If you’re like me, then you know how satisfying it can be to binge-watch cooking videos that pop up on your FYP page on TikTok. If you happen to have delved into the app lately, you may have noticed a bright-eyed young chef alongside the likes of Tom Brady, The Jonas Brothers, Gordan Ramsay, and many more, cooking up rather interesting food recipes from wagyu popsicles to 1,000 layered oreos, and even crafting up a warm nacho table heated by a blowtorch, naturally.
That chef is none other than Nick DiGiovanni. Raking an impressive nearly 11 million followers on TikTok, and a combined over 25 million followers across all of his accounts, DiGiovanni has amassed a legion of loyal followers, ready to be shocked and dazzled by his cooking sorcery from the comfort of his kitchen. The Rhode Island native first started out as an apprentice in a multitude of kitchens, including the 3-star Michelin-rated, San Francisco-based hub benu, before heading off to study at Harvard University where he created the first-ever undergraduate food degree. Having been discovered on a college campus flier, DiGiovanni competed on MasterChef’s 10th season, making history as the show’s youngest-ever finalist. Since then, the rising chef went on to launch his own salt company, Osmo (which offers premium Michelin-star quality salts) and now is set to release his debut cookbook, Knife Drop: Creative Recipes Anyone Can Cook.
Ahead of the book’s release, VMAN caught up with Nick to chat about his cooking origins, the woes of MasterChef, and what his fans can expect in the food tome. Discover the full interview with DiGiovanni, below!
VMAN: Starting from the beginning a bit, could you tell us where your chef origins began? Was cooking always a passion of yours growing up?
Nick DiGiovanni: I always answer this question with one word: family. I always loved cooking, and I always loved food. And it’s hard not to when you grow up surrounded by so many people who know their way around a kitchen.
VM: Do you remember who taught you to cook up some dishes? Can you recall a few early favorite dishes you used to make?
NDG: My dad’s mother — we called her ‘Helga’ — was unstoppable in the kitchen. I remember one of the first dishes she’d made that I ended up replicating at home was a very simple salad. Romaine lettuce, a simple homemade vinaigrette, some shaved parmigiano reggiano, sliced bell peppers, and toasted pine nuts. The simple technique of tasting the pine nuts is what made this dish a true star. I also got into baking at a pretty early age and remember being quite proud of myself when I made my first lemon meringue pie.
VM: You were first discovered on a college campus flier and went on to compete on MasterChef’s 10th season—what was that experience like being the show’s youngest-ever finalist? How was that transition from your bustling college classrooms to cooking for a panel of world-renowned chefs on a TV show?
NDG: I was a few weeks into the filming of MasterChef when I felt I’d found my true calling. I’ve always been an introvert, but for whatever reason, the lights, cameras and action didn’t phase me. I’d been cooking and learning as much as possible in and out of my college classroom before then, and I finally felt I’d found a space where I could share these learnings with others in a fun and entertaining way.
VM: Tell us a bit about Osmo—what propelled the idea to start a salt company? How exactly does the product differentiate itself as Michelin-star quality in comparison to more generic salts?
NDG: Salt is everywhere — food just doesn’t taste right without it. Ironically, one of the first moments I felt the desire to create a better salt was in a restaurant that had a set of those old style salt and pepper shakers on the table. I remember looking at the salt shaker, which had a few grains of old rice in there to keep it dry, then turning to the pepper which looked stale and discolored, and thinking that—in this particular situation—there was no excuse not to have high quality ingredients, especially when it comes to the two most basic of seasonings.
(cont..) Yet, as I looked around, so many people seemed to use the salt and pepper and think nothing of it. But the reality is, there’s a HUGE difference between heavily refined table salt and a carefully harvested flaky sea salt — not just from a flavor standpoint, but also nutritionally, visually, and texturally. So, I decided to create a salt that would speak for itself. People are blown away when they taste Osmo because they’ve most likely never tasted such a pure salt. My philosophy with food is that you must elevate every single ingredient — for instance, the B.L.T. in my new cookbook, which stresses a focus on each individual ingredient before bringing the sandwich together. And it all starts with better salt.
NDG: While raking up all of your well-deserved accolades, you also managed to garner a few million followers—especially on TikTok where viewers can regularly see you putting your own spin on classic dishes with the help of a few celeb friends, to attempting to set Guinness world records, and even sending a pizza to space. How exciting has it been to see your audience grow? How do you usually get inspired to come up with these more elaborate videos?
NDG: I love it, but at the same time, I don’t think much about it. I’m doing videos that I think will be fun, and documenting experiences that I feel the world may want to see. Sometimes, those consuming the content aren’t as excited as I am, and others, blow my expectations away, but ultimately I’m just doing what I love and hopefully, it can excite others.
VM: With your debut cookbook Knife Drop: Creative Recipes Anyone Can Cook set to drop on June 13, the title of the book is intriguing enough—what would you say was the biggest challenge in selecting dishes that truly “anyone” can cook? Did you have a hard time with the editing process of what went in?
NDG: Every single recipe in Knife Drop has a reason to be there. I went through a rigorous process to make sure that every recipe earned its place. When it comes to making sure that they’re all truly accessible and can be done by any reader, I kept the ingredient lists accessible such that you can get them virtually anywhere (and I avoided ultra-expensive ingredients for this very reason), and I broke down the steps in the most approachable way possible. There are a few recipes I’d wanted to add that didn’t make the cut, purely because they were a bit too challenging or complicated and I wanted to stick true to the title and subheading of the book.
VM: What can your loyal followers, and even a few newer followers, expect to see in the book?
NDG: Creative and original recipes — many of which are classic twists on dishes we all know and love, and others completely new and inventive. I am so excited for people to get cooking!
Knife Drop: Creative Recipes Anyone Can Cook will be released on June 13, 2023. Pre-order the book here!