Just as some people started baking bread or embroidering or trying out new hobbies as a hobby in itself, Lynn Davis and her son Tim were looking for a way to keep themselves busy when the pandemic hit the U.S. in March. Four months and 25 videos on YouTube later, Lynn is better known online as "Lynja" or @cookingwithlynja, whose cartoonish TikTok clips inspire fans on social media to say things like: "I would like for her to be my new grandma." With nearly 578,000 followers on TikTok and over 2,000 on YouTube, Lynja has built up a pretty solid following, becoming one of TikTok's most enjoyable new food stars.
"Cooking With Lynja" videos rely on pretty simple recipes: examples include fried rice, chocolate chip cookies, or copycat McDonald's French fries. But what sets them apart is their clever editing, and viewers often comment on both her editing and her scripts. In a video for "dirty water dawgs," for example, multiple Lynja cut-outs say "glizzy check" before dancing in front of the New York skyline and joking about getting water from the East River in which to cook your hot dogs. A video for homemade Dunkaroos is superimposed with a small Lynja, who pretends to dribble a basketball in front of a plate of cookies and comments on bigger Lynja's cartoonishly large biceps as she lifts a stand mixer onto the counter.
The videos all pack a lot into one minute, while also walking viewers clearly through a recipe, but above all, Cooking With Lynja videos feel extremely online, full of the quirky and self-referential quips people have come to love from series like "It's Alive." Reposted on Twitter, her videos have gotten hundreds of thousands of likes.
"I believe the videos became popular because I am an older person on an app where a large part of the audience is much younger than me," Lynn said. "I think people are surprised by the dichotomy of someone my age using pop culture references." How many grandmas do you know who understand what a glizzy is?
Though Tim—who has his own video production company—initially set out with the goal of making 30 videos in 30 days, the Cooking With Lynja project has continued on months later because Lynn and Tim enjoyed planning and taping them. "Once we finished the 30 days straight, we then started to make Cooking With Lynja videos more seriously," Lynn said. Though they continue to upload to YouTube, they're currently focusing on TikTok, where they upload a video every other day "with no plans to stop anytime soon." (Lynn's husband now also helps with production and support, she said.)
Despite TikTok's immediate association with Zoomers, "Boomers and grannies," as the New York Post once put it, often do well on the platform as they gain comparisons to beloved older relatives. For example, there's "Grandma Lill" (200,000 followers), who tries TikTok dances and talks about how much she wants a boyfriend, and "Old Man Steve" (1.3 million followers), who explains simple meals like English muffins with peach preserves.
While the title for TikTok's ultimate grandma might be contested, Lynja accepts it regardless. "I LOVE being referred to as a grandmother as I am a grandmother in real life," she said. "I’m honored when people ask me if I can be their grandmother."