It’s difficult to gain 1.6 million TikTok followers, however it’s debatably even tougher to beat out 50,000 people for a spot on a nationally televised cooking show. Johnston native Gary Marandola Jr., 33, has achieved both.
Marandola, who grew up on Atwood Avenue in a house that could be seen from space when lit up for Christmas, attended Sarah Dyer Barnes School, Nicholas A. Ferri Middle School, and Johnston High School. Now residing in Woonsocket, Marandola first took to TikTok – the video-focused social media app – last November.
He grew up with his father teaching him how to make scrambled eggs and macaroni and cheese and eventually learned to grill.
Due to his love for cooking and needing to step away from what he calls the “toxic” Facebook environment, Marandola uploaded comedic cooking videos to TikTok. At first, they seemed to get nowhere. Marandola then decided to add a shtick – taking on a Boston accent while teaching people how to cook.
The video went viral overnight and, on Dec. 19, 2020, Marandola woke up to 12,000 new followers. Now, Marandola may not have as many followers as content and dance creator Charli D’Amelio who has 131.9 million followers, but acquiring 10,000 followers or more is uncommon for most individuals.
After this success, Marandola said he thought he might have something and analyzed every single comment to help with his future videos. There were so many comments, however, that they maxed out the response space that TikTok allocated.
“I worked as an event DJ, singer and drummer, and thought I’d be famous for music one day. I didn’t think it would be cooking,” Marandola said.
Producers from the new show “Next Level Chef” found Marandola on Instagram and reached out to him in July 2021 about being on the show’s first season. Gordon Ramsey – a famous British chef who has an assortment of successful restaurants – led and created the show.
“This gave me the chance to meet one of my ideals – Gordon Ramsey,” Marandola said. He added that meeting and talking with Ramsey and Richard Blaze was a fun experience.
As for his TikTok videos, Marandola explained the work that goes into them. Each video takes a different amount of time, depending on how long the cook is – it could be as short as half an hour with cooking popcorn in a skillet to as long as 14 hours with a brisket.
“I literally turned my kitchen into a studio,” Marandola said.
After taking clips of his cooking, he edits the videos, playing around with lighting and coloring to get everything just right.
This spot in the limelight has led to Marandola making friends throughout the country and in Canada.
Additionally, he has changed his profession to being a full-time influencer, making his money from TikTok, Instagram and brand partnerships; “Next Level Chef” also paid him for his time on the show.
Marandola’s new focus is to expand his dry rub business that started before his TikTok days. What started with four flavors has already doubled, and the company is looking to produce a full line of twelve rubs.
“When new stuff comes in, it flies out.”
Marandola has two partners in Miami, Florida, who help with this business. He hopes to use the money from the rubs as income while using social media as a promotion of his material. Overall, he would like to start by selling the rubs on Amazon and then seeing them in storefronts.
“Next Level Chef” airs at 8 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 2 on Fox. Marandola’s videos can be found on TikTok at @garybbqchef.
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