By day, Edwin Taylor works in a nonprofit office. But by night, the 22-year-old lifelong east sider is sharing food reviews with thousands of social media followers.
BridgeDetroit sat down with Taylor over plates of fried tilapia and catfish at Detroit Soul on E. Jefferson to talk about the world of social media food videos.
“This food is pretty good, it’s definitely meant for an older crowd,” he said with his phone propped up on the table to record. Shaking Frank’s RedHot on the fish, he said the food would need more depth of flavor to appeal to a younger crowd.
What sets Taylor apart is his brutal honesty, sense of humor, and his willingness to review a range of restaurants, from small businesses to chains and the worst-rated.
In one review, Taylor describes the chili on his chili cheese fries as “dirty,” rating the restaurant a 2.5 out of 10, prompting nearly 900 comments on the post.
“This review is more of what the world needs,” one user commented on the video posted in July.
Taylor is a food critic, not an influencer, content creator, or foodie.
“There’s a difference between content creators and food critics,” he said, explaining that to him the difference is that creators make videos encouraging people to visit new restaurants, which he said makes up most of the food content in Detroit. Taylor on the other hand, rates restaurants, detailing what works and what doesn’t.
“I would like to consider myself a food critic,” said Taylor, who does a mix of paid and unpaid videos. “I want people to see the difference.”
But Taylor said some people aren’t ready for real food criticism.
“Business owners aren’t ready to be critiqued and the viewers aren’t ready for people to say that their favorite restaurant isn’t as good as they think it is,” he said.
It doesn’t stop him from his honesty though, even when restaurant owners send him direct messages, upset about the review.
Another Detroiter just a few years older than Taylor, Keith Lee, has similarly risen in popularity for his social media food reviews. In October, Lee made headlines after receiving death threats following a critique of an Atlanta restaurant.
“It’s hard sometimes because I want to be nice,” Taylor said. “I kind of just brush it off, don’t take it personally.”
Some businesses appreciate the reviews, good or bad.
Jerome Brown, co-owner of Detroit Soul, said a lot of critics like Taylor have come in to review the food. He said it’s a good thing because it keeps businesses in “readiness mode” to be evaluated, and it helps to have unbiased critiques.
“It’s validating because we have no personal alliances with these individuals,” he said. “The information they share, good or bad…it’s a third-party that’s observing that’s outside of our circle of influence.”
He said the reviews prompt internal reflection.
“When these individuals come and it hits social media, it kind of allows you to go back and reflect,” he said, whether it’s about the food or the service.
Taylor has been eating in front of the camera for years.
He’s made videos of himself eating as if talking to an audience since 2015, a style called mukbang that originated in South Korea. Taylor said he made the videos on and off but wasn’t as consistent until the pandemic when TikTok increasingly became a platform for food reviews and videos. In the beginning of 2023, food was the most popular video category on TikTok, according to Redfin Technology.
Now, Taylor visits around four restaurants a week, reviewing them in videos that are typically less than a minute.
“I’ve been getting recognized a lot more lately,” he said.
A few of his favorite restaurants in the area are The Smackin in Redford and Detroit-based Trap Vegan and Shell Shock’d Tacos.
Serena Maria Daniels, editor for Eater Detroit and founder of Tostada Magazine, said that social media food influencers highlight places and stories that traditional media might overlook.
“It just creates this whole new ecosystem that didn’t exist 10 years ago,” she said.
It also eliminates gatekeeping to a traditionally white food media industry by giving people their own voice, she said.
“The days of the older white male, food critic who remains anonymous and nobody knows about, who is frequenting high-end fine-dining establishments – I think those days are over,” she said. “It has a lot to do with this new generation of folks who are just getting online and creating their own content.”
In 2021, the Detroit Free Press notably hired its first Black food critic to report on a majority Black city.
Taylor sees the future as collaborative.
“Some people just feel like they got to where they are by themselves so they can continue to do that, which is fine, but it’s like there comes a point where we are all in this together,” he said.
“If every video I did could be a collaboration, I would. That’s really the future – people like you for you, but they really like you when they see you interacting with others,” he said.
And if his self-made journey to food critic isn’t fascinating enough on its own – Taylor also has a food business he hopes to grow soon: Kool-Aid pickles.