On the day that TikTok is making headlines for uhh other reasons, the platform has also announced that you no longer have to cook feta pasta yourself. The video-sharing platform has partnered with Virtual Dining Concepts, the brand behind MrBeast Burger, to launch the delivery-only TikTok Kitchen. Quick, get a time machine and say “TikTok Ghost Kitchen” to yourself in 2018 and see if you can understand what you’re talking about.
Virtual Dining Concepts, which is run by Robert Earl, the restaurateur behind Planet Hollywood and Buca Di Beppo, said the menu of TikTok Kitchen will feature some of the platform’s most viral recipes. Though it didn’t specify what would be on the “ever changing” menu, a press image features corn ribs and pasta chips, and other viral recipes include Jenni Häyrinen’s oven-baked feta pasta, dalgona coffee, cloud bread, pesto eggs, and a salmon rice bowl from Emily Mariko.
TikTok Kitchen will have 300 locations to begin with, with a goal of 1,000 by the end of 2022. It will operate in a ghost kitchen structure, with the food being cooked in the kitchens of Earl’s brick-and-mortar restaurants, and available only via delivery. According to Bloomberg, “TikTok said it would devote its profits from the restaurants to the creators of the menu dishes and to support promising culinary talents on the platform.” A spokesperson from Virtual Dining Concepts also said creators will be “featured prominently throughout promotion.” Which raises even more questions.
“It isn’t clear how TikTok will determine the authorship of certain viral dishes — which sometimes belong to more than one person — or what revenue it expects to generate and distribute,” writes Bloomberg. After all, many people have probably thought of combining eggs and pesto. Some recipes, like the feta pasta, have a clear author. But for those that have murkier origins, TikTok and Virtual Dining Concepts could have a harder time. They may wind up relying on the fact that a recipe can’t be copyrighted, which is true, but lifting someone’s labor and creativity and pretending it came out of nowhere doesn’t have to be illegal to be a dick move.
TikTok viral recipes have also become notorious for smoothing over any cultural origins of dishes, favoring fusion dishes that appeal to a “mass” audience, and creators that fit narrow beauty standards. At Food & Wine, Reina Gascon-Lopez describes food TikTok as “a constant flurry of videos with white hands often preparing and cooking non-white foods, white hands plating the food, and a white person (often a woman) smiling and eating on camera. What we don’t see behind the multicultural dishes shared? The brown hands that spice and braise beautiful and indigenous ingredients to make savory and filling curries. The Black hands that create a delicious and culturally significant recipe like soup joumou. The brown hands that introduced corn, tacos, and quesadillas to the entire world.”
Then there’s the strange fact that these are not just viral dishes, but recipes. The whole point of cooking TikTok — and the whole reason why it exploded as a pandemic forced us inside — is easy, visual guides for how to make things at home. Recipes go viral because they make something that looks delicious feel manageable. And sure, being able to order feta pasta is a great option when you can’t make it because your grocery store is out of feta because everyone else is making feta pasta but you see the spiral that leaves us in, right? It’s great to end the year not even knowing what a restaurant is anymore.
Update: Monday, December 20, 2021, 11:02 a.m.: This article was updated to include additional comment from Virtual Dining Concepts.