Adam Reid's boss is a handful—literally. The guy is so small he can fit snugly in his palm.
But while he may stand only about 5 inches tall, the Tiny Chef, as he's known to his fans and the team that's helped grow the miniature gourmand into a big-time internet celebrity, demands a lot from his handlers.
"Working for Chef is not easy," says Reid, writer and producer for The Tiny Chef Show. "He's temperamental. He requires insane amounts of patience. And all of that would be true, even if we weren't posting near-daily content from his kitchen on Instagram."
In 2018, Reid, along with former Laika animator Rachel Larsen and Ozlem Akturk, launched The Tiny Chef Show web series, whose star is a moss-colored fuzzball of unknown origin with a childlike sense of wonder about the world. He sings, plays the banjo and, most of all, cooks, whipping up thimble-sized pies, pizzas and pancakes—all of it veggie-friendly—from his home inside a tree stump.
The project was an almost instant success, attracting 500,000 followers to date; celebrity co-signs from Kristen Bell (now a producer on the show) and Samin Nosrat, author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat; a book deal with Penguin; and a partnership with Ron Howard's Imagine Entertainment that will eventually produce a television series.
Keeping up with Chef's whirlwind can be overwhelming. But if you ask Reid, the exhaustion is worth it.
Reid and Larsen—and possibly even Chef himself—return to Portland in April to speak at TechfestNW about the intersection of tech and storytelling. WW talked to Reid about maintaining Chef's innocence in the face of growing fame, the importance of Instagram to his success, and just what people find so endearing about a small man with big dreams.
WW: How would you define your role in the Tiny Chef universe?
Adam Reid: I do a lot of the writing and producing, and when we go and film segments with special guests that are human, I take an extra hands-on role there because I have a lot of experience directing commercials and films. But working with Chef himself is one of the most challenging things I have ever done. I'm almost starting over again.
How crucial was Instagram as a platform in launching Tiny Chef?
I don't think we'd ever broken through without Instagram. Ten or 15 years ago, it might've been, like, a blog that might cross over. It's completely fan-driven. We incorporate and involve the audience in all of Chef's adventures any way we can. It's what makes him so real. We're able to really engage the community and have this almost feel like a real-time event for everybody.
What is it about Chef that you think people are responding to?
He looks for the good in everything. He's also very human. He's not perfect. He's terribly innocent—he's like a child in that way, but also like a grandma. And the fact that he is a hot mess just like anyone else is really endearing. I can't think of a lot of personalities from fiction or reality like that anywhere.
How do you maintain that innocence as his profile grows?
I'm a commercial director on the side, and I happen to work with a lot of celebrities and a lot of sports personalities. Here's just the truth, and it's not going to sound too pretty, so hopefully Chef doesn't read this, but I feel like he is coddled the way a lot of stars are coddled. I'll give you an example. We've had some very soft sponsorships with La-Z-Boy. Chef doesn't know that he is sponsored—he just thought he got a free La-Z-Boy. And on Instagram, if you watch that film, he's so excited and he celebrates the crap out of it, but we don't exactly tell him they're giving us money in exchange for this. So he's left a little bit in the dark. It's better that way.
What's the craziest thing you've seen so far from Chef fans?
We get amazing videos where people are setting up small little beds for Chef in case he stops by. We've had folks make stained-glass windows that look like Chef. There's been over a dozen tattoos already. But the most heartwarming thing comes from classrooms and children all day, every day. We get way more fan mail than we could possibly answer. And that is gut-wrenching, but also heartening at the same time. It means we're doing something right.
GO: TechfestNW is at Portland State University's Viking Pavilion, 930 SW Hall St., techfestnw.com. Thursday-Friday, April 2-3. Visit the website for tickets.