I spend hours watching people try popular foods on TikTok. Some go into ecstasies as if they have just tasted heaven, while others hold back their little vomit. Their reactions fascinate me and I’m far from alone: taste tests are a hit on social media. If we revel in this type of content, it is because we are thirsty for truth and authenticity.
In fact, taste tests have the advantage of leaving room for spontaneity. We don’t always know how our taste buds will react, so it’s difficult to control the spectacle we give to see. Our bodies are often quick to betray us: we salivate, we cry, we cough, and we spit. So no choice but to surrender fully to the experience! The sincerity that emerges from these videos contrasts with the aspirational identity that Instagram has accustomed us to convey. In the world of digital tasting, no one has to be perfect.
Quebecer Antoine B. Côtes has made taste testing the cornerstone of his digital presence. It was in the midst of the pandemic that the 35-year-old creator turned to TikTok and its less polished aesthetic: “I was getting bombarded with perfect photos on Instagram. […] I felt a pressure. Even digital food culture was becoming toxic.
Antoine therefore began to taste unpretentious foods such as creton toast or cheap candies from Dollarama, while sharing his impressions on the screen. Today, the tiktokeur has more than 285,000 subscribers.
The taste test is so prevalent that it’s even the focus of one of America’s most popular talk shows, Hot Ones, a show that’s been on YouTube since 2015 and is hosted by Sean Evans. In each of the interviews, the guest star is asked to eat ten increasingly spicy chicken wings. The hot sauce is sometimes so intense that it throws celebrities into vulnerable states and compels them to reveal themselves. According to Evans, by pushing them to their limits, these puzzling tastings humanize the stars. “The ones you always see walking down the red carpet…find themselves sweating their lives, spitting in buckets,” he says.
Large companies are not unaware of the cultural influence of taste tests. They take advantage of this by introducing unusual products to the market. Most recently, it’s been mustard Skittles, Pepsi-infused ketchup, and McDonald’s Grimace Shake. Limited-edition foods energize instantaneous gastronomy, a kind of fast-fashion food. This culture punctuated by trends and taste challenges seems to compromise the idea of a culinary tradition. But taste tests don’t necessarily have to celebrate novelty. This is what Antoine B. Côtes exemplifies, who takes the side of making us appreciate the simple food of everyday life.
Simple, enjoyable and humorous, Antoine’s taste tests often circle around mundane and comforting foods that contain a nostalgic dimension. On the phone, he tells me about the fondue he ate on Sundays with his mother and grandmother.
The surprise comes in the details: the outdated packaging of Cherry Blossom chocolates, for example, or the whimsical name of “sour-tongue-annoying” treats.
At a time when the price of the grocery basket is soaring, Antoine’s culinary rituals are also intended to be affordable. “Bowls with 8,000 ingredients that cost 75 bucks to make, it’s not true that everyone can afford that,” he says. Thus, the tiktokeur does not hesitate to taste buttered marmalade or plates of leftovers.
Often, people confide in him: Antoine would have given them a taste for eating simple things or just eating. If he helps them in spite of himself to develop a healthy relationship with food, it is perhaps because his videos are at the antipodes of a desire for performance or perfection. The idea is to have fun, and it works. His enjoyment is contagious, and his videos almost as heartwarming as the food he tries out in front of our eyes! Personally, I dream of the day when Antoine will host his own taste talk show. Because it’s not just the new that is tasted, the familiar too!