13 Nov 2023DisruptorsTikTok's Tastemakers: Private Chefs Are The New Reality TV

Content created by private chefs cooking for billionaires in the Hamptons is going viral on TikTok. By giving users a peek into the lives of the wealthy, these scroll-worthy videos have been dubbed ‘new-age reality TV shows’ where chefs are both the directors and main protagonists in the story.

Zoia TarasovaZoia Tarasova is a behavioural analyst at Canvas8. With a background in social anthropology (MPhil and PhD), she has worked with a wide range of people, from British housewives to animal herders in remote Siberian villages. Zoia has a passion for ethnographic research and believes in empathy as its primary method. She spends her spare time collecting shells on beaches, finger painting, and taking care of her plants.

Over on TikTok, the #privatecheftok hashtag has hit over 5.9 million views and counting as the evolution of social media content enters its reality TV era. Users of the platform can’t resist regularly tuning in to see their favourite, relatable chefs create yet another culinary masterpiece that puts your average Joe to shame.

TikTok has become the go-to social app the masses can band around, with a report stating that 36% of TikTokers have visited or ordered food from a restaurant after seeing a TikTok video about it and 65% of creators on the platform think it's influencing off-app dining behaviours.

TikTokers' love of foodie content is infiltrating wider culture too. One of summer 2023’s hottest books was The Guest by Emma Cline, a story about a young woman flitting from place to place in The Hamptons as she tries to make her way in life. And the second season of The Bear speaks to people's growing love and interest in the worlds of fine dining and luxury cooking.

Beyond aspirational diets and aesthetically pleasing kitchens that dominate TikTok private chef videos, these videos give viewers a peek behind closed doors and an insight into a world often hidden from view – such as the weird brekkie habits of the Hamptons’ residents or over-the-top dinner orders.

Bringing outsiders in on the action makes such content feel closer to home and accessible, and with some of the biggest names on TikTok being just regular people it's breaking down the gatekeeping nature of food media and shifting the cultural power of food back into the hands of the consumer.

A lot of TikTok private chefs lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic and its impact on the hospitality industry, so many pivoted to cheffing for the rich as a way to stay afloat. And with some of the most popular private chef creators such as Rob Li, Seth Boylan and Abby Cheshire having a combined TikTok following of over 1.9 million, the hustle has paid off.

However, behind fancy working conditions and lucrative pay lies the lonely lived realities of TikTok’s private chef elite. Often based on the premises and in the homes of their employers for obvious reasons, chefs can be forced to move miles away from families and friends which leaves them with just food … and making TikToks of course.

To kill time and get a small dose of human interaction, TikTok private chefs spend their evenings after work editing the content they shoot during the day and then sharing it with millions of enraptured social media users. Needless to say, this comes with a performative edge that shows off the chef’s cooking skills and has people flooding their DM’s.

Taking advantage of access to what’s normally out of sight and turning this into user-generated foodie content that has style and flair has become a winning formula for TikTok’s private chefs. By building on their main character energy and branching out to brand deals, sponsorships, and more, these tastemakers have ushered in a new era of reality TV-esque content that’s keeping people hungry for more.