Rivero, 20, experiments with different recipes on his TikTok. Though he favours Asian cuisine, he also wants to explore different palates and food origins in his cooking. PHOTO COURTESY: IAN RIVERO

When I think about March 2020, I can vividly picture the days of whipped coffee, Tiger King and the constant loop of BENEE’s Supalonely. With the world crashing down around us, and with literally no way to get out, TikTok became an easy escape for many, myself included.

Ian Rivero, who goes by the handle iankewks (a play on the word cooks), is a local TikToker and a full-time nursing student at Mount Royal University. Although he started making videos for fun and to pass the time under lockdown, he’s since accumulated a massive audience, with nearly 750,000 followers and almost 20 million likes for his mouth-watering cooking content. 

I sat down with him to talk about what that’s been like, and how he’s balanced his school life with his work as a content creator.

What interested you in downloading the app?

I think a lot of people downloaded it as a joke. And then you hooked onto it after a while. So that was the case for me.

When did you start creating content?

When the pandemic started ramping up in Alberta, I was like ‘Okay, let’s start making videos.’ That was almost a year ago.

@iankewks

My attempt at Hong Shao Rou!! Braised pork belly really takes some patience but it’s worth it

♬ 喫茶店 – frad

Have you always been interested in cooking and food? 

I grew up with cooking cause I was an only child before my brother was born. So I’d come home and watch the Food Network, and my parents would always cook as well.

In terms of recipes, I think I’m more partial to Asian cooking in general because it’s like, I grew up with Asian cooking — I want to explore more different kinds of cuisines, like maybe Middle Eastern or Italian too.

How do you go about finding the places you review?

Ever since 2016, I’ve been literally exploring Calgary with my friends and we just try to find a lot of different places to eat. We don’t drive, so we usually just take transit all around Calgary, and whatever’s interesting I just try to maybe see what I can do with it.

I feel like I’m not going to review anymore, sadly. As my audience grew, I felt like I was getting less and less of people from Calgary. It was kind of like people from Toronto and Vancouver and San Francisco. I thought it wasn’t going to be as relevant as it was before when I only had a few people following me. But it was nice. I gave a lot of people exposure.

Tell me about your creation process — do you do a lot of planning or do you just sort of wing it?

I think it’s like what’s most convenient at the time because I cater it based on how my schedule is looking at school. So if I have a lot of time, I’ll try to put a lot of effort into [it] — Right now, with midterms happening and then finals are coming up in a month, I try to do super easy recipes.

Has TikTok been a good outlet for being a full-time student sort of having this on the side?

I think so, yeah. It’s definitely a little stressful because I have to keep putting out content every week, but I already built up an audience. I don’t want to ruin that momentum.

And it’s pretty therapeutic for me, in my opinion. Because nursing for me is super stressful as a first year student.

Has it also helped you in terms of just being in quarantine and under lockdown?

I was posting literally every day when it was quarantine, and it was really fun — It was something to pass the time, and I really like cooking a lot. So having people watch it kind of gave it a purpose.

What’s the most significant change you’ve seen in your life since starting on TikTok?

I think with cooking in general, I feel like I took it more seriously. Because people are watching you and people are constantly criticizing you like, ‘Oh, like you’re doing this wrong. So it really forces you to learn more and practice a little bit more of what you do and make sure that what you’re doing is like proper technique and stuff.

I don’t want it to be like I’m being so full of myself or anything, but when people are like, ‘Oh, are you iankewks from TikTok? And I’m like, ‘yeah.’ It’s really new to me. People are actually recognizing me in school too, so it’s pretty cool,

How have you been dealing with being a student online in a pandemic, with your mental health and then having to balance your content at the same time? 

There was a point where it was really high, like we’re doing online, which is amazing because it was super convenient, and then it started getting really, really low.

I’m the type of person where I want to meet new people, and it’s my first year of nursing too. So I want to meet people that I can make connections with and be more close with, and it’s kind of difficult to do in an online environment.

Though he used to post on a daily basis, as a full-time student, Rivero has had to cut back on how much he posts. Still, he hopes to continue balancing nursing and working on his content. PHOTO COURTESY: IAN RIVERO 

Sometimes I don’t even go to my lectures because I have so much stuff to do. I feel like watching lectures that are prerecorded are such a hassle for me. Lots of my classmates, they’re pretty used to self-teaching themselves too. I think if we ended up going back to MRU, it’s going to be a little bit of a different experience.

So you’re in nursing, and I imagine you want to continue your content creation as well. Is that your long-term goal to balance both?

Hopefully I can, because I know nursing can have really long shift hours. I’m planning [to do] Instagram, YouTube or whatever on the side while I’m doing nursing, but honestly, I don’t even know right now, so we’ll just see what happens.

Is there anything else you’d like to add about your content or about yourself?

I met a really good community, like lots of different chefs and lots of different cooks and creators around the U.S. and Canada.

I think it’s really nice to meet a lot of different people that are specifically for what I’m interested in. Because I think like my friend group right now, they’re not really into cooking either. Like they love eating food, but when it comes to cooking, it’s like, they don’t want to do it or they’re too lazy. So it’s nice to meet people who are like-minded [to] you.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.