Wok with them
Shy foodies behind YouTube channel The MeatMen want their food to do the talking
The four friends behind local YouTube cooking channel The MeatMen are too shy to reveal their faces - or even their full names - to the public, for fear of being recognised.
Instead, JJ, 33, Chris, 34, Yingda, 33, and Jon, 19, prefer to let their food take centre stage.
Their channel, which has more than 215,000 Facebook followers and 74,000 YouTube subscribers, features mouthwatering local recipes such as cereal prawns and sio bak (roast pork belly), but gives only rare glimpses of their faces.
The MeatMen made their TV debut on lifestyle channel TLC (StarHub Ch 427 or Singtel TV Ch 254) for a short series of vignettes called Wok With Us, which premiered on TLC Southeast Asia's Facebook and YouTube pages on Nov 2, and aired on TLC (Starhub Ch427) on Nov 9. New online recipes will be shared every Wednesday and Friday at 6pm on the channel's social media pages.
Each weekly episode sees The MeatMen travelling around Asia to demonstrate how to make local favourites, such as Thai fish cakes in Bangkokand spicy beef noodle soup from Ho Chi Minh City.
So why do The MeatMen maintain their aura of mystery?
"To us, the food is the star," The MeatMen's leader JJ told M in a phone interview. "We don't need to be celebrities to have fans.
"We use visuals to entice people, instead of voiceovers and shots of us.
"We've simplified our videos for our audience and this works very well as they can learn a recipe within three minutes."
JJ also said that their no-frills approach allows them to focus on their cooking talents.
"We are not great TV hosts who speak very well or look good on camera. So we play to our strengths, featuring traditional local recipes with great visuals."
JJ, a former post-production house art director, is the only full-time member of The MeatMen.
Yingda works in a web development company, Chris is a digital consultant and JJ's brother Jon is in national service.
The three friends met during NS over a decade ago.
The team's experience in content production explains why The MeatMen's videos are so gorgeously shot, although the channel's beginnings were humble.
"The MeatMen started from weekly gatherings at my house, where we would cook and drink beer so Chris and Yingda could get away from their wives," JJ joked.
"We documented our recipes on our personal Facebook pages. Then we started an official Facebook page in 2013 after our videos started getting traction."
Their name was inspired by their shared love for meat, "and my nickname in NS, which was 'meatball'," said JJ.
While filming Wok With Us in Bangkok, The MeatMen visited spots like the Floating Markets and a muay thai gym, speaking to locals to tweak their recipes for authenticity.
They take their food research very seriously, especially for their new recipe book, MeatMen Cooking Channel Hawker Favourites.
"We did a lot of research into getting the rice, chicken and chilli sauce right," said JJ.
"We also included a recipe for chicken rice with glutinous rice, because we liked how it gave the dish an unusual texture."
With a TV series and a book out, The MeatMen hope to eventually expand their brand so that all four can work on The MeatMen full-time.
Meanwhile, they will continue producing videos, aiming to preserve traditional Hokkien and Teochew cooking that has been passed down over generations.
"We plan to charm the grandmothers first, so we can learn the secrets behind their recipes," said JJ.