Detroit chef Jonathan Kung has seen his star rise during the past year even though he’s barely left his home or his Eastern Market studio.
Most recently Kung — whose cooking video clips have amassed nearly 1 million TikTok followers in just a few months — has teamed up with anime distribution company Funimation for “Naruto’s Ramen Chowdown.” Together they’ve released a collection of how-to videos on Funimation’s Instragram account, where there are another nearly 2 million followers. There, Kung revs up ramen dishes to match the personality and powers of young ninja Naruto, the star of a Japanese manga series.
“These characters themselves are so iconic and there’s so much backstory and material and lore to go off of, that it was really just about picking and choosing the most iconic parts of them and just distilling them down into recognizable things in a dish,” said Kung, who says he grew up watching anime shows.
“Anything from, like, color scheme and attitude, personality and then little parts of what they’re known for, their powers and putting that into flavors, colors and the ingredients so it shows through the food.”
The ramen series with Funimation started last month, and the final video of this series posts Friday. Nothing has been announced yet, but it looks like there may be more collaborations between the anime giant and chef Kung in the future.
Before the pandemic, Kung worked in Detroit restaurants and was known for his private dinner series and pop-up dinners around town under his brand Kung Food. He said once lockdown started last spring, he was “sitting around in quarantine like everyone else figuring out what to do.”
He said he started on Instagram live, making videos to help people cook with what may be in their pantry already, like frittatas, meals from canned food and “food that you can make that you can really stretch.”
Once things became clear that cooking at home was here to stay for a while, he started a TikTok account in May and his fanbase grew from there. He currently has nearly 920,000 followers and has gathered more than 10 million likes for his cooking videos.
Like dancing and lip syncing, cooking is also a hot topic on TikTok and Kung’s charming style is a perfect fit for video-based platform. Kung’s clips give recipes, cooking tips and techniques for the home chef, mixed in with some funny content and videos of his dog.
“The crazy thing about TikTok is that I’ve been doing it all but I haven’t left my studio or my house,” he said. “I haven’t really been getting out much, it still doesn’t really feel like anything is happening even though things are happening.”
One of his most viewed TikTok clips is a quick demo on Szechuan potatoes that garnered 4.5 million views and thousands of comments from fans. Most, but not all of his cooking centers around Asian cuisine, including Japanese and Chinese dishes. He’s often telling viewers to hit up their local Asian grocery to find the ingredients for his dishes. Locally, he recommends Noble Fish’s market, H Mart and especially 168 Asian Mart in Madison Heights.
“I don’t think people around here understand what a huge resource that is,” he says of the John R market, which opened in 2015. “I am constantly shocked at the kinds of things I can find over there, like obscure condiments from the village that my grandmother grew up in … I say I can’t believe I’m finding this in Michigan, but here I am.”
With the restaurant industry as unstable as it is and the pandemic making the future uncertain, Kung was hesitant to say what his next move is regarding events or opening up his own restaurant in Detroit. He said a noodles and dumpling restaurant is “in the works.”
“With the pandemic, the light is at the end of the tunnel but I don’t want to fill out my calendar just yet,” he said. For now, he’s “making more content and videos as I go, because that’s something that I can do no matter what.”
For subscribers: Spring cocktails from new Metro Detroit bars
Our special thanks to:detroitnews.com