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'Tiny Kitchen' Videos Cook Up Real Food In Doll-Sized Portions

Human-sized hands make doll-sized doughnuts in the <em>Tiny Kitchen</em> — roughly 1/12 the normal size.
Courtesy of Tiny Kitchen
Human-sized hands make doll-sized doughnuts in the Tiny Kitchen — roughly 1/12 the normal size.

Honey, I shrunk the queso.

They've fried hard shell tacos, made a comforting bowl of chicken noodle soup, even whipped up a batch of rainbow sprinkle-covered doughnuts. In an age of molecular gastronomy, this may not seem like culinary genius. But on Tiny Kitchen, everything is cooked in a dollhouse kitchen roughly 1/12 the normal size.

Now in its second season, the popular online video series is produced by media group Tastemade. Jay Holzer, head of production, says the idea for a tiny cooking show came from one of Tastemade's Japanese partners, who sent them a box filled with a tiny stove, tiny utensils, and a set of tiny cutting boards.

"Since then, it's taken on a life of its own," Holzer says.

Miniatures have long been popular in Japan due to the cultural dominance of kawaii,or all things cute, but making minuscule edible food — rather than polymer clay copies — is the newest incarnation of that trend. (A quick search of YouTube reveals several similar tiny cooking shows that appear to be from Japan.)

One of Tastemade's food stylists, Hannah Aufman, now works on Tiny Kitchen exclusively. The show has also commissioned a special kitchen from a dollhouse maker in Germany. Once the crew finds a tiny working oven and a tiny barbecue, the Tiny Kitchen folks plan to continue expanding their tiny culinary repertoire.

Tiny Eggplant Parmesan
/ Courtesy of Tiny Kitchen
Courtesy of Tiny Kitchen
Tiny Eggplant Parmesan

A lot more goes into creating a new recipe than math. In addition to rewriting existing recipes to fit the mini serving sizes, Aufman is responsible for jury-rigging ways to fry teensy taco shells (she bends a paper clip into something like a frying basket) or figuring out how to deal with eggs (use part of a quail egg, the smallest commercially available variety).

And forget gas or electricity — this mini stove is heated by a tealight. Since the volume of food being cooked is so small, the candle provides more than enough energy to melt butter or boil water. In fact, things often cook too quickly. Burgers take no more than a few seconds on each side.

"You can't regulate the heat," Holzer says. "It's either 'hot as a tealight' or no heat at all." Luckily, the crew is quick with their tiny spatulas and ladles — utensils that are often not much bigger than a fingernail.

But size discrepancies are unavoidable when dealing with real food. That quail egg, for example, is the same size as the mixing bowl. An early episode, in which Tiny Kitchen made bananas Foster, starts by showing a tiny knife chopping into an entire banana. Were this kitchen scaled back to full size, that banana would be at least as tall as a basketball player. To cut out doughnut holes, Tiny Kitchen had to use part of a soda straw — but that still towered over the individual doughnuts. Even the dollhouse where the show is filmed sits in the midst of a gigantic soundstage.

Even the dollhouse where <em>Tiny Kitchen</em> is filmed sits in the midst of a gigantic soundstage.
/ Courtesy of Tiny Kitchen
Courtesy of Tiny Kitchen
Even the dollhouse where Tiny Kitchen is filmed sits in the midst of a gigantic soundstage.

Somehow, the incongruities make the show feel more relatable. It's not just a beautifully decorated miniature. This is a "working" kitchen with real cooks (or at least their hands) making real food that just happens to be less-than-bite-sized. After each episode is done filming, the food is left out for people to eat. And it all does get eaten — though there's not much of it to go around.

Holzer says the most popular tiny recipes are the ones people know how to make at home. Pancakes and tacos are two of the show's most shared videos. "It's something you or I know how to make a human-sized version of, so it's fun to watch it happen as a tiny thing."

Unfortunately, it's just not very filling.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tove Danovich