To make a “Potato Salad Cake,” you need a variety of ingredients: chopped potatoes, apples, and mayo, topped off with a layer of pickles and a crust made from hot dogs. This stomach-churning combination of food is a real recipe, according to the web, but take comfort in knowing that the disgust you feel is shared by the star of a hilarious, virally popular YouTube series, Kalen Reacts.
Kalen Allen is a Temple University senior who originally hails from Kansas City, Kansas and describes himself as “an actor, singer, and dancer, and according to the internet, now a food critic.” Reaction videos — and reaction videos around eating food — are a staple of YouTube, but Allen’s commentary on terrible cooking videos stands out thanks to a charisma and humor that outflanks the average Youtuber. “How in the world do you gentrify cornbread?” he quips as a pair of disembodied hands dumps cotija cheese and chili powder into a bowl. Even comedian and TV show host Ellen DeGeneres took notice of the young YouTuber and featured him in a segment on her show.
Allen’s backseat cooking commentary deserves a chef’s kiss for delivery alone, but credit is also due to the terrible recipes themselves. The polished, cheerily-tuned cooking videos he critiques are so unappetizing I wouldn’t wish them on my worst enemy.
Most of the videos he looks at are culled from blogger sites and are suggested by his fans. As one video of a bizarre, jello-style fruitcake posted by a site called “It’s a Mother Thing” flashes its branding at the end, Allen incredulously yells “It’s a mother thing? Oh, baby, I’m calling child protective services.” He avoids slick editing because he wants his videos to feel relatable to his audience, rather than performative. “The way I react is what everyone is saying in real time as they watch the videos too,” he tells The Verge. “That is why I do it side-by-side. It creates a shared experience and reaction.”
His off-the-cuff analyses are a subversion of the pristine, television-style cooking show, where the audience watches silently as hosts dump whatever odd ingredients they want into a recipe. Allen is a voice for those with less adventurous culinary tastes — or at least those that object to congealed Spaghetti-Os with canned Vienna sausages, or eating a chicken with its head still attached that’s been cooked in a pumpkin. A cooking video may come dressed up with good lighting and a catchy little tune, but that doesn’t make the potato salad cake the sort of thing you’d want to eat.