At the beginning of the pandemic, I tried to avoid the dreaded Doom scrolling that almost everyone fell victim to. Of course, I finally gave in in the summer of 2020 and hit the download button on TikTok. The app’s shockingly accurate (read: creepy) algorithm quickly realized I loved FoodTok. And the only account that showed up on my feed every night was The Salad Lab.
The mood is exactly as it sounds: You are watching a woman (whom I will refer to as a Salad Lab Lady, as she prefers to keep her real name a secret) preparing a salad using tools such as petri dishes and test tubes using the laboratory theme. All you hear is her voice and all you see is her hands, ingredients and the bowl that acts as a large vegetable jar. Each video begins with the line: “Welcome to The Salad Lab, where we make fabulous salads every day.” How healthy, how comforting!
One of the best parts of the channel is Salad Lab Lady’s recipes, which are based on the salads celebrities love. Unsurprisingly, these particular videos typically go viral: Ariana Grande’s favorite salad (3.4 million views), a sweet and salty combo of vegetables, strawberries, tofu, and dates; Kourtney Kardashian’s famous Poosh Meeting Salad (7.7 million views), a Roma-based brew mixed with a citrusy vinaigrette the reality TV star eats during her website’s weekly editorial meetings; Michelle Obama’s Garden Salad (2.4 million views) and a personal favorite, Guy Fieri’s Family Favorite Salad with Ranch and Croutons (1.8 million views). In addition, there are newly created salads from well-known restaurants such as Cheesecake Factory, Panera and, for you, Angelenos, Joan’s on Third.
This recipe garnered 3.4 million views because it naturally did.
When I was watching the transfixing videos, I had a strange desire to make my own salad creations. (It’s worth noting that I had side-eyed salads in my twenties.) Who was this mysterious Sonoma County, California woman who made what she calls “fabulous” meals? And how was it possible that she had someone like me so tightly under control that she forced me to eat salad?
The story of how it came about is simple: The Salad Lab Lady simply loves salads. “When I go out to dinner with friends, I regularly ask myself: who has a good salad?” She wrote in her first message to me. “When I’ve brought something to an event, I always have my large bowl of salad with me.”
The giant bowl comes from Holland Bowl Mill, a Michigan-based company that makes each of their bowls by hand (that is, each vessel is unique to its owner).
But she sees salads as more than just a bowl of vegetables, grains, and proteins. While Salad Lab Lady started her TikTok account to show her college-aged daughter and friends recipes, she also found solace in producing it all. “I lost my home in a fire three years ago, my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, met Covid and I found my life turned a little upside down,” she told me via email. “Making the videos became my therapy.” Her site soon grew in number and followers convinced her to keep the channel running. “I think I wasn’t the only one who loved a good salad and a glass of wine,” she added.
Here the Salad Lab Lady talks about her rapid rise on TikTok and the Internet trolls that followed, the importance of fresh produce and of course her favorite celebrity salad she’s ever made.
How do you choose the salads you offer?
I originally chose salads that I had in restaurants, made family recipes, or those my daughter asked for. Then I got curious about the Kardashians’ favorite Chinese chicken salad – how do they make it and why is it so popular? I just landed on Google and started doing research. Sometimes comment and make inquiries. I got a lot of inquiries from people asking for a Panera-style salad – everything from Nobu-style salad to Applebee’s. If it looks decent I’ll do it.
Are you buying ingredients at your local grocery store or are you a farmer’s market type?
I live in Sonoma County, California – it’s an agricultural area. A lot of Italians have historically moved here from San Francisco, and the wine industry is here, so the products are fabulous; we are so spoiled in Northern California! I often do and enjoy farmers markets. I try to promote the local farmers markets and get people to leave. But there’s a market in Sonoma County called Oliver’s and they have it all – the organic section is bigger than the normal section. I get a lot of my things there. I also challenged myself and went shopping at the Walmart grocery store. You can buy products there, but it doesn’t taste like something bought at a farmers market or local grocer.
You mentioned making these videos became your therapy and for me personally it was nice to see something in the feed that took you away from the real world.
I try to stay away from politics. Sometimes I get political statements in the comments and I try to delete them right away, just because there are other platforms for them. When I posted the Michelle Obama salad, I was very surprised at the negative comments people made towards her. But that’s also why I’m so excited: I’m learning more and more about the country and my community in general.
Speaking of Michelle Obama, you’ve made salads that celebs like Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish, and Kourtney Kardashian love. Do you have a favorite celebrity salad or was there one that surprised you?
To be honest, I was surprised by Kourtney Kardashian’s poosh salad. I didn’t think it would taste that good – but it was delicious. It’s low in calories and easy to make. The poosh thing got her in a lot of trouble, but I try to avoid the negativity surrounding the Kardashians. All of these girls work hard. I’m not here to comment on what they are doing socially or culturally. I’m making a salad.
The Michelle Obama salad was fab. The Billie Eilish didn’t get that many hits, but I thought it was a delicious salad. You never know what will go viral and what won’t. You just keep going.
Yes. It just didn’t work. Who would have thought the Guy Fieri Ranch dressing would be such a hit? I did this just after the Michelle Obama salad and I thought everyone would hate Guy Fieri and love Michelle Obama. But it was the opposite effect.
What does the production look like for you?
I’m doing these videos from my house, in my kitchen. I work part-time as a customer service representative for an airline. It’s funny – I often get comments saying I sound like a flight attendant. Usually production time takes between one and two hours to get everything ready. It only takes me about 10 minutes to film, then another hour to an hour and a half to edit.
What’s your favorite salad dressing?
The classic vinaigrette is one of my favorite salad dressings. I haven’t made blue cheese dressing before, but I like a good blue cheese. [Editor note: she just published a blue cheese recipe!]
For someone like me who watches these videos, saves them and says, “I’ll make one of these salads,” but then gets overwhelmed with the thought of chopping things up and preparing them, what are your pointers on how to make the salad?
Before you go to the grocery store, make a list and double-check it. I always forget something. Turn on good music, get it all out, have a seat and have fun.