Have you ever watched a movie and been so distracted by the food scenes, you wished you could jump through the screen with a fork and knife? For 32-year-old Georgia-based TikTok star Gabrielle Williams (aka @gabby.jaye), Disney movies in particular spark nostalgia — and cravings.
A home cook and baker without any professional culinary training, her first video to go massively viral was a re-creation of the iconic ratatouille from, well, "Ratatouille." Spliced together with the animated scenes, her gorgeous real-life recreation would make Remy proud — and netted Williams 7.4 million views (and counting) in just her second month on the app.
"When the 'Ratatouille' video took off I was like, "Whoa, what is happening?! I didn't know that was possible!" Williams told TODAY Food. "I'm in the Los Angeles Film School, I have about a year left in digital filmmaking, and when we had to take a break for a while because of the pandemic I was trying to figure out what to do. So I was like, well, let me start on TikTok."
Williams said she used to be perplexed by her young daughter's enthusiasm for the app. "I used to make fun of her for TikTok. I was like, 'This little children's app, what is this?' And now I'm on there and I'm like, 'This is the best creation ever!'" she said, laughing. "I always wanted to do something with film, I didn't know if I wanted to act or direct or edit or do something with sound, but in film school I'm doing a bit of everything, just trying to learn as much as I can about the art. So ever since I started TikTok, my niche is that I love film. I always have that."
As her TikTok obsession and follower count grew, Williams figured out she had a unique talent for reverse-engineering the dishes that are instantly recognizable to Disney fans: Mushu's congee breakfast from "Mulan," the iced rolls from "Brave," pawpsicles from "Zootopia," vibrant green pear-mint sorbet from "The Princess Diaries" and Kronk's spinach puffs from "The Emperor's New Groove."
For the most part, Williams said, she figures things out on the fly. "I'll practice the dishes maybe once before making a video, but sometimes the first time I record it is the first time I've made it. I'm still trying to figure out where (the knack) comes from, I just feel like I was always meant to do it." Her process, as it were, is surprisingly simple. "I like to re-watch the whole movie before I make the recipe, and then I'll screenshot a picture, and just try to get the dish accurate as possible."
So far, there hasn't been a single one that's stumped her. "I've conquered every dish that I've planned, knock on wood … but there have been times when I've had to go out and get completely new ingredients because the first try was a failure. For Sleeping Beauty's birthday cake (a towering stack of doughnuts), it took a couple tries to figure out how to get it to stand perfectly."
But who gets to reap the benefits of her delicious pastime? "If it's a small thing I'll eat it. My daughter reaps most of the reward," Williams said. "If I'm at my parents' house, I'll let them try it or any other family, sometimes I'll give it to the neighbors. If I'm able to or make enough of something I like to give to local shelters."
Besides being a taste-tester, Williams's daughter continues to be a source of inspiration, but these days, Williams is also taking fan requests … which has led her way outside the Disney genre. A recent re-creation of the dalgona candy from "Squid Game," for example, came about thanks to a deluge of messages asking her to give it a shot. "I had just finished the series and I was getting so many requests for it, and I was like, 'Oh this will be fun! It's literally just sugar and baking soda. It actually tastes just like the dalgona coffee that went viral during the pandemic." Williams says she was shocked, but I am not surprised to hear, that she got it right on the first try. "It's a fun game and it's only 2 ingredients, so I definitely recommend everyone tries it."
From "Squid Game" to "Zootopia," there's always a certain dreamy quality to Williams' content that's become her calling card. Charming music sets the tone and sweet hidden messages encourage viewers. "I try to help people just feel nostalgia in my videos, I really think it's important. Since I started this during the pandemic, I wanted to help people feel like my account was a safe place for them to get away and experience a little happiness. And that worked out, a lot of people say, 'Thank you so much for this page, it takes me back to my childhood,' and that's all I ask for. I have such a mix of followers, it's pretty crazy … adults, a lot of teenagers, some kids with their parents, and then I have some older people and they are just all so kind and so supportive. I love my followers. I adore them. I have some of the kindest people messaging me saying, 'Hi, I watch your videos at home with my daughter.'"
Of course, a larger platform — of over 1.6 million followers — inevitably means copycats come into the picture. Williams' TikTok bio says she is "The ORIGINAL Disney Movie Food Series Creator," but she is incredibly gracious about the imitators. "I think it's really great that I've inspired so many people to do this. If it's their dream and passion like it is mine, then go for it. There's room at the table for everybody, there really is."
Instead of feeling ripped off, Williams said she worked to make sure she invested in taking care of her own self-worth. "You can get down on yourself sometimes if you don't feel like you're doing enough and (the imitators) get a lot of response on their videos."
It's something many creators struggle with, but Williams has decided to spread the love instead of fight it. She now has an e-cookbook in the works with recipes for her creations so fans can give them a shot at home. "I'm very, very critical of every recipe — I want to make sure it's perfect before I get it out. I hope I see a lot of people using the recipes, I think that would be really cool. And I'm so excited to get this book out to my followers, because they have been asking for it."
Williams now dreams of writing a hardcover cookbook and opening a themed restaurant. "There's just so much I want to do. Sometimes I'm like, I don't even know where to start with everything I wanna do! So I want people to know if there is something you love doing, go for it. Give it a chance. This started out as something to do in my spare time because I love movies and I love food, so I put it together, and realized I was really passionate about it."