It all started with a viral TikTok video of steak and mashed potatoes. Now this Black Trailblazer has millions of followers

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One recent afternoon, Emmanuel Duverneau set out to prepare a “chipotle” bowl for dinner in his bright and airy home in Walnut Creek. He chopped up the tomato and avocado, the popped corn, the seared chicken, the cooked rice, then carefully assembled it in a bowl before topping it with cheese and sauce. He also took a moment to dance to “End of Time,” a Beyoncé hit circa 2011.

There was nothing particularly fancy about the preparation or the meal – no special kitchen gadgets (well, except for one clarification under a vacuum cooker he used for chicken), no special knife technique. It was just Duverneau, 25, in his kitchen cooking and dancing.

All the while, however, his wife, Lisa Duverneau, was using her iPhone to capture little clips of each step, and while he ate, Emmanuel edited them all together in one. 53 second video and sent it to his 1.8 million followers – or “followers”, as he calls them – on TikTok.

Two days later, the video had racked up over 200,000 views and hundreds of comments.

“Your energy is UNMATCHED *clap emoji* *fire emoji*”

“Omg I just made this for dinner!”

“I’m trying to be a sous chef in this house.”

Five months ago, one of his videos might have been viewed a few thousand times. Now Immanuel is one of the TikTok black pioneers, a group of “trendy” black designers that the app spent February highlighting. Such is the life of a freshly created TikTok star in 2022.

From left to right: Lisa Duverneau and her husband Emmanuel Duverneau are preparing dinner at home. But it’s more than preparing to eat. Videos of Emmanuel cooking and dancing have made him a star on the social media platform TikTok.

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

While Facebook is still by far the largest social media platform in the world with more than 2.9 billion users, Chinese-owned TikTok has seen explosive growth during the pandemic. In the first quarter of 2020, as government shutdowns unfolded across the world, TikTok generated the most downloads of “any app ever seen in a quarter”. according to Sensor Tower. And last fall, the app surpassed one billion monthly users.

But more than the numbers, the app has become the place for content and culture creation. And thanks in part to its For You page and the proprietary algorithm that powers it, that content can quickly take off, turning a home cook into a micro celebrity almost literally overnight.

For Emmanuel, the attention of millions of people has been life changing. He’s now wondering if he should go all-in on TikTok and exit the renewable energy space, where he used to make his money. He already has a manager who helps him negotiate brand deals, and TikTok has assigned him a rep who helps him understand his audience and current trends — although, he says, he’s not great looking meme or song of the moment.

For the most part, he doesn’t dwell on the size of his audience. “I don’t think about it too much. Yeah, I know I have a huge following, but we don’t sit down and think, “Wow, like 1.8 million fans,” he says. If he does, it can get disorienting. “I’ll tell you this: I don’t like leaving the house because of this anymore, because I know more people know me than I know them.”

He and Lisa are recognized at Safeway, where they shop about five times a week, fairly regularly.

However, he loves to make videos and in the kitchen, he does not take himself too seriously. Lisa will tease him about adding too much lemon to everything he does. He will discover a new method of chopping vegetables that he saw someone doing at a kitchen supply store.

Emmanuel’s rise to social media notoriety began with a loss. At the start of the pandemic, her father, Dama Duverneau, caught COVID-19, was hospitalized and eventually died from the disease. At the time, Emmanuel and Lisa were living with his parents. “I felt like I needed something to manage, and I started cooking out of nowhere,” he says. “I would say to his mother, ‘OK, I’m going to cook dinner tonight.’ …and I would just go out and cook and they would enjoy it.

By the time he was done, he was planning his next meal.

Emmanuel Duverneau holds a photo of his late father Dama Duverneau.  During the coronavirus pandemic, Duverneau decided to dedicate herself to her love for cooking in order to honor her late father, who passed away from COVID-19.

Emmanuel Duverneau holds a photo of his late father Dama Duverneau. During the coronavirus pandemic, Duverneau decided to dedicate herself to her love for cooking in order to honor her late father, who passed away from COVID-19.

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

He and Lisa had played with TikTok earlier in the pandemic, filming dance videos in the backyard. (A TikTok, during which she show her engagement ringhas over 350,000 views.) But it wasn’t until last October, after friends and family asked him about recipes, that he started regularly sharing cooking videos.

One night he edit a video of him making steak, mashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts, posted it around 10 p.m. and went to bed. The next morning, 200,000 people had watched it. The next day a million, and two million the next day. “I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ Because I didn’t know people were so interested. And the comments were, like, all positive too. His next videos got the same kind of views and before long TikTok reached out and connected him with a management agency.

“His success has been truly extraordinary,” says Megan Frantz, talent manager at Whalar, who helps him negotiate brand deals. “TikTok has just seen insane consumption numbers in recent years due to the pandemic.

“And the most interesting thing about TikTok, which I think has benefited Emmanuel, is this idea of ​​getting a glimpse of what ordinary people look like. It’s not like Instagram, where you watch these beautiful models and celebrities glamorize their lives. You feel like Emmanuel is your friend and you’re in his kitchen and he’s cooking you a meal.

If you go back far enough, you can see it playing with structure and form, eventually settling on the unique hybrid of cooking, ASMR (soothing sounds) and dancing.

There is a definite beat in one of his TikTok videos. It usually starts with opening a refrigerator, tossing the ingredients onto a counter. Then it’s chopping, searing and whisking, all in silence, to bring out the sounds of cooking. A few times he’ll interrupt the kitchen to do a quick dance (he’s a good dancer) and finally he’ll take a bite of what he’s made, look at the camera and say, “Excellent.”

Her followers, fans, supporters – whatever you want to call them – love it and be sure to let her know in the comments.

But Emmanuel is also acutely aware that social media (both the fans and the algorithms) can be finicky. He’s been trying to make smart investments with the money he brings in and he’s trying to figure out how to take advantage of what he has now.

“I don’t just want to be on TikTok. I don’t just want to be considered a TikTok chef,” he says. “I think there’s more to me than, you know, just the guy in the kitchen. “

Ryan Kost is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: rkost@sfchronicle.com. Twitter: @RyanKost

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