The Founder Of FoodBeast Shares His Go-To Fast Food Hacks & Defends In-N-Out’s Fries

In 14 years, Foodbeast has gone from a humble blog written by foodies geeking out over food porn and the sorts of outlandish food hacks that probably drive fast food employees crazy, to a multi-million dollar media company with a reach in the billions and content that feels at once youthful and deeply knowledgeable. Foodbeast’s latest project, Kitchen League is a live cooking competition that pits chefs against creators and relies on audience participation to inject chaos (and fun) into it all. The show — which our own Steve Bramucci was recently featured on — is a mega-hit on Twitch and might be the best thing Foodbeast has given us since the Dream Machine, a vending machine that operated on Instagram posts as currency, and dispensed Cup Noodles, video games, and gift cards.

All cooking competitions are pretty cut-throat and can be, at times, pretty sadistic, but even the best ones can’t really provide what Kitchen League can — a way to join in on the fun. That sense of community is everything to Foodbeast founder, Elie Ayrouth, who credits the passion of his team and the community they’ve built via viral food posts and social media with the brand’s success. We caught up with Ayrouth over Zoom to talk about what’s next for Foodbeast and hit him up for his current favorite food hacks. He also did us the favor of finally putting the great In-N-Out french fry debate to rest.

Peter Pham/Phambot

Foodbeast has exploded from its humble food blog roots, what are you most excited about right now?

The most excited I am about any one product we’re doing right now is the show, Kitchen League. Everything that we’ve done up to this point when we first started Foodbeast was basically a bunch of kids trying to emulate Food Network in our own way, with no money. Then fast forward 10 years later, we’re not even using money to do that, but now we’ve taken what Food Network has owned for years in cooking competitions, something you needed network backing and millions and millions and millions of dollars to do and we did it with the community. We created Kitchen League using other creators. It started with GoPro’s in an office, and now it’s a kitchen studio with 20 cameras and there’s no outside funding to put this on.

It was just built on the backs of viral blog posts, then popping off on Instagram, then building a community on Facebook. Then this last frontier that we have right now is Twitch. Really, finally, there is a platform where we could do something, that Food Network couldn’t, even if they threw money at it, they couldn’t do what not only Foodbeast is doing, but what creators on Twitch are doing — which is really just being themselves. We’re hoping to upset that model by just having a live cooking competition and an entire league around it.

Do you have any other new ideas you’ve been cooking up that are also inspired by Food Network? Beyond the cooking competitions, what other things do you want to explore via Twitch?

Once we realized that this platform existed, the next business model for Foodbeast is getting into packaged goods and things. We want to take everything that you use in the kitchen and give it that Foodbeast touch. We started really trivially with this product called, The Double Dip Bowl, which is our first foray into selling anything online. It’s basically a bowl that has two tray compartments in it for the ultimate fat ass, someone that needs a huge dipping container, but wants to hold their chips and their salsa or their nuggets and their ranch in one hand, be able to operate with the other. We’re like, all right, that was a fun, goofy project. When we launched, I think the first 1,000 sold out in a couple of hours… So we said, “Well oh shit, there’s something here to that. What else are we excited to circumvent?”

So then we started looking at the whole kitchen. We started looking at the products we used. We do have a sauce coming out… we’ve been working on this sauce for the past nine months. It’s going to be a bright white, spicy garlic sauce. I’ll give you the name later. We’re still hammering it home. The branding is the last stage. We spent the last eight months dialing in the formula and making sure it has really good ingredients. I didn’t want a label that was like 100 ingredients deep. I wanted it to be like four or five ingredients.

Something respectable.

Yeah, man. I mean, I’ve seen enough now. Dude, I’m getting older! Every time I eat something with fucking 100 ingredients on it, I’m passing out after, so I wanted something that is a brand in and of itself. So the next frontier is we have this media, we have these shows and now we want products. We want our products in there. We’re built our back off an advertising model. We see the future where we want to have our own products that we’re proud of getting featured in these shows.

Is there another food festival in the works? I know the pandemic has made that impossible for the last three years.

It did. Yeah. The last major festival we did was right before the pandemic hit and it was Nood Beach. It was weird because we culminated with festival after festival. We started with like a couple hundred people at our first one and our last one with Snoop Dog on the beach — around 10,000 people that showed up. Then the pandemic happened.

Oh, so you’re the one to blame!

Yeah, it was us. Snoop gave everyone COVID! It was actually 2019, so still could have been us, who knows? Seriously though, after COVID, we knew we’d want to get back to it one day. We dabbled a little bit. We threw a 300-person invite-only festival. We’re going to get back to it. We haven’t announced any upcoming public-facing ones. We’re kind of just seeing how other festivals do it right now. What are they doing right? What’s scary? What’s unhealthy? What’s healthy? What’s a good thing to do. It’s not big on our priority list immediately, but we do appreciate how much it can bring people together. I know people are thirsty for it, but yeah, we haven’t announced anything and this year probably won’t see anything like public-facing from us.

I was reading about Foodbeast’s vending machine, the Dream Machine and how that started as a joke. What other jokes have turned into realities at Foodbeast?

Kitchen League started as a joke. It was this sadistic idea that if we wanted to do a cooking show, what would Foodbeast’s version of it be? Cooking shows are already pretty fucked up. Especially an Americanized cooking show. You know, “here’s your cooking basket!” then Joe Rogan comes out like, “well, it’s a testicle now,” or whatever. So we thought how it would be even more fucked up if you let the audience at home actually play along. That was the first foray. We’re like, how funny could that be? How viable could that be? We were trying to find the platform for it. It ended up being Twitch, but essentially, it started as a joke.

We have a tendency to kind of blow out our jokes. We try to push it as far as we can go. That one ended up having some legs to it. We’re like, “oh shit, that could be a brand and a league in and of itself.”

What are your favorite fast food hacks?

My favorite fast food hacks? Oh, this is good. I wish I thought about this a little bit more. So In-N-Out, the tomato wrap… Have you ever had a tomato wrap?

I haven’t.

So everyone knows the lettuce wrap, protein style, you can actually ask for a tomato wrap and it’ll hit you tomatoes as the buns. It’s pretty nice. If you don’t like tomatoes, it’s going to piss people off. So it’s a really fun one to show on the internet, but that’s a top hack for me right now. I’m still a sucker for Del Taco. They do the “Go Bold.” They’ll put fries and white sauce on anything you ask. I usually get all my stuff bold at Del Taco. You can even ask for a milkshake bold. They’ll just do anything. They’ll put fries and fucking white sauce in your chocolate shake if you want.

Who is killing it in fast food right now?

I think Taco Bell and Chipotle… those two are killing it. I think Taco Bell’s ability to stay in the news, for positive things, is a testament to their brand for how simple the food is. The core ingredients are pretty simple. I think they’re killing it just in staying in the news. Chipotle is still kind of killing it for value and quality. Those are the two that I would immediately jump to. All things considered, pandemic aside, food industry aside, they’re figuring it out and they haven’t really compromised the quality. So I think that’s cool.

What do you think is missing in the fast food space right now? We don’t really have a strongly visible Indian fast food chain that has made it nationwide.

No. I agree with you. I think the closest one I can think of in the Indian space is Curry Up Now and they’re pretty darn good. They’re just not blowing up the way they could. I also think a Middle Eastern chain, like a proper fast food Middle Eastern chain, not the like Daphne’s Greek cafe of it all, but like I was in Canada recently and they just have great quick service Mediterranean and Lebanese, fast food. It’s crushing. These are like 100 location-chains. This shit would work out here. Why not?

It’s like pita garlic, chicken wraps, and bowls, follow the Chipotle model and go to town.

It’s simple and makes sense.

The industry is also missing transparency.

That might be a little corny, but I think fast food chains can weather it if they get a little bit more transparent with their ingredients. Go a bit more of the Chipotle route, because people are just more into whole ingredients. They’re less into going out to eat like healthy or low cal or whatever. Tell us what’s in this stuff. If you can’t tell, start fixing it and get it down. I think that’s what’s keeping Chipotle afloat. I think that’s what sets them apart. Taco Bell’s embraced the other side, but I know Taco Bell’s working on continuing to add transparency, making their ingredients simpler.

But, I think in terms of cuisines, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern and Indian, I think they’re definitely missing in the marketplace. It’d be dope to see that. It’s cool to see Filipino food get a little bit more love through Jolly Bee.

I know you’re an In-N-Out fan.

Love it.

Can you make the case for the fries? I feel like a lone warrior on this hill, defending real potatoes that are cut in front of your eyes and fried. I don’t know how that’s ever a bad thing…

You made the case! I mean, the only thing worse than an In-N-Out Stan, is an In-N-Out hater. We always talk about what the best burger in the game is. People will say In-N-Out then they will immediately say, “but the fries are trash.” Let’s talk about the burgers. The burgers on affordability level, a taste level, to me, an In-N-Out Burger is up there with any burger, regardless of the price. I think the fries are dope. I don’t know what people are talking about. There’s so much customization available to it. Get them well done, if you want them crispy. Animal style is an amazing feat of fast food innovation. People need to be eating that shit all the time!

God forbid, someone cuts potatoes from scratch. They have a whole room with a window so that you could see the young soul working away and crushing potatoes from scratch. Come on, show that some love! It’s good. What are you talking about? That’s why I think In-N-Out’s going to continue to thrive because it’s just that transparency again. The window’s open. You can see them working on one ingredient at a time, these potatoes. That’s why they don’t let you put the fries on the burger behind the scenes. They just have their stations set for these things. It’s beautiful. It’s just a good, transparent model. I think you made the case for the fries. I would use your quote, exactly.

What do you think the best platform for showcasing food is? TikTok, Twitch? I mean, obviously, it seems like you guys have really kind of latched onto Twitch and its capabilities of being able to interface with the audience in real-time.

Yeah. I mean, I’m still a huge fan of what YouTube can do for food. I think the best platform right now is not Twitch yet, unfortunately. I think Twitch goes the deepest, but I do believe TikTok is changing the game a lot. When TikTok came about and foodies realized that it’s not just a dancing platform, I mean, you have a new flock of amazing creators that are now chefs, because of TikTok. They had no chef experience before and just had fun exploring it. You can get from zero to 100,000 followers, zero to a million followers faster on TikTok than on any other platform.

You couldn’t do that on Twitch. YouTube is still a feat to do that. TikTok, I mean you’re a phone and a couple goofy ideas away in your home kitchen, regardless of what it looks like. You can have a galley kitchen with one stove and I can name you three creators that are crushing it and that’s how they started. Now they’re like millionaire recipe creators. So TikTok is that platform of opportunity right now, I think.

Overall, what is your big takeaway as the viral food god?

I remember the first couple of years of Foodbeast, when I was trying to decide if I wanted to go full-time with this thing and if it would be sustainable. It was like, man, Foodbeast’s whole model was built on covering and talking about the things that were new in food. I kept thinking, and I kept having this digging nightmare in the back, like, “will food be interesting 10 years down the line, if I’m blessed enough to be able to continue to do this for a living? Will there continue to be new innovations? Will it continue to be fun?” People are still innovating. People are still finding new stories about food. Now it’s TikTok. I’m learning about like a 13-year-old kid in Dubai, who’s cooking in this dark kitchen, but his recipes are crazy.

I would’ve never found that out without TikTok. That’s still something new in food. The story is, we’re going to continue to eat until our entire food supply is replaced by one fricking pill that will fill you up for the whole day. I think there’s going to continue to be innovation in food. I think if you just find ways to continue to tell these stories, that’s been the secret sauce, where are people telling the most interesting food stories, and let’s just go there. So now it’s TikTok, it’s Twitch, and YouTube. I’m still excited about the new things I’m seeing.