How Gordon Ramsay's videos insulting people's recipes turned him into one of UK's biggest TikTok stars
- Gordon Ramsay is one of the most popular British TikTokers, with almost 30 million followers.
- His videos usually feature him shouting expletives as he "dunks" on people's recipes.
- Experts and fans explain the unexpected appeal of a 54-year-old chef among TikTok viewers.
- For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.
Gordon Ramsay — the 54-year-old chef who is often seen shouting, swearing, and cooking on his hugely successful TV cooking show "Hell's Kitchen" — has become the second most-followed British creator on TikTok, an app best known for catapulting dancing teenagers to fame.
Ramsay has an astonishing 29.4 million TikTok followers. That's more than the population of Australia and nearly three times as many as his 19-year-old daughter Tilly Ramsay, whose 9.7 million followers landed her a coveted spot on 2021's series of "Strictly Come Dancing."
TikTok is primarily associated with younger users, with 17-year-old Charli D'Amelio as the platform's biggest star, closely followed by 21-year-old Khaby Lame.
Ramsay might not fit the classic TikTok mold, but his popularity on the app reveals some important insights into the ever-evolving nature of influencers, especially on a relatively new platform. Insider spoke to fans and experts about how Ramsay managed to become a hugely influential TikToker without changing his core brand.
Ramsay's TV persona is perfectly curated for TikTok
Ramsay's TikTok profile is an extension of the well-known TV persona he's spent decades cultivating. It sometimes features his recipes, but it's mostly videos of him mocking dishes that fans have asked him to "rate."
In his typical scathing style, Ramsay critiques videos of people preparing food as if they're misguided contestants on one of his shows, getting a stern (and sometimes expletive-filled) talking-to. "Man, what are you doing to that hotdog?!", he screams, as molten cheese gets poured on top of a frankfurter sausage. "You're going to get whacked for this!" he shouts at a chicken nugget-based "Italian tragedy".
To Ramsay's fans, these videos are a 30-second dose of a character they've come to love. Farren Almeida, a 25-year-old tattoo artist from the UK made headlines in 2019 after he ran a competition where the winner would receive a free tattoo of Ramsay's face on their body. Almeida told Insider, "his main connection with fans like me is his comedy side and the 'character' he is when he has outbursts at people — he's hilarious with it."
In these videos, it feels like viewers are getting a more informal, unedited version of Ramsay — he's often standing in his kitchen without TV lighting and dramatic sound effects. But we shouldn't be fooled into thinking Ramsay's "off-the-cuff" TikTok persona hasn't been carefully curated, said internet expert Hussein Kesvani, host of "Ten Thousand Posts" and "Human Error" podcasts, which explore posting and technology respectively.
"His team have figured out how to use his sweary TV persona in very limited, marketing savvy ways," he told Insider. "His character is given very clear limits: shit food," he said, referring to Ramsay's main genre of TikTok video, which involves criticising other people's recipes.
Ramsay sidestepping controversy and maintaining this level of control on social media could be adding to his popularity. He trades on a brand of purposefully rude humour that doesn't rely on offense or outrage, striking a delicate balance that other public figures of a similar demographic have failed at, such as Piers Morgan, who Kesvani cited as a "good example of someone who didn't define his character online, so now he just comes off as needlessly aggro."
Ramsay's content merges food and 'dunking' — two well-known ingredients for social media success
From dance routines to funny impersonations, the biggest TikTok influencers have one thing they're primarily known for doing over and over again. Ramsay's "trick" — berating other people's food — sits in a sweet spot, where social media's obsession with posting what we're eating (and judging what other people eat) meets TikTok's more unpolished, irreverent vibe.
Kesvani said that food is one of the easiest ways to generate engagement on social media. "We all eat and we all have 'food standards', but the internet created a whole genre of food content designed primarily to make you mad," he explained. "In the same way as sharing a meal is the classic communal-building ritual, sharing a picture of a meal is a classical way of communal engagement online."
Ramsay's food videos feel connected to a wider "dunking culture" that's gained traction across social media. Over the last five years in particular, celebrities such as Chrissy Teigen and James Blunt have made replying to politicians, celebrities, or commentators with an "epic takedown" a central part of their online persona, generating thousands of likes and a "personal brand" in the process.
But Ramsay's "dunking" remains lighthearted compared to political debates or discourse that populates Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. Ramsay's interactions with his TikTok followers have very clear boundaries and both sides appear to be very much "in on the joke." It seems extremely unlikely someone would be genuinely offended by him mocking their food, because they go into it knowing what to expect.
Ramsay's appeal could signal TikTok's success in expanding its userbase
TikTok is known for its younger users, but the longevity of Ramsay's career and celebrity status is driving his popularity on the platform. Journalist Chris Stokel-Walker, author of "TikTok Boom: China's Dynamite App and the Superpower Race for Social Media," told Insider that according to TikTok data, which the platform makes available to him, 61% of Ramsay's followers are over the age of 25.
Ramsay's success may be related to TikTok's conscious effort to appeal to a wider range of users. "When I've spoken with TikTok, they've been very keen to point out that they have older users now and that two-thirds of profiles are for people over the age of 25."
In a statement to Insider, TikTok also highlighted the app's popularity across different age groups, and its advertising strategy appears to reflect this approach. In the UK, its TV ads are narrated by long-time celebrities who are familiar to older demograpics, like 64-year-old actor Stephen Fry and TV duo "Ant & Dec" (Antony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly), who exploded in popularity in the late-1990s and early-2000s.
The app appears to encourage new users to follow Ramsay too (for some users, including this writer, his profile is the first "suggested account" to follow after downloading TikTok in the UK). In a statement to Insider, Michael Djan, TikTok's head of public figure partnerships in the UK, said that when users first join the platform, it recommends "popular accounts and creators to get you started," and that the algorithm rewards content that is "timely, engaging, and appeals to our community that tunes in to be entertained."
"For people who are new to TikTok and are maybe slightly uncertain as to what it is, Ramsay is a recognisable face from traditional TV and they know exactly what they're getting from him," Stokel-Walker said.
"If a celebrity like him is one of the first accounts you follow after downloading the app, you're not going to be immediately confronted with content that's bad or that you don't understand."
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