The Chef Reactions channel grew quickly. He recently quit his job; brand deals, merchandise sales, and Patreon supporters enable him to recipe-react full time. “I’ve been a chef for so long that it’s hard for me to think of what I do now as work, because I worked so very hard before,” he says. He notes that while he is by no means rich or “set for life,” he could afford a year off to be with his family if he stopped making videos right now. “This has changed my life in ways that I never thought were possible,” he says.
Yet in the year Chef Reactions has been creating his videos, he says the number of rage bait (and fetish) recipes on TikTok has grown. “These accounts are multiplying like gremlins,” he says, “And now people say that I’m partially responsible for that.” Some viewers believe that gross food creators are making videos specifically for the chef to react to, meaning he’s taking the bait and feeding the baiters. While he says it would be “egotistical” for him to believe that videos are made specifically for him, he does acknowledge his part in this strange new ecosystem.
“Without them, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today, so it’s kind of a double-edged sword,” he says. Equally: “I’m not the only person that does food reactions.”
Tanara Mallory is perhaps currently the most famous and quotable recipe reactor on TikTok; her catchphrase “Everybody’s so creative!” now regularly pops up in the comment section of food videos. The 47-year-old, Philadelphia-based production cook is—as Chef Reactions himself puts it —“hilarious”; her faux-enthusiastic response videos have earned her .
Unlike Chef Reactions, however, Mallory has found it hard to profit from her fame. Sheearlier this month that the money she has earned so far only covers “gas and groceries,” even though the hashtag now has 486 million views. It’s a problem as old as social media itself: the ability of any creator to monetize their content . “Mallory’s situation,” journalist Beatrice Forman wrote in her profile of the TikTok star, “is all too common for Black social media creators, who have shaped internet culture for decades.” (Mallory didn’t respond to interview requests for this story.)
Yet while recipe reactions may not always be profitable, they do remain popular. Beyond comedy value, why do people like to watch?
Zoë Glatt, a digital anthropologist and postdoctoral researcher at Microsoft’s Social Media Collective, argues that “what makes bad recipe videos so perfect for reactions is the ambiguity around whether the original content is made sincerely.” Numerous disturbing recipes have beenover the years, and therefore it is undoubtedly satisfying for audiences to hear a straight-talker “reflecting on just how bad these recipes are.”
Glatt says that “reaction videos have always existed as a sort of meta-economy that feeds off of and into the genres of content.” While some reactors do “the bare minimum,” riding the coattails of an original video’s popularity, the best reactions, she says, “offer meaningful or entertaining commentary, reflecting and reifying the feelings that audiences have toward the video and helping to create a sense of community and shared understanding.” Arguably, shared understanding is crucial when you’ve just watched someone blend angel hair and you have to decide if the world’s lost the plot or you have.
It’s unclear how long recipe reactions will continue to be popular. Chef Reactions says, “I think of myself always as on my 14th of 15 minutes of fame.” He is branching out ontobecause of rumors of a , and he hopes the world will continue to have an appetite for his content. But being uncertain about the future doesn’t trouble him too much. “If you were to ask me a year ago what my retirement plan was, I would have said, ‘Having a heart attack hovering over an empty deep fryer.’ I didn’t have a retirement plan,” he says. He still doesn’t, but he does now have a flourishing online career. “If it all goes away tomorrow, I can always fall back onto my skill set and continue being a chef.”