you can find her on TikTok, @thekoreanvegan.
Dan Pashman: Quick reminder: send us your New Year’s food resolutions. Record a voice memo with your first name and tell me what you resolve to eat more of in the new year and why. Send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks.