Eitan Bernath didn't go viral on TikTok by accident.
Last November, he bet one of his teachers that he could get a TikTok video to hit one million views by the end of the year. Though he only had around 100 Tiktok followers at the time, the 17-year-old with a serious passion for cooking had already been growing his following on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube with well-produced cooking videos for years. (The previous month, he had spoken onstage at Facebook's Instagram Next conference in New York, during a panel hosted by the New York Times tech reporter Taylor Lorenz.)
So, the high school senior took a look at a running Google Doc he used to keep track of ideas that he "thought would go viral based on knowing the demographic of the app," he told Insider in an interview, and picked one best suited for TikTok.
By the end of that day, the video — which showed his New Jersey private school cafeteria for a "world's best school cafeteria check" — hit over a million views.
Now, the social media wunderkind has nearly 900,000 followers and 19.8 million likes on TikTok. "TikTok is the best thing that's happened to all of my social media," Bernath said.
As quarantine has pushed people towards cooking as a hobby and necessity, Bernath has followed suit with his content, showing his followers how to make their favorite foods themselves while they're quarantined at home, from fish tacos to fried chicken. A quick scroll through Bernath's TikTok page makes the mouth water.
Bernath has even started a quarantine-themed IGTV show called "Quarantined Cooking."
But beyond the recipes, it's Bernath's bubbly personality, fast speaking voice, and clear knack for performing — one of his signature moves is to throw store-bought food behind him before remaking the recipe at home — that make him stand out among the thousands of food accounts online. "My interest really is in performing and teaching about food," he said. "The camera is where I'm most comfortable. I really love connecting with people."
His entertainment style is also a business move. Bernath said he crafts his videos to quickly grab his followers' attention, so they're less likely to quickly scroll by. "I think of it much less as a post, and more of an experience I'm creating for the person who's watching it," he explained.
Growing up, Bernath was a picky eater. But when he saw recipes online that differed from his mom's traditional Jewish cooking, he decided to take a shot at cooking something. Soon, when he was 11 years old, his passion for cooking would be solidified by a very exciting TV appearance on the Food Network's "Chopped" competition series. The show was doing a test run for what would eventually become "Chopped: Junior."
"It kind of started to turn my passion for food into a career," Bernath said. At age 12, after the episode aired and he starting having news appearances, he started his blog and Instagram.
In 2017, he had a second appearance on Food Network — this time, on Guy Fieri's series, Guy's Grocery Games. "He had personally asked me, one time when I met him, to be on the show," Bernath said, adding that Fieri has always been one of his idols. "I consider myself more of an entertainer than a chef," he said.
Bernath is proud of the production value of his videos, which he films with professional camera equipment and lighting (though his TikTok videos are filmed with his iPhone). He's even employed editors to help edit his own content, as well as videos by his production company, Eitan Productions. "I do have a team of editors working for me just because we're putting out, like, 10 to 20 videos a day."
Between his production company and his own personal brand, there are more than 10 social media accounts he's responsible for updating with multiple daily posts. "That's why I don't sleep," he said, laughing. Some days, he gets up as early as 5 a.m. to start working on his videos. "Those are 12-hour days for all of us in the family," he said. "So it's really a team effort."
Bernath said that while his parents are extremely "supportive" of his work, they have a "hands-off" approach, only getting involved when he really needs extra help or has to sign a financial agreement or contract. (Though that will change soon, when Bernath turns 18 later this month.)
Most of Bernath's videos are filmed in his house. He even built a full-on kitchen set in his garage. "If I do something, I'm going to do it 110 percent," he said. But with his high school graduation coming up in June, he's looking forward to getting his own place in New York City to use for his videos.
But Bernath's biggest career influence is someone who is actually not known for cooking at all. Jeffree Star, the makeup artist and YouTuber, has a career that Bernath hopes to embody. "I really look up to him because he has really taken a social media career and turned it into a business that's literally worth hundreds of millions of dollars," he said.
Though his social media business is booming, Bernath said he's hoping to collaborate with Food Network again one day — maybe even with his own series next time. "I don't know what they're waiting for," he said.
This article was first published by Insider. To view, click here.