From vegan mooncakes to barbecue steamed bun tacos, Betsy Ding’s PO ’24 social media are full of mouth-watering recipes. Known as @yourasiandessertqueen on TikTok and @paintpencilpastries on Instagram and on her website, Ding has cooked up a formidable foodie following on TikTok, amassing more than 6 million views combined on her videos and over 30,000 followers.
Her videos range from recipes reflecting on her upbringing to comedic videos capitalizing on TikTok’s audio-based humor. Many of them have become incredibly popular, which Ding chalks up to following current TikTok sound trends, simplicity and luck of the algorithm. Her most popular video, a grilled cheese sandwich recipe, has more than 1.3 million views.
Ding’s love for making food stems from watching her grandparents cook for her while she was growing up, which Ding remembers fondly whenever she cooks.
“I have a very special place in my heart for my grandparents, because food was a big part of their livelihood,” she said. “They came from a really rural part in China, so food was a really big part of who they were. Both of them have passed away now, [and] whenever I think about food and northern Chinese cuisine, I think about them. And it makes me happy to have been able to spend that time with them when I was younger.”
Inspired by her upbringing as a first generation Chinese American, cooking videos she saw when she was younger, her vegetarianism and the many cultures she’s interacted with, Ding’s cooking often features an eclectic, creative mix of vegetarian ingredients. Her enjoyment of cooking made her want to enroll in culinary school, a dream she’s now intent on pursuing by taking a gap year starting in August. Watching others cook while she was growing up also inspired her to share her food creations with other people through social media content.
Although Ding has been posting content to her website and her Instagram cooking page since the summer before she started high school, she didn’t join TikTok until the spring of 2020. In order to submit a video to a high school cooking competition, Ding downloaded TikTok and realized that she enjoyed making food-related content on the platform.
@yourasiandessertqueenyall really wanted it, this is the third time lol ##Levitating ##CollegeGotMeLike ##chinese ##cooking♬ original sound – Yuntao Zheng
“I was like, ‘This could be me,’ because TikTok was a lot more casual than YouTube when it came to food,” she said. “These YouTubers, they have professional lighting, professional equipment … but I remember when food TikTok first started becoming a thing, people were just making casual videos on their phones. And I liked that.”
As she’s continued creating content for TikTok, Ding has refined her creative process, using third party apps for editing and her phone and camera for filming. She usually devotes hours to each one of her TikTok videos: writing scripts, filming, editing and doing voice-overs. While lengthy, the ardor of the creative process is what Ding enjoys the most about her TikTok videos.
““It’s a labor of love, honestly.” —Betsy Ding PO ’24
“It’s a labor of love, honestly … I’ll spend hours filming, editing and everything, and then when I finally get [the video] up, I’m just like, ‘Oh, it’s there.’ Like, ‘It’s done,’” she said. “It’s like a runner’s high … It feels satisfying to see that you created something, you did something.”
Because of Ding’s TikTok popularity, several brands, such as MatchaBar, Beyond Meat and Beekeeper’s Naturals, have reached out to her for partnerships, often asking her to promote them in her videos in exchange for monetary compensation.
Sometimes, they contact her for more creative endeavors. Omsom, an Asian flavor packet startup in New York City, recently sent her packets so that she could help them develop recipes. To do so, Ding researched the history and philosophy of several Asian cultures, which made her reflect on the authenticity of her cooking.
“At the end, I think authenticity is way too hard to define,” she said. “… I feel like authenticity makes things very exclusive and black and white, which is why I don’t like to deem anything [as] traditional or authentic, but I think it does come in varying degrees. So I’ll never say [what I’m making] is completely traditional, but I think personally, I like to give respect to [the] style of eating or culture cuisine.”
Although it has given her many opportunities, Ding’s popularity is a double-edged sword. She noted that many of her more popular videos have heightened criticism in the comments, especially about the way she prepares the recipe.
“[There’ll be] people debating, ‘Oh, you know, this isn’t technically this,’ or, ‘You know, the way I do it is better,’” she said. “And that’s one of the reasons why I stopped using TikTok as seriously as I did in the past.”
Over the past few months, Ding has become less active on TikTok because of changes to her living situation as well as her priorities. Since Ding isn’t at home anymore, she finds that not having her old kitchen to work in, as well as having to cook for herself every day, makes devoting extra time to create videos more difficult.
Ding has also started favoring other platforms instead of TikTok, such as her website, where she feels less pressure sharing more of her creations.
“I just feel more comfortable in a way that I don’t have to always have eyes watching on me,” she said. “[With TikTok and Instagram] I just feel like everything I post has to be perfect. And same with online judgments in general. I’d rather just not deal with them at the moment.”