What do the words ‘cooking programme’ mean to you? For a certain generation they might conjure up images of Mary Berry baking a flan, fire blazing in the background, or Fanny Cradock scolding the viewer in that inimitable rasp. These days, however, many of us live our lives guided by the puppet strings of #foodtok and Instagram Reels, with content creators telling us what type of fettuccine to cook and exactly how to eat it.
If you’re already acquainted with the internet wormhole that is food-themed social media, then you will have witnessed an ASMR pasta squelch or an olive oil drizzle on a phallic food item that zooms so close, it becomes slightly unsettling. Sizzle. Chop. Vigorous, vigorous squeeze. We’re all thinking it… when did food videos get so disturbingly sexy?
Since the inception of TikTok and Instagram’s Reels feature, online recipe videos have become ubiquitous. The 15-second TikTok clip has stripped back the bullshit; the trendy thing to do now is film content using a standard smartphone, not a massive camera set-up, creating a more intimate relationship between the viewer and presenter. The latter, of course, will be extremely attractive by conventional standards.
Some of the videos are getting seriously steamy. @cedriklorenzen on TikTok deeply kneads a ball of dough with his muscular veiny hands and firmly presses his index and middle fingers into the centre of an avocado. Another content creator, @Simplyni, enters the frame with a bouquet of flowers, lights a candle and smoothly cooks a meal for you and 50 million others in his luxurious yet intimate apartment. As he cooks, he slowly pokes his index finger into a sliced orange and ferociously chops up a courgette. In the comments, people enchanted by this POV beg to be the lucky beau he’s cooking for.
‘Food has always been really sensual,’ says Sophie Wyburd, head of food at MOB, the recipe website. She cites Nigella Lawson, who has long been the poster girl for a hot and steamy kitchen experience as evidence that food has never not been sexy. ‘But with social media, cooking videos have been brought to the masses,’ she adds. ‘Now we’ve got the camera capturing all these angles and different textures you get really up close and personal with food.’
So, what is it about these videos on the internet that are so alarmingly sexy? At MOB, the key ingredient to making a viral food video is the ‘beauty shots’, according to Wyburd. ‘A beauty shot is that burrata tear, that cheese sprinkle, that olive oil drizzle. We frame every recipe around the certain beauty shots we are going to grab.’
Wyburd agrees that cooking videos are getting a bit risqué as of late, and says it’s partly down to the closeness of the shots. ‘I think the texture is the most important part that makes these videos so sensual because you almost know what it’s like to touch or eat that food.’ And the popularity of the videos means that food content creators are getting more competitive with filming the perfect beauty shot, she says. ‘If you see someone do a really good mozzarella tear, you think “how can I do it better?”’
Val Moore, the face behind @appetite.life, a food ASMR TikTok account with more than 195,000 followers, uses a shotgun microphone to record every unique sound in the kitchen. Though there’s nothing overtly sexual about Val’s cooking, his videos do have a certain intimacy that makes it feel like you’re in the room with him. ‘I find people in food videos can be very brash,’ says Val. ‘I try to create a cosy oasis on the internet.’ Val’s aim is to create something that is aesthetically pleasing and tastes good, too. ‘I did a video of a posset which is a set cream dessert, where I gently push the spoon through the top of it to give somebody the idea of what texture it might be,’ he says.
At the opposite end to Val’s very innocent take on online food content is a whole line-up of ‘ASMR girlfriends’ who performatively chef up a romantic meal for the viewer as they film themselves cooking, before dining facing the camera. Basically, feels like you’re right there on a date with them. It’s by no means pornographic, but there’s something inherently sultry about the camera angles that keep viewers coming back. ‘People love hearing the sound of something sizzling or something crunching,’ Wyburd points out. ‘It’s a really good way of unwinding and getting immersed in something that feels quite creative and delicious.’
So, sure, Mary Berry isn’t going to start roleplaying as ASMR girlfriend anytime soon. And nor is ‘Masterchef’ going to hire someone with incredibly brawny hands to rip a burrata open for a so-called ‘beauty shot’. But the internet is seriously hooked on cooking – as long as it looks (and sounds) hot.