By combining stunning photography with delicious dishes, a crop of self-taught cooks have become Instagram stars in Asia
(CNN)Hand over the cleavers, celebrity chefs.
A new crop of 21st-century food personalities is springing up on Instagram in Asia, building social media followings that threaten to squash the egos of the region’s celebrated professional chefs.
Unlike big name TV chefs, the chefs of Instagram learn to cook from YouTube tutorials and cookbooks, take vibrant food photos and lure followers with their beautifully plated culinary creations.
Not convinced that culinary greatness isn’t always conferred in professional kitchens but sometimes learned online?
These self-taught chefs might change your mind.
@lennardy aka Lennard Yeong
The fact that he’s good looking doesn’t hurt, but it was a series of technically precise home-cooked meals that helped this 28-year-old mechanical engineer lure 35,000 Instagram followers.
Singaporean Lennard Yeong started showcasing his culinary creations on Instagram more than two years ago.
He names British celeb chef Heston Blumenthal as an inspiration.
“Blumenthal’s scientific approach to food appeals to the engineer in me,” says Yeong.
The chef, who counts cookbooks, YouTube and Instagram as resources, has created many visually stunning dishes.
Among them, he’s particularly pleased with a beef dish inspired by the TV show “Hannibal” — seared beef tenderloin served in red wine reduction paired with beetroot puree, mushroom duxelles and pickled shallots.
Yeong once interned at the now-closed restaurant Guy Savoy Singapore.
At the time, he was holding onto his day job at a shipping company and had only weekends to spare.
In May, he left his full-time job to become a contestant on MasterChef Asia.
“Food will always be a big part of my life,” he says.
@royalebrat aka Nick Vipittichak Pitthayanont
Nick Vipittichak Pitthayanont‘s profile states that he’s an “aspiring food plating artist.”
Judging by the artful culinary creations showcased on Instagram, however, he’s anything but amateur.
Based in Bangkok, the mustachioed 36-year-old recently handled food styling and plating for a shoot featuring chef Henrik Yde Andersen of Michelin-starred Copenhagen restaurant Kiin Kiin at a Bangkok event.
But the Australia-educated Thai is also adept at cooking.
“I cook almost everyday because I am a pescatarian,” says Pitthayanont, who has worked as a restaurant manager.
“I have the habit of cooking for myself so I can avoid eating meat or unhealthy food outside.”
Pitthayanont showcases only seafood, vegetables and dairy products on Instagram — not that this impinges on the allure of his feed.
If Thai home cooking brings to mind tom yum goong and pad Thai, you’re in for a surprise.
Though Pitthayanont learned to cook from his mother while he was studying overseas, his home-cooked fare has morphed into creations straight out of the haute temples of gastronomy.
Pitthayanont’s favorite post features “gaeng pruer,” a northeastern Thai broth made from bamboo grass leaf juice, lemongrass, red onion, galangal, sous vide mushrooms, young bamboo shoots, hoary basil, acacia leaf and toasted glutinous rice.
@ladyandpups aka Mandy Lee
Unemployed and “trapped” in Beijing, the Taiwan-born and Vancouver-raised Lee, who pretty much learned to cook from TV, started blogging recipes and sharing photos of her creations on Instagram.
“I like this new trend of Asian and Western mash-ups popularized by David Chang and Roy Choi, even though I’ve actually never eaten anything from their establishments,” says Lee.
“I used to exclusively cook for my husband (my hand model) and myself. But now I mainly cook for Instagram.”
Just weeks ago, Lee mourned the loss of her dog, Dumpling, by throwing a dumpling party and sharing her recipe — and love for Dumpling — on her blog, complete with perfect Instagram shots.
“These cute ravioli-like pot stickers have juicy radish and pork filings, plus an extra disk of crispy and salty personality,” says Lee’s post.
“It’s special, my Dumpling.”
@zeboy aka Aaron Tan
A data processor in the information technology industry, Aaron Tan has never worked in a professional kitchen.
Nor has he cooked with chefs.
This makes his Instagram feed incredible.
Just a month ago, the 32-year-old Melbourne foodie created a home-cooked pork belly slow-cooked in tonkotsu broth.
The meat was then seared and wrapped in wombok and served with potato puree, leek oil, baby corn and seriously crispy pork crackling.
“I’m a stay-at-home cook,” says Tan.
“Cooking is a creative outlet for me and it provides an escape from the realities of work.”
According to the home chef, who cooks mainly for his wife, the complicated dishes he posts on Instagram are usually whipped up on weekends.
Apart from cooking and plating, Tan snaps beautiful food photos.
His photo skills came in handy recently when the 32-year-old won food photography competition #50BestPass, organized by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
That landed himself a free six-day trip to Mexico.
During the trip, Tan visited four of the 50 top Latin American Best Restaurants.
“Escamoles (ant larvae) are now my favorite dish, followed by chapulines (grasshoppers),” wrote Tan in an Instagram post while dining at La Gruta in Mexico.
@xlbcr aka Tan Chun Rong
He’s only 24 years old but losing his mother to cancer when he was just 17 taught him to pursue what he truly loves.
An undergraduate who only started posting pictures actively on Instagram last July, Tan Chun Rong quit school early this year to pursue a love for food and photography.
The Singapore-based freelance photographer and food stylist not only paid S$ 10,000 ($ 7,150) to turn his room into a studio, he started a company with friends to share coffee stories online.
Eventually, Rong hopes to merchandise coffee accessories, hold workshops and offer private dining experiences.
“I neither had formal training in culinary science nor the luxury of sophisticated equipment, so I turned to watching countless YouTube videos and cooking shows in order to gain knowledge and continue to improve my skills,” says Rong, who used to work as a barista at a local cafe.
Rong’s favorite creation to appear on his Instagram feed is a butter-poached shrimp eggs Benedict with salted egg yolk Hollandaise, a riff on the classic eggs bene recipe.
“I love making food porn like this,” says Rong of the dish.
“That moment when the knife cut through the poached egg coated with salted egg yolk Hollandaise, yolk started to flow like a fountain of gold.”
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