Detroit Chef Jon Kung Found Success With TikTok Cooking Videos During the Pandemic, Leading to a New Cooking Series with Anime Streaming Service Funimation
Before the pandemic, Chef Jon Kung was hosting small, secret dinner parties at Eastern Market. But the global pandemic gave him a much wider international audience, a contract with an anime streaming service, and the ability to inspire millions of people stuck indoors via TikTok.
Kung ran an underground kitchen prior to the global health crisis that sold thousands of tickets to private, intimate dinner parties at his Eastern Market studio over the years. Guest lists were drawn up orally. Since last July, the Detroit chef has come out of the “hiding place” and shares his artistic take on the “cuisine of the third culture” to a growing number of fans on TikTok.
“Before TikTok, I was very, very secret,” says Kung, who has more than 911,000 followers and more than ten million likes on the video sharing app for social networks.
Multi-generation audiences these days are spending more time on social media and streaming services due to lockdown conditions, which gives home cooks like Kung a new and bigger audience. But living in the midst of COVID-19 also means that the weekend evenings at the Kung Food Market Studio and the small Chinese dumpling restaurant that Kung was working on to open in the Eastern Market will be interrupted indefinitely.
“I went on foot on Saturdays [Eastern Market] Stalls, buy a few things, have brunch and people would show up, ”he says. “COVID put an end to all of this. I could still have had private meals without a permit, but that would not have been responsible. “
Instead, Kung’s TikTok followers are invited to his studio daily, where in 60 seconds or less he inspires them to explore their own kitchens and shares everything from essential Chinese spices for the pantry to lessons on poaching and Pasteurizing eggs. Kung’s creativity has now resulted in a video series with the anime streaming service Funimation, which launches on Friday, March 12th.
Kung’s intercultural recipes are variations on classic dishes. He whipped curry macaroni and cheese, reinterpreted roast chicken and waffles and gave the trendy feta noodles a spicy note for the cameras. Kung also launched a YouTube channel in August 2020 to share instructions and recipes for his TikTok creations.
“Many of my third culture cooking videos have been hugely popular with younger children, many from multiracial or multiethnic families,” says Kung, who is of Chinese descent and grew up in Toronto and Hong Kong. “I know what it is like not to settle completely in the place where you live. I expressed that through my food. “
Inspired by various art media, Kung also found a large following among anime and comic fans and imagined dishes from anime series, comics and cartoons. That means lion head meatballs, influenced by “Avatar: The Last Airbender”, the now defunct animated Nickelodeon series; or Allister’s Ghost Gym Curry, courtesy of Pokémon.
His animation-inspired dishes caught the attention of Funimation. Kung’s Naruto Ramen Chowdown, based on characters from the classic manga series Naruto, is now streamed on Funimation’s Instagram TV, TikTok and YouTube channels.
The self-described “Farmer Jack-era Detroit” moved downtown in 2007 after graduating from Eastern Michigan University. Like many young adults, he learned to cook as a necessity while attending the University of Detroit’s Mercy School of Law.
“There weren’t too many restaurants downtown,” says Kung of attending law school during the Great Recession. “Back then, living in Detroit gave me the opportunity to rediscover Chinese food.”
Detroit’s food scene “was small and very forgiving” and ripe for experimentation, he says. Kung found his booth in the kitchen and started a local food blog. That evolved organically, and inspired him to come up with some of Detroit’s first pop-ups, often hosted in abandoned homes.
Kung, who describes himself as the “Detroit Average,” never expected anything to come out of his TikTok videos. However, his entrepreneurship has helped attract a broad and inclusive audience.
“I’ve been on TikTok for a while, but only as a viewer, very early on when it was young,” says Kung. “As soon as the black life is important [protests] I happened to see many black social activists that I met and followed and made friends with. That was the starting point. I started doing content that was political. I may have my opinion, but I would much rather share what I can do, ”he adds.
“It’s nice to see people go crazy about it. It validates the work I’ve been doing in Detroit for years. “
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