What’s the difference between $3 seafood and $213 seafood in Sydney? What about a piece of $16 steak versus a $150 steak? More importantly, if you can’t quite tell the difference – is the huge price gap actually worth it?
Such is the premise of 'Worth It', Buzzfeed’s online video series that has become the No. 1 show on YouTube since its launch. Hosted by the website’s staffers Steven Lim and Andrew Ilnyckyj, the twentysomething pair travels around the world and does a deep dive into the food world through three different price points – affordable, middle tier, and luxury – and decides which item is most “worth it” at their given prices.
At a time when food writing is increasingly democratised, and traditional restaurant reviews are having a harder time finding their audience, the popularity of ‘Worth it’ is an encouraging sign of things to come.
A huge part of the show’s appeal is that, at its core, it’s about two friends (and their introverted cameraman) who approach food from the point of view of the ‘everyday people’. Whereas the success of high-profile critics often hinges upon their authoritative tone, Lim and Ilnyckyj have happily turned away from the stuffy, top-down approach.
When we watch the pair appraise a $1 coffee versus a $914 coffee in Tokyo, we are watching the reaction of ‘food civilians’ who would marvel as we would at the heart-stopping price difference at a drink so humble and quotidian.
There’s something endearingly democratic about the way they speak of their eating experiences. One that hits the bullseye when it comes to “food nerds you want to hang out with”. Their overall tone is articulate but not verbose, intelligent but not earnest, discerning but not without a healthy dose of self-deprecation. In other words – a voice that’s entirely relatable.
The show’s influence is measurable: now in its third season, the series has racked up more than 300 million views and was named The Internet’s Best Food Show by Streamy Awards last year.
Within minutes of watching the show, viewers get a sense that the presenters aren’t afraid to make the occasional dad joke or bad pun. And would proudly describe green-lip abalone as “a solid blob of deliciousness”. Part of the magic of the lo-fi series is that it shows the hosts are also the kind of obsessives who aren’t shy to use their feelings when a pitch-perfect dish stops them from finding the right words. “You know when a food is so good that your leg starts shaking?” Lim says of a $29 burger in NYC’s Gramercy Tavern. It’s vague and humorous – but a sentiment that has been felt by most of us.
What’s more, the show embodies a sincerity that’s often missing in high-brow criticism. When Lim and Ilnyckyj ask about the dishes they’re having (“forgive me, but what is a marron?"), they are legitimately questions that we may have – rather than a convenient set-up for a well-timed cultural reference or a witty punchline. As Momofuku chef David Chang says of the hosts, “This is how people eat and this is how people have the conversations about where they want to go.”
Their success is a sign that we are entering an era of food criticism where no single opinion is absolute.
Another huge drawcard of ‘Worth It’ is that it sees the food world through a cosmopolitan lens. When the team travels around the world to taste outlandish dishes, the format remains the same, giving viewers the feeling – without being too heavy handed – that food is indeed the common thread that bridges cultural and class divides.
This organic sense of diversity may have something to do with Lim’s creative influence. The 27-year-old, who came to the internet’s attention via viral content about Asian-American experiences, has a sharp eye for depicting cultural nuances. This comes through in their talent selection. The people they interview on the show are often everyday experts from diverse backgrounds with deep knowledge of their corner of the food world — whether they are pasta makers in downtown Los Angeles or oyster merchants in Australia.
In a thoroughly modern way, ‘Worth it’ is the kind of show that gives us back our power to take joy in everyday food experiences. It reminds us that anyone can own, pick apart and recalibrate the culinary content that’s being fed to us. Above all, their success is a sign that we are entering an era of food criticism where no single opinion is absolute – if only because we are, and will always be, experts in our own taste.
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