Cooking grandmother becomes Instagram sensation

Global Business

Social media is offering new opportunities for fame and fortune. But there’s certainly no formula for who will become an influencer.

For example, you may have heard of socialites like the Kardashians, beauty experts like James Charles and property fixer-uppers like Joanna Gaines. But how about the Instagram-cooking grandma from Taishan, China.

CGTN’s Mark Niu went to Sacramento to find out more.

As soon as Lisa Lin graduated from law school, she ditched the courts for the kitchen. She writes a popular food blog called Healthy Nibbles and Bits.

When her mom disapproved of her career choice, Lisa didn’t argue. Instead, she just put her mom on Instagram.

“When my mom started becoming a part of it and when I started featuring more dumplings, the engagement probably increased by over 200 percent. It was just very popular,” said Lisa. “Whenever it was something I did on my own, nobody really cared. But when it was my mom, everybody goes, ‘Oh, my god! I love your mom. Can she adopt me?’ There are all these comments. I just knew from the feedback that she was a hit.”

‘HelloLisaLin’ now has more than 93,000 Instagram followers who marvel at a vast array of dumplings, appetizers and mouthwatering dishes.

Seventy-four-year-old Lan Lin, aka Mama Lin, prepares authentic recipes she learned while growing up in Taishan, China.

“I have no idea why people like watching me,” Mama Lin laughed. “But I’ll keep putting in more effort, keep digging deeper to help my daughter.”

Mama Lin’s infectious personality and frugality help drive interest. She’s known for cooking at her own humble stove, which is wrapped in foil to keep it clean.

To scoop rice, she uses the same cup from United Airlines she got 32 years ago when she first flew to the U.S. And secret Instagram tracking method is writing the numbers down by hand.

Lisa’s social media-driven business is now pulling in well over $100,000 dollars a year, primarily through advertising and sponsorships, such as from cookware companies and supermarkets.

“You want to make sure you have good follower numbers, but also engagement,” said Lisa. “And so companies will then trust the content you create, and the audience can actually see the content you are creating for them. So the two pieces together actually impact your marketing power.”

Throughout the week, mother and daughter are constantly cooking, coming up with new recipes and perfecting old ones. They don’t actually sell the food because they don’t want to get into that business vertical. That means there’s plenty of leftover food that they sometimes have no idea what to do with.

Fortunately, I happen to be right there to clean up on a delicious batch of spring rolls and some special fried sticky rice dumplings– something not easily found at stores or restaurants.
I also get to taste Mama Lin’s homemade peanut candies – a specialty Lisa is still doing her best to learn.

While satisfying their followers’ cravings, the Lins have also been working on engagement of a more personal kind.

“We’ve definitely been closer I would say. And it’s brought me a lot of personal joy just to know that other people enjoy watching us cook,” said Lisa.

“I like it very much, because I can spend time with my daughter,” said Mama Lin.

Mother and daughter are certainly building a brand. But are they now building the right careers?

“Because she has spent so much time in school studying, I still hope she can become a lawyer,” Mama Lin says with a smile. The jury is still out on that recipe for success.