The paths to becoming food famous used to be fairly limited: First, you needed to cook really well, or at least know what good cooking was and have a particularly fine way with words. You could get there by creating an amazing cookbook, or writing a New Yorker essay that would inspire a memoir, which in turn would spawn a genre-defining travel series. You could popularize nascent food movements, or demonstrate novel skills that dazzled audiences. It helped if you were relatable and people liked you, or at least liked watching you scream at others.
But people increasingly live their lives online and through social media, giving rise to new, more chaotic roads to fame. Today, all that’s needed for an aspiring food celebrity is a decent video camera, a hook, and the grace of god the algorithm. Emily Mariko reached TikTok superstardom by quietly making cucumber salad and reorganizing her spice drawer, while others have become TikTok successes by dressing as Dungeons & Dragons-inspired tavern keepers or expounding the questionable virtues of eating raw organ meats. Even for an institution as tried-and-true as Top Chef, the prize has changed into something more amorphous — less about the money and Top Chef title and more about potential brand deals and public-facing partnerships. Still, this fame comes at a cost, both financial and emotional. And by the way, don’t call content creators “influencers.”
Actors, athletes, and musicians are also moving into the food space. Some, like Travis Scott and Megan Thee Stallion, are collaborating with brands like McDonald’s and Popeyes in deals that craftily use pop culture to overshadow a growing concern over fast food’s terrible labor conditions. Meanwhile, everyone from Eminem to Channing Tatum to Miranda Lambert is slapping their brand onto restaurants, though few are particularly keen to explain how involved they really are in the process. For famous people more comfortable sticking to their lane but still wanting a taste of the action, a visit to YouTube’s massively popular talk show Hot Ones to chow down on increasingly spicy wings has become the answer. Or they can just pop into the elite restaurants that have become celebrities in their own rights, based on glitterati clientele and accompanying paparazzi.
With How to Be Food Famous, Eater examines the increasingly busy intersection of celebrity and food culture. Is there a chance that the new types of food fame could overtake the old? Based on the numbers, the possibility is a long way off. Though considering how rapidly the food pop culture landscape is changing and overcrowding (related: nothing in this package is secretly cake), it might not matter. In the future, everyone will be food-famous for 15 microwaved minutes.