When you’re all out of inspiration and struggling to come up with ideas for tasty, easy dinners, what do you do – flick through a cookbook or reach for your mobile phone to scroll through Instagram or TikTok? Increasingly, social media platforms are where the recipes that become firm favourites are sourced.
The internet has spawned a new generation of home cooks who have become content creators whose influence is huge. With hundreds of thousands of followers, and a string of viral recipes to their names, these are the new celebrity chefs.
For some, what was a hobby has turned into a career, and book publishing deals have followed. Lorraine Fanneran, Sarah Butler and Nathan Anthony are three content creators, in Limerick, Castlebar and Belfast, who between them have more than 1.5 million followers on Instagram and TikTok. They have one thing in common – the Covid pandemic opened up opportunities for them that have been life changing.
Lorraine Fanneran @HealthyFitBella
Lorraine Fanneran is a mother to two from Castletroy in Limerick, where she and her husband, chef Bruno Coppola, own a restaurant, La Cucina. Fanneran has always been an early adopter when it comes to social media. “At the start it was me and Donal Skehan, we were the first foodies on Twitter,” she says. These days, she has migrated to Instagram and more recently TikTok, and her ItalianFoodie account, which had a restaurant and gastronomy focus, has been sidelined in favour of Healthy Fit Bella.
“I had surgery for breast cancer in 2014 and after that, once I came out of hospital, I decided I was going to get fit and healthy and give myself the best future, the best chance. It started as my daily diary of what I was eating and what I was doing in training, and Instagram became my main thing.”
Like many others, she found that interest in her account spiralled during the pandemic. “It just blew up. With the restaurant closed, I started doing some of the recipes from La Cucina, some of the pasta recipes, and showing how to make pizza at home, and making cocktails.
TikTok is changing things, it’s not like Instagram, things don’t have to be so aesthetic, and people love that as well
“I always like to be first on the scene or adapt early, so I jumped on Reels early, I got in there fast and started to change everything to Reels,” and this move changed everything. The restaurant at home approach proved a big hit with followers, and the videos, filmed on a iPhone by Fanneran in her kitchen in Castletroy, gained traction quickly. A few of the simple, accessible recipe Reels she made went viral, attracting millions of views, and with that came celebrity endorsement.
The account was followed by US actor Courteney Cox, who has 12.2 million followers, but follows only 625 accounts herself, one of them being Healthy Fit Bella. “I have no clue how that happened. I’ve gone viral a few times and when that happens it gets shown everywhere, at one stage the majority of views of my videos was in the States.”
It was a roast tomato soup video that tipped Fanneran into the viral sphere, clocking up more than five million views. “It was so simple, you just roasted the tomatoes, but most people had never thought of roasting tomatoes and making soup, at the time. I had a really nice song on it as well and everything worked with that one video. And then I had a grilled cheese sandwich with it as well and anything with pulled, melted cheese works.”
Fanneran also posts her content to TikTok, and says she regrets not being an early adopter on this platform, though she has quickly built a following of 115,000, with 1.2 million likes. “TikTok is changing things, it’s not like Instagram, things don’t have to be so aesthetic, and people love that as well.”
When planning what dishes to cook for her videos, Fanneran keeps it simple and delicious. “Everyone’s so busy. They don’t have time. They don’t want to cook with a million ingredients. They just want simple basic, tasty foods.” It helps, though, if you can make those simple, tasty foods jump off the screen and send your viewers straight to the kitchen. Fanneran has that knack.
Commercial interests have been quick to jump on her success, and she now has an agent and works with a variety of brands. “In the past eight months, brands are really coming on board. It’s probably quite price effective for them. They’re not hiring a studio, they’re not sending people in to film.”
Content creation is now a full-time career for Fanneran, and she can pick and choose what brands she works with. But she has one golden rule. “I’ve never cooked anything that I don’t like.”
Sarah Butler @sarahbutlerathomeofficial
As a designer of wedding stationery, Sarah Butler, who lives in Castlebar, Co Mayo with her husband and two children, found her career at a standstill when the pandemic hit. “I was self-employed, really busy, won lots of awards, and then Covid hit and work just stopped,” she says.
In November 2020, she began to post her home cooking videos to Instagram. “I started to share my love of cooking and people asked for more.” Her followers grew organically, and when the number reached 10,000 in February 2020, she experienced every social media content creator’s worst nightmare. Her account was hacked, and she lost access to her page and all of her content.
I’m still sitting with my mouth open, going how did this happen?
She fought back by sharing her experience in the media, including a radio interview with Jennifer Zamparelli. “So we actually got back up to, I think 19,500 followers by the next day.” That number has now grown to 109,000, and Butler has published not one but two cookbooks, spurred on by her followers.
“Everybody was in lockdown, so they had the time to be at home cooking, so I suppose I had a good audience there. And they asked me to compile a book of all my recipes. So I designed it myself, used a publishing company to proof read it, and published it myself.” Sarah Butler Home Cooking was published in September 2021 and has sold 10,000 copies, followed this month by Sarah Butler Food for Life, both available from her website, sarahbutlerathome.com.
Butler’s recipes are for family-friendly, easy-to-cook meals that will appeal to adults and children alike: “You know, how to make three different meals out of two pounds of mince food that the whole family will eat. It’s all about normal food, home-made, using good produce, ingredients that you have at home. That’s what everybody says, I love your recipes because I have all the stuff at home already.”
One of her recent successes was a recipe for a mild chicken curry with hidden vegetables. “People say I will make dinner and the kids won’t eat it. I recently did a curry that has been viewed 1.1 million times in about three weeks. You try to get the veg into the kids, so you blend them into the sauce. And it’s really lovely curry.”
During the summer, Butler did a screen test that went well, and she now makes regular appearances on Ireland AM, leaving home in Co Mayo at 4am to appear on the breakfast TV show. “I’m still sitting with my mouth open, going how did this happen?”
Nathan Anthony, @boredoflunch
Nathan Anthony lives in Belfast, where he works as a project manager. He launched his Instagram food account in 2020, during one of the pandemic lockdowns. Specialising in recipes that can be cooked in either a slow cooker or an air fryer, he has 782,000 Instagram followers, and a tribe of 407,000 on TikTok, where his recipe videos have amassed 3.8 million likes.
“I set up my Instagram at the start of the pandemic and never ever thought it would turn into the channel it has become. Isn’t it mad, 1.5 million followers later? Dublin is my number one most followed city online,” Anthony says.
He describes his recipes as being “accessible for all home cooks regardless of cooking experience”, with “cost-effective and calorie-counted recipes for people who are just too busy, whether that be a busy parent or for those who work long days and need quick easy recipes. Food on a budget is also a big focus; I don’t want people searching in delis for niche ingredients.”
There has been a real shift towards real, less filtered and less polished content
He seems surprised by the reach his account has developed. “I posted a slow cooker honey and garlic chicken noodle dish that has now accumulated 30 million views. Fifteen million views on Instagram, then the rest on my wider platforms. I am always so shocked at the reach some of the videos get, it’s insane.”
But he hasn’t yet worked out what makes some cooking videos go viral, while others are less successful. “There is no set formula or wizardry to it, sometimes it’s luck, but usually when using trending audio, people engage with it and the watch time is high. I think I have got lucky a lot of the time I get a viral video, but the main thing is it looks accessible, it is not polished, it is achievable for home cooks.
“There has been a real shift towards real, less filtered and less polished content performing better than the once infamous Instagram versus reality style of content; it seems reality is now performing better.”
Anthony’s first book, also called Bored of Lunch, will be published by Penguin on January 5th, and is a collection of his slow cooker recipes, with an air fryer recipe book to follow in March.