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TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube are opening new avenues for who evaluates food—and how.

By Jamila Robinson
April 01, 2021
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TikTok Food Critics Illustration
Credit: Miguel Ángel Camprubí

It's fair to call the videos social media star Dana Caldwell creates "reviews"; after all, from her accounts @decadent_dayne on Instagram and TikTok, she offers a play-by-play—or, better yet, dice-by-brunoise—video analysis of the work of chefs and home cooks for nearly 700,000 small-screen viewers.

"I always cry when I cut onions. Maybe that's its defense mechanism; after all, we did uproot you from your natural habitat," she ponders. "Ooh, brown gravy, that should be my stage name," Caldwell oozes with a gloriously earthy Mississippi accent that lengthens words and flattens the edges of vowels.

For example, as an anonymous TikTok user cooks, Caldwell, via the app's split-screen feature, narrates liver being prepared to be "laid to rest in hot oil" and soaked in a red wine reduction so mesmerizing, "the vampires are shooketh." An aspiring comedian, her halting, poetic voice-overs are so entertaining, she's landed collaborations with Bombay Sapphire and Audible.

Reaction videos are all over social media, but Caldwell's slow, deliberate narration, sometimes accompanied by a Chopin nocturne, recorded while she's dressed in her bathrobe and night bonnet, are a welcome contrast to the legion of videos that center boisterous interjections and clichéd complaints.

"You're forming those dumplings as if you're forming clay," she says of TikToker Fabrizio Villalpando's dishes. "It's amazing what you take from the garden and make a masterpiece," she says of his tomato tartare.

Caldwell isn't the only one judging food this way. Kalen Allen has become YouTube-famous by commenting on viral dishes on Twitter and Instagram; his reactions to tinned fish and "gentrified cornbread" led to him becoming a regular on The Ellen DeGeneres Show's video lineup.

Similarly, the hashtag #italianreacts produces several timeline gems, including Vincenzo's Plate, a channel managed by a Sydney chef whose raison d'être is watching other chefs try to make cacio e pepe.

Other social media stars are building entire brands by deciding if the videos of professional and home cooks making common dishes meet their expectations.

Nigel Ng, a UK-based Malaysian comedian known on YouTube as Uncle Roger, has plenty to say about how cooking competition shows misrepresent foods. His character is an affectionate send-up of every Asian dad who complains when a recipe—especially fried rice—is riffed upon in unnecessary ways. "Why are you adding water to the rice?" or "Why are you draining the rice?" he gasps.

Ng's viral reaction videos of Jamie Oliver and other BBC personalities have made the London-born comedian a must-follow on YouTube, where his millions of subscribers submit videos for review.

Ng's and Caldwell's content also encourages viewers to get into the kitchen and tag Caldwell and Ng in hopes that they also will have a viral cooking moment.

Even the pros are getting into the act. Malaysian chef Sherson Lian posted a video for Uncle Roger's review, while Michelin-starred chef Elizabeth Haigh did a fried rice demo. Haigh's dish earned her the title "Auntie Liz" by Ng, who also approved of Haigh's use of rice cookers.

"Even a home cook can judge a Michelin-starred chef," he says.

Must-Follows

Thee Moody Foody

Fabrizio Villalpando is a favorite of users who employ TikTok's duet function to cook alongside the Los Angeles home cook, who calls himself the "Bad Boy Martha Stewart." @themoodyfoody

Room Rater

Twitter accounts Room Rater and Bookcase Credibility emerged out of quarantine to help on-air personalities improve their Zoom backgrounds, giving new purpose for those of us now taking meetings from kitchens, bedrooms, and elsewhere at home. @ratemyskyperoom

Chef Lovely

The host of Lovely Bites on OWN is becoming a social media favorite for her watch parties on Instagram. It gets super meta as Lovely offers commentary, along with a Spotify playlist. @cheflovely