TikTok Cook

Alice Sun ’15

A headshot photo of Alice Sun '15

Like many people, Alice Sun ’15 got on TikTok as a pandemic thing. After moving back into her parents’ home in March 2020, she found herself making meals for her family. “I’m cooking so much—I might as well share it,” Alice recalls thinking. She started posting on TikTok, filming her food with her phone and packing recipes into minute-long videos.

In April 2020, Alice shared a video of her mapo tofu. She swiftly sliced silken bean curd, minced ground beef, and stirred it into a roiling red sauce; her gentle narration was backed by soothing piano music. She was amazed as she watched her numbers climb to 10,000 views—her first video to hit that milestone. In June, a video featuring her dairy-free take on Japanese milk toast became her first to hit 100,000. “That’s when I was like, ‘Holy crap! This is amazing,’” she says.

Motivated by the traction, Alice invested in the project. She upgraded her filming setup, experimented with cinematic angles and lighting, and got creative with the stories she told to accompany her cooking. While demonstrating steak donburi, for example, she reflected on how her family influenced her approach to relationships.

Now, the big numbers happen more frequently: In just two years, @alicecsun has earned over 150,000 followers on TikTok and over 64,000 on Instagram. Her food ranges from nostalgic Chinese dishes to Trinidadian curry chicken to runny eggs with fried bread. Yet the 20 hours a week she spends developing recipes and making videos remains a side hustle; Alice is an M.B.A. student at Columbia Business School.

This wasn’t the path she expected as a biology and art history major at Wellesley. Until her junior year, Alice assumed she’d go to medical school. She loved testing hypotheses and seeing how things worked, but the uneven distribution of care and the inefficiencies of the medical system frustrated her. With an interest in entrepreneurship piqued by her role as the business manager of the Wellesley Widows, she took a startup boot camp, then landed jobs in marketing.

In retrospect, she can see early inklings of her interest in food and cooking. As a kid, Alice was fascinated by American food and how it differed from the Chinese food her family ate exclusively at home. While on the cross-country team at Wellesley, she’d return to her dorm late after long practices (when many dining halls had closed), do her homework, and then hungrily scroll through food blogs. There were tiny dorm kitchens, but getting groceries was a hassle. Instead, she’d read and wonder, “What would I want to eat? What would I want to cook?”

TikTok has been much more than a way for Alice and her viewers to pass pandemic time. “There’s a professional thing I wanted to get out of this experience, to really show, ‘Hey, I know what I’m doing. If I can grow my account, then I can possibly do this for other companies, too,’” she says.

It’s clear that the mindset that drew Alice to science lingers, even if the experiments she’s doing have changed. Each video is a chance to try something new. “I really want every piece [of content] to test something, so I am learning something from it,” she says.

As a TikTok food personality, Alice leaves her viewers hungry and wanting more. But what are the next steps after gaining a big following on social media? She is facing the question of whether or not to create content full time. “Creators are lots of different things at the same time. They have to be CEOs of their business, they have to be creators, they have to be leaders for their community,” she says.

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