Susi Vidal, a TikTok creator, makes pesto regularly for weeknight meals. She always has pasta on hand, and while she frequently posts videos of more elaborate creations like sun-dried tomato focaccia and ratatouille, more often than not she just wants a bowl of noodles with sauce for dinner.
So when she decided to make pesto and film it for her followers, she thought nothing of it.
“Call me crazy if you want,” she said in the video, smashing a garlic clove under her knife, “but I’ve never liked store-bought pesto.”
Same, the internet said. And then some.
What began as a routine video of a recipe turned into a TikTok anthem of one upmanship: You think that is crazy? I can do one better.
The hundreds of response videos, posted mostly in the past month, take Ms. Vidal’s opening line about pesto and then quickly jump to the users’ much more dramatic stories about ghosts, bad exes, ancestry, bad dates and the discovery of unknown family members, as well as even scarier moments such as being stalked.
“Susi, that is unhinged, I cannot top that,” Linda Hurd says in a video before sharing a story about a quest for revenge that ultimately revealed a classmate’s dark side.
The stitches, as they are called on TikTok, nearly always end in agreement that Ms. Vidal was right — store-bought pesto is indeed an inferior product. Her initial video has been viewed over 12 million times.
Despite initially being worried about some negative tones in the responses, overall “people are very supportive,” Ms. Vidal said of the TikTok trend in an interview. “I think vulnerability brings people together.”
Ms. Vidal started making cooking videos as a hobby when she was in nursing school in Arizona during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic. Her audience grew, and eventually sharing her approachable recipes on TikTok — with her signature “OnlyPans” series that blends cooking with innuendos — became her full-time job in February.
Ms. Vidal said she tended to make videos about whatever she was craving in the moment.
“I know a lot of people are kind of negative when they try to make their own sauces,” Ms. Vidal said, adding that many home cooks might be overwhelmed by the instructions and dishes involved and gravitate toward store-bought versions instead. She sought to show people they could do it with just a few ingredients.
So Ms. Vidal did what she normally does when making a TikTok: She gathered her ingredients, propped up her phone and talked like she would to a friend. Start to finish, the filming and editing took about four to five hours, she said.
She posted the video on Sept. 1, and at first viewership was about average compared to her other videos. The tone of the comments was initially engaging and humorous, but then she started to receive hateful comments, and TikTok users began stitching her opening line in negative ways. It didn’t bother her, she said: It comes with the territory of being a social media influencer. But she decided not to engage.
It wasn’t until last week, more than a month after she posted her original video, that her sister told her the stitches had taken on a life of their own. Ms. Vidal took a deep dive and noticed that the tone had shifted and that there was “a lot of positivity around it,” she said.
One person who hopped on the stitching opportunity was Karmell Garrett, who had only been on TikTok for a month when she decided to tell a very personal story from her senior year of college. It involved a liquid diet, a timed final exam and an urgent need to use the bathroom.
Ms. Garrett’s personal rule is not to post anything “I wouldn’t want to go viral,” she said, and the bathroom accident fit the bill after 15 years.
“For some reason this has become the modern day confessional,” she said of the trend, noting that the comment field on her video was filled with similar stories. “I think it’s great, and I think it’s so crazy that the most random thing can go viral, like pesto.”
Ms. Vidal said TikToks suggesting that her preference for homemade pesto ranked low on the scale of “crazy” were understandable. The idea to turn the phrase on its head for the trend was “really smart,” she said. “I was pretty blown away that people came up with the idea.”
Eventually, Ms. Vidal herself joined in and stitched a video about the first time she drank too much as a teenager and tried to hide a hangover from her parents by climbing onto the roof.
Ms. Vidal said she was looking forward to playing around with fall foods and was thinking about testing an apple pie recipe next. As for Ms. Garrett, she intends to actually go back and watch Ms. Vidal’s full video and try out the pesto recipe. She has never made it from scratch.
“I agree with Susi,” she said about store-bought pesto. “It never has enough garlic.”