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What’s the secret to a viral food video?

It was born in lockdown but that hasn’t stopped the TikTok account Caught Snackin’ from growing into one of the UK’s biggest food channels. Ahead of their debut cookbook, creator Lydia Vernon chats to Prudence Wade about the tricks of the trade (it’s all in the cheese pull apparently)

Wednesday 01 March 2023 06:30 GMT
The Caught Snackin’ team: (back L-R) Chloe Fernandes-Mendes, Harleigh Reid, Kat Scott Payne, (front L-R) Lydia Vernon, Jason Tamou, Freya Matchett
The Caught Snackin’ team: (back L-R) Chloe Fernandes-Mendes, Harleigh Reid, Kat Scott Payne, (front L-R) Lydia Vernon, Jason Tamou, Freya Matchett (Tino Musiiwa/PA)

Lydia Vernon – one of the creators behind the wildly popular TikTok account Caught Snackin’ – knows better than anyone the pain of capturing the perfect cheese pull on camera.

For those not familiar with the term, a “cheese pull” is when the ooey-gooiness of cheese is perfectly stretched out and filmed for a food video on social media. It is something commonly seen in dishes such as toasties and pizza.

In fact, it’s so coveted, the hashtag #cheesepull has 980 million views on TikTok. “I’ve burnt myself on numerous occasions trying to nail the perfect cheese pull,” laughs Vernon. “Well, I have nailed it – just not without burning myself!”

Her trick for maximum viral deliciousness? “Get a bit of cheese string – that is epic. Or Gouda, I love Gouda – it gives you the best cheese pull ever.”

Vernon, 33, is a video-retoucher-turned-chef, and you can see her recipes (and cheese pulls) on Caught Snackin’s social media pages.

Originally started by three colleagues at a creative agency in April 2020, Caught Snackin’ now has 2.3 million followers and 42.4 million likes on TikTok. It is said to be the UK’s fastest-growing food channel.

“We were all stuck inside during lockdown, and we thought, let’s play around,” Vernon remembers. “I decided to make a Pot Noodle video, as I wanted to do something that was a British staple.

“The recipe was based on my love for ramen noodles, which in Korea are made with cheese and ham, among other things.

“I edited the video to Dizzee Rascal – and that was the first viral video we ever made.”

Caught Snackin’ immediately found its voice. “British artists, British staples, that’s how we got the brand,” Vernon says. “Caught Snackin’ is very much the identity of being British and fun.”

The fact that everyone was stuck indoors at the time inspired plenty of videos.

“You couldn’t get Greggs, Wagamama or Nando’s and the like. So, we decided to imitate those kinds of recipes,” she says.

Vernon credits a lot of Caught Snackin’s success to its authenticity. Its videos – and now also a new self-titled cookbook – are peppered with slang, and have an upbeat, informal tone. Equally important is having “a lot of fun doing it”, Vernon adds.

Snappiness plays a big part in going viral, too. As Vernon observes: “Most people get bored after about seven seconds.”

That’s not to say there’s a set formula for creating something that ends up being a hit. “Sometimes, I’ll really like a video, and it doesn’t do well. While others, which I think are standard, will do amazingly.

“The other day, we did a tiger bread pizza loaf. It’s a simple recipe, but it popped off. I was shocked because we’ve seen so many pizza and garlic bread videos all over the internet. I think it’s because people want something that’s delicious and easy to make.”

One thing that does tend to perform well for Caught Snackin’ is a good old hack video. There are plenty of these in the book, such as making sushi in an ice cube tray, or having your katsu sauce with fish fingers from the freezer.

Vernon’s favourite hack is all about going back to basics. “When we were testing recipes, we did one where we microwaved eggs,” she remembers. “It’s like eggs royale, and I was pleasantly surprised with how well it turned out. You put everything in a ramekin, and pop it in the microwave, then you make a hollandaise sauce to go with it.”

If you wanted to up your game with your own foodie videos on social media, you don’t have to spend loads of money on fancy kit. Caught Snackin’ films all its videos on an iPhone, and while Vernon recommends getting a light, her favourite approach is filming in natural light.

“When it comes to food, it’s about making the most delicious things possible. If in the first seven seconds of a video, someone sees something that looks delicious, they’re more likely to keep watching,” she says.

In recent years, popular food accounts on social media have started to move away from overly styled, perfect shots. “I think people got bored of it, because their food doesn’t look like that,” Vernon says.

In Caught Snackin’s book, the recipes are all about making things as accessible as possible – particularly for people who don’t know how to cook.

“Our recipes include all the basic steps, because we want people to learn the foundations, before becoming creative in the kitchen.”

‘Caught Snackin’: 100 Recipes. Simple. Fast. Flavoursome.’ (published by Hamlyn, £20; photography by Louise Hagger), available now.

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