DUBAI: It is no secret that social media has offered many the opportunity to follow their passion. Nowhere is that more evident than in the mouth-watering world of online cooking, where TikTok, YouTube and Instagram foodies often shrug off their day jobs to cook up a storm online.
Here, we talk to three Arab social media stars on their cooking careers and why they made the jump.
Armed with a degree in medicine, Saudi Jomanah Nasser said “nutrition and cooking became my escape from the rigors of medical school. I found myself eager to create content and made time for it despite my hectic schedule. It was more than a hobby, it filled me with joy.”
Nasser carved out a niche for herself online by exploring the world of nutritious eating. She was equipped with a “solid foundation and knowledge” from her years at King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah so shifting to nutrition was “a natural step,” she told Arab News from her home in Durham, North Carolina, where she lives with her husband and two sons.
Nutrition, Nasser continued, “requires an in depth understanding of how the food we eat affects our body in the long run. I truly believe that the food we consume plays a vital role in our physical and mental well-being. Many chronic illnesses can also be prevented by our lifestyle choices.”
With 200,000 followers on Instagram and her own book titled “Meals Diary”, which is available in Arabic, it is clear that “social media played a huge role in helping me achieve my goal. It connected me with thousands of like- minded individuals that share my passions and interests,” she added.
When she began her online journey, Nasser admitted she felt intimated by the countless numbers of people preparing food online. But “with time, you learn to block out the noise. I stopped comparing myself to others. I started focusing on myself. Self-reflecting helped me realize that each person has their unique perspective in the content they create. Eventually, I found my niche!”
Another one of those unique voices is Yasmin Nasir, who studied at Le Cordon Bleu London after a 130year career in communications and advertising.
“We only live once and in this life we should work to realize our dreams,” Jordanian Canadian Nasir told Arab News. “I was extremely successful in the corporate world, however culinary arts are my passion and I believe that passion is the ultimate motive for change, even if it’s risky.
Nasir, who spent part of her childhood in Toronto, Canada, before moving to the Middle East in her teenage years, said her interest in cooking started young.
“When I was a kid, I would always stay in the kitchen whenever my mom was cooking and I would offer a helping hand whenever I got the chance to,” she said.
“I considered the Kitchen as a playground, opposing to all the other children. It was my ‘la la land.’ I discovered that I had the talent to replicate a dish if I tasted it, and so it all began,” she added.
Despite applying at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nasir jumped the hurdles she has faced and is building a stellar following online, with over 700,000 Instagram followers who flock to her account for her main meals, jams, desserts and snacks — as well as her signature catchphrase “yallah!”
“The positive feedback and requests I get from my followers motivate me to give more knowledge that will satisfy their curiosity,” said the chef, who has also appeared on Jordan’s Roya TV and previously hosted her own live cooking show “Yallah Notbokh” (“Yallah, Let’s Cook” in English).
While positive feedback online is a boon, there is no denying the world of social media is competitive and often cutthroat.
It is “a tough and hectic journey,” Syrian food blogger Rula Elias Fonon admitted, despite her success online.
The Aleppo native who moved to Iraq in 2018 offers part of the rich cuisine of Syria’s largest city, one that is famous for its delicious desserts, pistachios and unique dishes.
“I have been through some difficult times, and some people attempted to undervalue me and under-estimate what I am doing. But it was the love of my followers that assisted me in overcoming these situations. That feeling reached my followers,” she told Arab News, before explaining that her mother inspired her to embark upon the journey of online cooking.
“I was helping my mother in the kitchen, and I started loving cooking. When I got married at the age of 18, I started preparing the food by myself. Slowly and gradually, I mastered it … my mother loved the food I prepared, and this was very encouraging to me,” she said.
Fonon emphasised the importance of seeking support when it is needed. Initially, she handled all aspects of her online presence herself — but she soon realised that while she was a whizz in the kitchen, managing a growing online platform would require an expert touch.
The creative talent signed an agreement with digital marketing company Desitech3 two years ago and has not looked back since.
The company helped me “present my content in a fun and attractive way. They gave me the opportunity to present everything nice about me,” she said.
Today, she has 123,000 followers on Facebook, 35,000 followers on TikTok and 144,000 followers on Instagram — and much like her social media counterparts, she is not done cooking just yet.