10 Questions with Ms Yeah, China’s Office Chef Sensation
She has an electric iron and some thin-sliced beef to thank for her fame. Armed with humour, ingenuity, and a nifty iPhone, Ms Yeah produced her first office cooking video that set off the internet’s obsession with her.
The viral sensation quickly became known for using office supplies not just to cook, but create cooking contraptions at her desk. In one video, she steams a basket of buns with a garment steamer. In another, she turns the office water dispenser into her personal hot pot.
Though she doesn’t speak or explicitly crack jokes in her videos, Ms Yeah’s innate sense of comic timing is stunning. It helps that she’s naturally deadpan, and that her colleagues sit unperturbed beside her absurd stunts, like frying crepes on her CPU.
But amidst an endless stream of internet content, how does someone stay original? What kind of workplace allows you to turn an electric warming fan into a barbeque grill?
Most importantly, why is she just so weird and wonderful?
Over a mandarin interview on Skype, I speak with the Chengdu native to discover if she is, as her Instagram bio states, a walking recipe from Mars.
Ms Yeah: In Chinese, I’m called 办公室小野 (ban gong shi xiao ye). The ‘ye’ sounds like ‘Yeah!’ in English, which conveys happiness. Ms Yeah is a cheerful and lively person. She’s also quite a maverick. I want everyone who sees her to be happy.
G: Do people ever tell you you’re hilarious?
MY: All the time, like from the online comments. Even my colleagues like to joke around with me. I’m similar to Ms Yeah in real life. At the start, people may think I’m demure and soft-spoken. After I warm up, they realise I’m just a goofball.
MY: My office environment is pretty relaxed, because we’re a creative company. In university, I studied video editing and directing, which is also what I currently do for my company.
Even before these videos, I already experimented with alternative cooking methods in the office. For example, I used a hot kettle to cook dumplings.
One day I saw a male colleague walking around topless, using the electric iron on his shirt. Somehow this made me think about how people cook beef on electric grills, and I wondered if I could cook slices of beef by directly placing an electric iron onto them instead. I was inspired and my first video was born. I never expected to go viral or the super positive online reception.
MY: My boss is very supportive, because this is a unique idea. There’s nobody else in China doing something like this. Actually, he’s inspired to do it himself now, but he doesn’t think he has the looks.
And my colleagues are more excited than me. They all want to appear in my videos, and even come over to eat my food. I don’t like to disturb them, but the smell may distract them, especially when I cook hot pot. So far so good, no one despises me yet.
G: What’s the process of producing one video?
MY: An entire video usually takes about 4 days. Half a day for brainstorming really simple ideas, another half day for scripting, an afternoon for purchasing my ingredients. Then we shoot for 1 to 2 days, about 4 to 5 hours per day. If we have outdoor scenes, we add 1 to 2 hours. I develop my idea as I shoot.
Most of the scenes happen in the office though, and we only film on a mobile phone. My colleague tirelessly runs around, helping me shoot.
G: Which has been your favourite video so far?
MY: Oh they’re like my babies! It’s so hard to release them to the public after editing them. If I have to pick, I enjoyed cooking chuan chuan xiang (spicy snacks on sticks) and hot pot. I love spicy food since I’m from Sichuan, Chengdu. The cotton candy video didn’t really suit my tastebuds though.
MY: Yes! I’ve received several requests. People ask me to cook live, or even go to their homes to cook for them. I haven’t taken up any offers, because I want to focus on my full-time job now. I may reconsider if something suitable comes up in the future.
G: Have you received any marriage proposals?
MY: I’m only 22, but if it ever happens, I will have to test his culinary skills. People have asked me to be their girlfriend on Youtube. It’s still early days, nobody has asked about marriage yet. Anyway, I don’t reply to these comments because .. I’m shy.
MY: How I appear in my videos is how I go to work everyday – basic makeup, normal clothes. I don’t purposely dress up for videos. Based on comments and feedback, people seem to appreciate my most natural self. Even if they don’t, I would still continue as I am.
G: Can you teach me how to cook so I can find a husband?
MY: In China, we have this saying: “A way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” It’s very reasonable that, as a woman, we have to learn how to cook. But we should do it for ourselves. We have to please ourselves before we please other people. .. Maybe it’s better to find a man who can cook for you.