If the pandemic had never happened, Ali Z. might never have joined TikTok.
But when the short, dark January days came, she was getting restless. For almost a year in quarantine, her major hobbies – cooking, baking and playing video games – felt lonely. She especially missed cooking for friends and family. “It’s not quite that fun if you just do it on your own,” Ali said in a recent phone call.
In the midst of this reflection, Ali realized that her favorite video game involved aspects of cooking. Her favorite, Stardew Valley, includes 74 recipes and even its own in-game cooking show, The sauce queen. On a whim, Ali searched TikTok in search of accounts that replicated the game’s creative menus in real ingredients. To her surprise, nothing came up – so Ali decided to become the queen herself by using the platform to find the community online.
Like @thaqueenofsauce, Ali’s first post featured a proven classic: her family’s recipe for chocolate cake. She spent about a week planning, filming and editing the video in iMovie and gradually adapting it until it felt complete. The clip contained what would become characteristic of her style: Quick close-ups that explain each step of the recipe, overlays of the game’s colorful pixel art, and a laid-back narrative. “Kl of finding your chocolate cakes in the trash?” she asked, pairing the sound with a game clip of her Stardew Valley avatar rattling with a trash can (a strategy to unleash the occasional object). “This recipe can help.”
“In one day, it got about 80,000 views,” Ali says. “It took off, which I did not expect at all.” Since then, Ali’s channel has continued to attract fans, especially from TikTok’s active cozy games. When we first spoke in May last year, @thaqueenofsauce had about 30,000 followers. Now that number has risen to more than 55,000. “The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive,” she says. “Every time you’re on an internet site, you’re expecting to get negative comments flowing in sometimes, or little things that people do not like. But I’m barely got any of that, which I think is a testimony. about Stardew Valley society itself. “
The way Ali’s channel hit a chord with echoes from viewers Stardew Valley‘s meteoric rise. First released in February 2016, the game sold 500,000 copies within the first two weeks, and quickly rose to over one million within the next fourteen days. It was a surprising hit from first-time video game developer Eric Barone, who had spent nearly five years working obsessively on all aspects of the game. The result was an immersive, whimsical and at times dark world that simulated country life. Since Star dews release, continuous, content-rich updates – including a multiplayer option and massive new unlockable environments – continue to reward even the most obsessed players.
Fortunately, Ali’s relaxed approach to her channel does not resemble Barone’s infamous grueling 12-hour workday, which alleviates her from the possible disadvantages of virality. During the week after her first video went viral, Ali felt a new sense of pressure. “Once you have an established group of people following you, it changes the effort a bit,” she says. But the second video was well received and so was the third. “Now I’m just having fun with it.”
Alis TikTok joins a rich heritage of culinary cosplay. Professional cookbook author Chelsea Monroe-Cassel has built her career around recreating fictional recipes, publishing cookbooks based on Game of Thrones, World of Warcraft, The older ones roll, Lord of the Rings, and several other fandoms (even inclusive Stardew Valley). This month, Simon & Schuster is releasing the best-selling cookbook author Laurel Randolph’s Unofficial Simpsons cookbook, with 70 recipes inspired by the show. And in some cases, authors even publish official versions of their imagined cuisine – such as author Brian Jacques’ Redwall cookbook, featuring recipes for delicacies such as the Shrimp ‘n Hotroot soup or the Great Hall Gooseberry Fool his cast of anthropomorphic otters, mice and badgers whip up.