When 2020 seemed too much for me—at various times this year—I’d go back to a TikTok video from late April. That is, from before we knew where things were headed, before we knew how much a deep well-spring of joy and resilience and levity we’d need this year.
Chefs Anastacia Quiñones-Pittman, Janice Provost, Tida Pichakron, Jeana Johnson, Sandy Bussey, Sarah Green, Danyele McPherson, and Uno Immanivong knew, seemingly preternaturally, how to give us cheer. They made the video, which begins with Quiñones-Pittman throwing a box of salt to Immanivong, in zebra print, and ends with Provost tossing a burst of confetti, like a declaration that said, “We did it. We made it. I think I just can’t. But I just can.”
Here, in their own words, is a little about how it came about and what it meant to them. Consider it a lighthearted, pre-holiday gander. Let us ring in the end of this turbulent year, which has been especially tumultuous in the culinary community, with cheer. Maybe pour yourself a glass of wine or a flute of bubbles. We’re almost there. Without further ado: Enjoy.
“I am best friends with Janice [Provost], Jeana [Johnson], and Tida [Pichakron],” says Quiñones-Pittman. They are part of a crew of women who know each other from Meat Fight and other events—events, in fact, that were postponed, as happenings from Les Dames d’Escoffier klatches to Meat Fight fundraisers to Dallas Arboretum food and wine festivals were canceled.
“And in the beginning of the pandemic, we were on a text thread [called Ladies of Meat Fight]. We’ve always been really close, but we were constantly communicating with each other about what’s going on. And for all of us restaurateurs it’s been really different. Me closing and doing Feed the Frontlines; and Janice doing only take-out, which, catering was a big part of her business; and Jeana leaving the hotel [Canvas, where Johnson was furloughed as executive chef]; and Tida closing her shop [Haute Sweets Patisserie],” she says.
“We were constantly keeping each other posted, but it was a lot of negativity that we were constantly giving each other, just because we wanted to spiel it onto each other and absorb it and let it go, so that we didn’t project that negativity onto our family or our employees, or whatever. So we would take the brunt of it. And I just thought, ‘You know, …’”
As for the backstory on how Quiñones-Pittman came to be the unofficial Tik Tok queen of the group, “It wasn’t until my sister, who is so young in spirit, but in her 50s, introduced me to it when she came and visited last Christmas,” she says. The chef began using it to make lighthearted videos, never seriously considering its power to unite.
COVID-19 changed everything. Sparked by a riff on a make-up brush challenge—“Someone would throw a brush, someone would catch it. And they would show themselves in quarantine clothing, and then put their make-up on and be all dressed up and pretty,” says Quiñones-Pittman—the idea for the video was born.
“People just see us in our chef coats. They only see us working hard, greasy hair, no make-up,” Quiñones-Pittman says. “What if we could show people what we really look like, even in quarantine? [It’s] a good excuse for us to get dressed up and feel like we’re going somewhere.”
The video gave them a chance to commune, virtually, against the backdrop of Taylor Swift’s “You Need to Calm Down,” which seems totally prescient, utterly of the moment, like a cri de coeur battle cry of the times (“You need to calm down. Just stop”). But the short clip was also a way to keep it genuine in this year in which everyone has been more honest and everything has felt so very real, our private lives upended in the most intimate ways.
“We didn’t want a lot of back and forth. We knew everyone was really busy. So we let Jeana decide for everybody [what would be thrown],” Quiñones-Pittman says. “Jeana was really instrumental in making sure everyone knew to grab the whisk from the left and toss to the right, or whatever.”
View this post on Instagram
Edited by Jeana Johnson’s partner and pulled together in four or five days, it went viral (ish). Posted to Instagram on April 23, it garnered 1,069 views on Quiñones-Pittman’s account alone. And from hundreds to 3,000 on others.
It was cathartic. They heard back from friends and customers at a time when all were rocked by the shelter-in-place order.
“It was just emotional. I got emails and messages and texts from people all over the place saying how cool it is to see us being positive and energetic throughout everything,” Quiñones-Pittman says. “I think we watched it for a week. We were really wowed by it.”
Yes, we could reflect on social media, and the ways it’s shown itself to be a force for good during this crisis. The way it’s made us feel less alone. But maybe we don’t even need to.
“Doing the video allowed us to say, ‘Okay, it’s gonna be okay. We’re gonna get through this,’” McPherson says. Provost says the goal, if there was one, was “to bring a little smile. So I’m glad that it did that. That’s kind of like mission: accomplished.”
I dare you to watch it and not smile.