Why the worst recipes imaginable explode on TikTok

Eli Betchik has always had a stomach of steel, but it wasn’t until they went to art school that they realized it could make them famous.

“I was perfectly willing to eat random things for the amusement of my friends. I would take a packet of ketchup from the restaurant and suck it up or eat an entire block of Parmesan cheese,” remembers Bettak, now 23, who makes and sells jewelry out of their Ohio basement. “The more I did that, the more I started to realize I could do this on the internet. I thought I could entertain people.”

In November 2020, the non-binary jewelry maker was in art school in Cleveland, where they had befriended a group of performance artists. Soon, Betchik’s food shows became their own kind of art, especially when they started putting the act on TikTok.

“I’m often compared to a car accident or a train wreck, where people can’t look away.”

Their first few posts – things like baked mayonnaise, ramen noodles stewed in chocolate milk or slop based on biscuits and milk warmed up in the microwave, all consumed on camera – were sent to a small circle of friends. A month later, clips of Betchik eating bologna glazed in Jolly Rancher based syrup and instant hot chocolate brewed in hot dog water started collecting thousands of views from people outside their social circle. They scored their first truly viral video in 2021 after that they created “cheesy mashed potatoes” from Lay’s chips cooked in water and rice wine vinegar. The clip has been viewed more than a million times, generating a series of copycats and press coverage that ranged from fawning until shocked.

It seemed that Betchik was on to something. People were shocked but fascinated. The more outrage they caused, the more their following grew. their account, @elis_kitchen – with the official tagline “the most evil chef on TikTok” – has attracted more than 100,000 followers since launch.

“It’s just a bunch of disgust, really disgusting fascination,” says Betchik. “I’m often compared to a car crash or a train crash, where people can’t look away, which I really like to hear.”

In the comments, the most common question is whether Betchik is doing all this just for attention. “I am,” Betchik confirms. “I try to take the time of my day to answer [to the commenters] and say, ‘Yes. Yes that’s me.'”

Betchik is one of TikTok’s foremost rage-bait chefs: influencers who create videos of gruesome and often repulsive recipes, which they then consume in front of a camera. Most creators in the space claim to be driven by curiosity rather than fame, but there’s no denying their reliance on outrage to fuel their online presence. On TikTok and other platforms, algorithms drive engagement — and nothing inspires engagement quite like disgust.

Like a nightmare version of the Food Network, the rage-baited chef genre is both distinctive and diverse. Some members — like @joshandlisa, who is the countertop mac-and-cheese videoand @mchausfun, the TikToker who has a banana-filled dough with a catheter-like tool — are obviously joke channels and label themselves as satire on platforms outside of TikTok. Others like Sylvia Ferreira and The Shaba kitchen (who brought terrifying chicken lollipops and strawberry and chocolate cream cheese spaghetti to TikTok) seem to be doing their best to create innovative food, even though the results can be alarming. There are conspiracy theories, of course: a TikToker recently went viral with claims that creators like Ferreira are secretly creating fetish content, backed by a clip of Ferreria cooking a vagina shaped chicken breast. (Ferreira and The Shaba kitchen did not respond The Verges request an interview.)

Some members of the niche insist their culinary intentions are pure. “On the internet you see all these crazy cooking channels and recipes, and you think: what would it be like to make this? So I was really interested in trying them out and seeing for myself,” explains Jane Brain, a 27-year-old techie and chef from Ontario, Canada, with more than 200,000 followers on her TikTok account. @myjanebrain. (Brain asked The edge to withhold her real last name for privacy reasons.)

Brain’s most viral videos include ramen noodle lasagna and a chicken baked in a pumpkin, which was described as “Halloween salmonella” by chef and TikToker Gordon Ramsay. Viewers are often shocked to see Brain sampling her creations at the end of each clip. “I always like to give [the recipes] give it a try,” continues Brain, who shoots and stars in most of her TikToks with her creative partner and best friend, Emma. “I think it’s only fair to judge for myself.”

Others claim they purposely seek out terrible recipes in an effort to challenge themselves and see if their culinary expertise can improve the final product. Liz and her 30-year-old partner, Zach, who also asked The edge withhold their last name for privacy reasons — have more than 50,000 followers on their joint account, @packagedfoodgourment; their most viral videos feature their attempts to recreate the worst rated mac and cheese on Yummly and the worst rated French toast on AllRecipies.com.

“Some of [the recipes] are very polarizing,” says Liz, who noted that many of the worst-rated recipes online have a mix of one- and five-star reviews. “I kind of thought, ‘Where’s the truth? What’s going on here?’ I wanted to see if they were really that bad.”

According to experts, it makes sense to create content that outrages viewers in an attention-based economy. “As we scroll through social media posts, I think there is something about negativity and pain that might get our attention better,” explains Steve Rathje, a postdoctoral researcher in psychology at New York University who focuses on social media, political polarization and disinformation. He has previously published work along the way, strong emotions such as outrage and hate predict and drive the virality of social media posts.

“Social media can create perverse incentives for creating polarizing content,” Rathje added, “because it’s the kind of content that gets attention online.”

However, consistently capturing attention over time isn’t easy, and the art of keeping viewers engaged with each recipe can take long, tedious work. Betchik spent as long as stringing raisins onto raw spaghetti strands for five hours or even freeze sheets of SpaghettiOs for days.

They feel they’ve discovered the recipe for viral success: ruining recipes that are close to viewers’ hearts. “Taking foods that people might associate with childhood and really bastardizing them — people are going to get really mad about that,” explains Bettak. For example, the frozen SpaghettiOs were used as “bread” in a version of a PB&J sandwich that swapped jelly for mayonnaise. The video that Betchik made of it has been viewed more than two million times. “I try not to make things I wouldn’t want to eat,” adds Betchik, who eats about 60 percent of their creations and tries to compost or reuse the rest. But sometimes I cross that line.”

Brain is also against food waste – she often takes her successful recipes to friends and family, who now look forward to her video recordings – although avoiding it is no easy task. “There have been a few recipes that I’ve definitely struggled with,” she says. In some videos like her widely derided pumpkin chicken clip or her one-pot quesadilla, Brain’s expressions seem tense when she tastes the food. “I think viewers can see the look on my face when I raise the fork to my mouth.”

Such moments seem to bring great joy to followers of anger bait. They leave comments expressing their happiness at the disastrous food, tag friends and other influencers, or swear and mock the influencers themselves. Zach and Liz listed everything from their Canadian accent to their looks as reasons why their viewers were outraged. Their commentary sections are awash with vitriol on everything from the cultural hegemony of the American pancake to critiques of their choices in the kitchen. “The idea is to test the recipe as it is,” says Zach, who is often frustrated by such attacks. “So they kind of miss the point of the video.”

The chefs have even given way to a terrible food economy on TikTok, in which other influencers piece together the videos of irate chefs to draw their own opinion. Betchik’s videos are sewn by TikTokers-like @sashaandnate, @ethagoat._and @chubby_hoochie – creators who have built a large following by commenting on shocking videos, including those of irate chefs. “Those people need someone to respond to,” they say.

However, experts like Rathje are not convinced that the culinary TikTok vibe shift is a good thing. “People stop and pay attention to negative content because it’s like stopping to watch a car crash — you can’t really look away,” he added. “That might be good for influencers to learn, but I think it’s kind of bad for the world.”

Betchick, meanwhile, doesn’t think hate-based content is negative as long as the focus is on something like food. “I think people who just watch my videos can find joy in the amount of hate they feel,” they say. “I might as well give them that service.”

It’s a feeling that Brain can get behind. While she doesn’t see herself as a raging chef — she claims her cooking efforts are serious — she’s seen firsthand just how much substance can be produced from a single questionably executed recipe. Playing on the trend for financial gain is a smart move in her view – as long as those who dare to cook poorly are prepared for the snide remarks.

“If your goal is strictly to make as much money as possible — and if hatred and anger are the way to do it — then I can totally see why it makes sense,” says Brain. “To each his own with that.”

Shreya Christinahttps://businesstraverse.com
Shreya has been with businesstraverse.com for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider businesstraverse.com team, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

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