When I call Eitan Bernath midday on a Wednesday, he talks to me between high school classes (this was in early March, before his classes moved online).
“I have a very adjusted schedule,” Eitan explains. “Every day I take multiple calls during the school day, so I have extra free periods. My school is very aware of everything that’s going on and very supportive.”
That schedule makes sense, considering Eitan is juggling a TikTok account with over 1 million followers, managing the TikTok and social media accounts for several brands, and running his own company, Eitan Productions. For the high school student, who started developing a following at age 11 after competing on the Food Network’s competition show, Chopped, the TikTok algorithm is exactly that, an algorithm, one he can master by understanding what it takes to go viral.
The Jewish teen TikTok star has only been on the app since fall 2019, but he’s been building a fanbase since he started food blogging at age 11, challenging himself to make a new recipe every week. Now 18, Eitan runs an entire production company out of his home in New Jersey, alternating between senior year at his Jewish day school and posting up to 10 videos per day. Leveraging an electric, almost hyperactive personality, Eitan’s sharp sense of what is popular online has brought him TikTok success, which is where I first discovered him.
“I was in class and I made a bet with one of my teachers I could make a video with over a million views on TikTok by the end of the school year, and if I did get it then the whole class would have to buy me dinner,” Eitan recounts. “Well, I’m a big brainstormer so I already had a document of TikTok ideas I thought could go viral, so I went right to the top of my list and I did a video called World’s Best School Cafeteria Check, where I showed that cafeteria at my school. Within four or five hours of making that bet with my teacher, that video had over 2 million views.”
It’s clear Eitan’s social media success is anything but accidental. Across TikTok and YouTube, his videos marry the fast-paced Tasty videos which were popular several years ago with the personality and charm of Bon Appetit Test Kitchen, and that’s no coincidence.
“Personality is the most important thing on TikTok,” Eitan explains. “Because of how many people there are creating online right now, you need to stand out. There are so many places you can go to watch food videos, but there’s only one place you can go to watch Eitan’s videos.”
Eitan’s social media moxie is honestly intimidating. It’s clear he understands exactly what his role and relationship to the consumer is and how to shift his tone for each platform. He explains to me, “Most people are never actually going to make a single recipe. Really what I’m there for is to entertain.”
In fact, Eitan tells me his greatest influence is not actually a chef or food blogger, but make-up artist and influencer Jeffree Star. Eitan finds make-up annoying, but “what [Star] has done as a businessman is something I really look up to. You can really tell that his personal brand and his company are so well meshed together. I want to be where he is but in the food industry.”
Eitan approaches his cooking from a business and brand perspective that actually seems key to continued success on social media. He makes more money off of running other popular brand accounts than he does his own, and he describes the brand he’s cultivated in the third person, like some Eitan character independent from but closely related to the person talking to me on the phone.
Eitan often posts TikToks filmed at his private Jewish high school in New Jersey and Instagrams taken in Israel. He started cooking to explore cuisines beyond the traditional Jewish meals his mom would make, but when I ask him about his Jewish food influences, he answers from a brand perspective.
“I keep Jewish foods private, as more of a family thing for me. Most of my audience isn’t Jewish and probably doesn’t even realize I’m Jewish unless they realize I’m wearing a kippah. I’m not hiding it in any way, it’s just not at the forefront of the brand.”
We wrap up our phone call so Eitan can get to class, then go home to continue filming, posting, and producing. Before hanging up I ask him, did your class end up buying you that dinner for going viral?
“They did not, unfortunately, but I let it slide.”
Header image design by Grace Yagel; images via @eitan on Instagram.