Internet | September 8, 2022 2:06 pm

Why Are Instagram and TikTok Chefs Addicted to Slamming Their Food?

The bizarre ASMR seems to be a prerequisite for kitchen content these days

A piece of pork sizzling in a frying pan on the stove. We look at Instagram and TikTok chefs whose main focus is sound.
PSA: This pork was dropped from the ceiling.
Getty Images/500px

Wham! Zing! Kaplat! What’s up fools, today we’re making crab spaghetti with lemon gremolata!

Several times a day, suddenly lost in the jungles of The Algorithm, I’m treated to the bizarre ASMR of Instagram and TikTok creators cooking in content kitchens. These social media chefs run the gamut in skill, style and notoriety — a few are former Top Chef finalists, some are stay-at-home guardians who took to gastronomy during peak quarantine, many are bright-eyed twenty-somethings who likely aren’t plating the final dish — but all of them employ what has become an apparently non-negotiable production decision: they slam their food.

At first, I mainly noticed slabs of steaks free-falling (as if dropped from a ladder) onto wooden cutting boards. Then I looked a little closer. Cherry tomatoes are getting tossed into colanders. Branzino are being skinned an inch from the camera. Salt and pepper shakers have been turned up to 11. The modern cooking clip on Instagram or TikTok is a violent cacophony of quick-cutting spanks, chops, rips, bubbles and thuds, climaxing in a gorgeous final product that seems to arrive from nowhere.

On the off chance you aren’t familiar with the trope, here are five clamorous examples:

How did we get here? Does splicing cooking videos in this fashion convey some sort of production advantage? Why do so many online chefs follow the same pattern? And why was that woman’s dog in the freezer in the final video? Did he actually explode on impact when she chucked him into her backyard?

Tough questions, all. But it seems reasonable to suggest that these content creators are lightly insecure about the attention span of their viewers sans such bells and whistles. And they’re probably right to err on the side of extra sensory details — whenever I’m scrolling through Instagram, I’m usually not looking for anything in particular. It’s a wacko, equal-opportunity game of impress me, where “points” (seconds of my time) are rewarded for anything funny, attractive or loud.

If you want someone to watch your cooking video, you might as well slam the meat. And if you’re a student of viral cooking videos, you would know that the most-watched clips almost unilaterally feature pulverized ingredients. Which has created a bizarre paradox: in an attempt to stand out, the most popular online chefs have all started to look somewhat similar.

I’m not frustrated with this ASMR arms race as much as I’m fascinated with it. Where will creators go from here? Are their followers content to see crunchy baguettes split with serrated knives for years on end? You can already see some online chefs taking it to the next level; they’re adding memes and special effects, introducing side characters, or performing outlandish stunts, like lighting up tubes of rigatoni and smoking them like cigars. Some of it’s funny. But it’s also a bit confusing. Why am I here, I wonder? Am I going to buy these ingredients from Trader Joes’s later? No? Who is this even for?

Also, in assembling some videos together for this piece, I discovered that there are countless online chefs who upload quiet, matter-of-fact videos with full recipes in the comments. This corner of social media cooking is for the serious home chef. The folks who aren’t just scrolling, who’ve graduated from cookbook libraries to using Instagram or TikTok as legitimate tools. I found that somewhat humbling. I’m not sure The Algorithm thinks very highly of me. I’ll try to change that one day. For now, I’ve got a few more months of Kaplat left in me.