Meet the Mukbang enthusiast, the high school chef, and seven other personalities to know.
CK and Diana Nguyen | @hypefoodies
This Springfield couple has been posting vlog-style TikTok videos since 2019, giving under-the-radar suburban eateries a boost on the platform. Short clips shot with an iPhone highlight places such as an Indian restaurant tucked inside a Vienna gas station or a strip-mall dim sum spot in Rockville. In addition to showing off the food, the behavioral analyst (Diana) and videographer (CK) try to provide some background on the dishes they sample. “For my voice-overs, one of my biggest inspirations is Anthony Bourdain,” CK says. “I try to be informative and respect the culture of the food.”
Milan Bhayana | @lilchefmil
The Bethesda–Chevy Chase High School sophomore got started on TikTok last November when sister Malaika posted a video of his beef Wellington, asking for a reaction from Gordon Ramsay. Although the celebrity chef never responded, thousands of viewers did, launching Milan’s career as a culinary creator. (He now has more than 700,000 followers.) Malaika narrates videos showing the 16-year-old’s cheffy process, which involves whipping marshmallows from scratch and wielding a blowtorch to char baked Alaska. Now he and mom Chandrani Ghosh are part of the cast of this season’s Top Chef Family Style.
Caroline Ponseti | @thethriftyspoon
Highlighting restaurant deals has been Ponseti’s trademark on Instagram since 2017, but the communications strategist from Dupont Circle started migrating her budget-friendly recommendations to TikTok in February. She peruses restaurant menus to find tips (the Wharf’s fish market offers affordable oysters) and tricks (go for a wine carafe instead of a bottle at Le Diplomate). Naturally, happy hours are go-to content, with videos touting drink specials for when you just need a cocktail on a Monday . . . or at sunset . . . or with food . . . or all night long . . . .
The Comfort-Food Mom
Angela Payton | @auntiebstay
She’s known as “everybody favorite auntie” on TikTok, but it was Payton’s teenage daughter who actually got her on the app in June 2020: “My daughter said, ‘Mom, you cook and you’re funny—TikTok is the new wave.’ ” In fact, every video starts with back-and-forth banter between the Southeast DC resident and her kids. Payton’s content focuses on comfort-food recipes like peach-cobbler egg rolls and her grandma’s mac and cheese, using ingredients accessible at any grocery store. In September, the behavioral-technician-by-day made it onto actual TV, teaching Jerry Springer how to make peanut-butter ice cream.
Alex Schroeder | @alexeating
Curious whether his experience as a Yelp reviewer would translate to video, this real-estate marketer hopped onto TikTok last fall to document his positive experiences at restaurants. He jogs around the city to discover new spots, covering such subjects as date ideas and outdoor dining. The most rewarding part? When businesses reach out to thank him for bringing in new customers. Schroeder is also a founding member of DMV Besties, a collective of Washington-focused TikTokers organizing IRL meetups to explore the city.
The Mukbang Enthusiast
Gabby Eniclerico | @slothgirl420
This 26-year-old’s specialty is mukbangs, a genre of internet videos in which viewers tune in to watch a creator eat (heartily and noisily) on camera. Eniclerico’s version often shines a spotlight on local restaurants—slurping ramen from Bantam King or diving into Little Sesame’s hummus bowls—while chatting to the camera as if she’s eating with a friend. The legal assistant’s bubbly brand (and more-than-919,000 follower count) has caught the attention of advertisers, garnering sponsorships from Thrive Market and Chipotle. But Eniclerico says it’s how she eats that has captured fans: “I don’t chew a lot. When I eat, I get so excited. I think that’s kind of why I started going viral—people were just confused by my eating style.”
Jeremy Scheck | @scheckeats
The wildly popular Scheck learned to cook by watching YouTube videos. Now the 21-year-old Bethesda native is the one in front of the camera, teaching more than 2.1 million followers how to roll pasta and roast a whole chicken. The college student turned to TikTok at the onset of the pandemic, playing the congenial host while delivering his lessons on fried rice and pie crust. “I don’t want it to just be food porn,” Scheck told us last year. “I want it to be ‘Why are we doing it this way?’ I like to understand the science.”
The Fine-Dining Fanatic
Joel Haas | @highspeeddining
If you can’t snag a reservation at DC’s Michelin-starred restaurants, head to Haas’s channel, where he invites the masses into the city’s most exclusive dining rooms. The former radio DJ and comedy producer dons a lapel mike to record voice-overs at every spot with a Michelin star, talking viewers through tasting menus. (He shoots 60 to 90 minutes of video per meal.) “I am an entertainer and performer first,” says Haas. “The restaurant is my stage, the food is my prop.” He’s found that the more extravagant the dish—tuna charred on a tabletop grill at Del Mar, nitrogen floating over dessert at El Cielo—the bigger the social buzz.
This article appears in the November 2021 issue of Washingtonian.