Dorm-Room Cooking Has Hit Its Stride | Civil Eats

We Are in the Golden Age of Dorm-Room Cooking

TikTok and Instagram have opened up a new world of possibilities for dorm-cooked meals.

screenshots of an instagram reel of a dorm-room cooking event of coconut tofu curry

A series of stills from Priyamvada Atmakuri’s dorm-room coconut tofu curry.

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In a mostly dark dorm room, a narrow beam of light illuminates the makeshift table: a white towel spread over a bed. A pair of hands prepares filet mignon, using just a cutting board, basic utensils, a crockpot, and a blowtorch. The hands sear a slab of tenderloin steak with a flash of blue flame. A Nicki Minaj–Ludacris mashup is punctuated by the sounds of fast-paced cooking: the grinding of sea salt, a flick of a cap of oil, the sizzling of the steak in a crockpot with melted butter, a heap of garlic, and a twig of rosemary.

The final scene: A knife glides into the perfectly tender and crispy filet mignon, prepared without ever leaving the dorm room bed.

This 15-second video, by TikTok user Lazy Pot Noodle, has amassed more than 2 million views and even garnered the attention of renowned chef Gordon Ramsay.

In a response video, Ramsay takes on the voice of a sports coach, cheering and predicting the young chef’s next move: “Yes! Stop it! Basting. Beautifully done. Butter,” he shouts, squinting at the steak bathed in butter. “Oh my god, this kid knows what they’re doing!”

When it’s ready, Ramsay announces that it’s time to take the steak out, and the student follows right on cue. “Baste it with the resting juices,” he instructs. Like clockwork, the hand does exactly that. “Kids, what happened to the $3 ramen?” asks Ramsay. “We’ve been upgraded to a five-star steak!”

As Ramsay observed, we’re now living in the golden age of dorm-room cooking. Thanks to social media platforms facilitating the exchange of cooking hacks, students have figured out how to adapt recipes to the dormitory, without kitchen appliances. They’ve become masters of crock pots, easy-bake ovens, cheap cutting boards, and portable electric burners, while maneuvering in a tiny space. While campus cooking is hardly a new trend, this generation of college students has a fresh stage and audience—even celebrity chefs may tune in—to swap notes, recipes, and typical internet babble.

@lazypotnoodle Filet in my dorm 🥩 łink in bió! #collegedorm #dormhacks #tiktokmademebuyit #foodtok #college #foodtiktok #steak ♬ Area Codes x Did It On Em by L BEATS – DJ L BEATS

Some of these dishes stretch the boundaries of what was thought possible for on-campus cooking, like the filet mignon. Yet much of the genre is also focused on practical, affordable meals that can be easily replicated outside of the dorm room, broadening the possibilities for all budget- and space-constrained chefs. These low-budget, accessible, and creative dorm-room meals are opening up new possibilities for all cooks with limited kitchen access, from low-budget travelers staying in hostels to anyone struggling with housing insecurity to housemates tired of waiting for their turn to use the oven. All it takes is an easy-bake oven, and a dash of confidence, to prepare a delicious, kitchen-free meal.

Students have become masters of crock pots, easy-bake ovens, cheap cutting boards, and portable electric burners, while maneuvering in a tiny space.

Students have become masters of crock pots, easy-bake ovens, cheap cutting boards, and portable electric burners, while maneuvering in a tiny space.

“That easy-bake oven is putting in WORK,” said one TikToker, in response to Lazy Pot Noodle’s Thanksgiving dinner. “He’s so tired,” quipped the dorm-room chef about the little pink oven that had just cooked up turkey, stuffing, baked mac and cheese, and mashed sweet potatoes topped with golden-brown marshmallows. “You did better than folk with a WHOLE kitchen,” replied another of the young chef’s fans.

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Lazy Pot Noodle’s videos reveal that just about anything can be prepared in a small, kitchenless room, with equipment no bigger than a microwave, from shabu shabu to jambalaya to mini pizzas. The chef also has some more classic college essentials, like spruced-up boxed mac and cheese and ramen.

There’s a growing world of social media users preparing just about anything under the sun from the comfort of their dormitories. For Lazy Pot Noodle, this has turned into a job, earning income from sharing links to the cooking equipment, ranging from $30 to $80. But other social media chefs are simply sharing to swap knowledge on how to cook in the confines of a dorm room.

In another series, then-college student Priyamvada Atmakuri prepares budget-friendly recipes, often from the desk of her dorm room, including apple crumble in the microwave, peanut and coconut tofu curry on an electric burner, zesty and creamy lemon pancakes, and quinoa salad with kale and spicy chickpeas.

“This is way more elaborate than anything I’ve made in my dorm room so far, but oh my god, it’s so worth it,” she wrote in 2022, describing her curry noodle soup video. “It’s so filling and comforting, and it’s just what one needs on a cold afternoon.” Since her college cooking days, Atmakuri has become a professional pastry chef for a restaurant in India, while operating an at-home bakery by herself and still sharing recipes on Instagram.

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Another TikToker, amycooksfood, has become known for her rice cooker series, based on meals prepared in her college dorm room. “To be totally honest, my dining hall wasn’t very good. My college luckily allowed rice cookers,” she explains in a video. “So, I tried making thịt kho tàu with a rice cooker, and from then on, I learned that you can use a rice cooker for anything.” She uses a small, no-frills rice cooker, she explains, to keep her recipes accessible for low-income college students who can’t afford fancy equipment.

@amycooksfood i lived in the dorms all 4 years and was on the meal plan BUT nothing beats homecooked meals! Like most dining halls mine was not very good, and being able to cook in some capacity every so often meant i had good food to look forward to 🥰 hey, just cause i was broke doesnt mean i didnt deserve to treat myself to a homecooker meal 😚 i had the same silly tiny rice cooker all 4 years of college too! Most of the students i knew had similarly small rice cookers, and the small size means it takes up less dorm was tiny 😭#amycooksfood #cookininricecooker #japanesecurry #millefeuillenabe #thitkhotau #canhbi #misosoup #eggdropsoup #lowincomestudent #collegecooking #dormlife #dormcooking #adapting ♬ Cool Kids (our sped up version) – Echosmith

Amy’s series includes Japanese curry, tteokbokki, miso soup, soft-boiled eggs, and even banana bread from a dependable rice cooker. In her video for budae jjigae, a spicy stew from Korea, she explains the origins of the dish in a caption: “This dish was created from leftover processed foods from U.S. military bases in Korea during a time of extreme food scarcity,” she wrote. “It’s a symbol of adaptation and resourcefulness necessary for survival.”

This generation of dorm-room chefs are showing that you don’t need a glossy, high-end kitchen to make good food. In fact, you might not even need to leave your bed.

Grey Moran is a Staff Reporter for Civil Eats. Their work has appeared in The Atlantic, Grist, Pacific Standard, The Guardian, Teen Vogue, The New Republic, The New York Times, The Intercept, and elsewhere. Grey writes narrative-based stories about public health, climate change, and environmental justice, especially with a lens on the people working toward solutions. They live in New Orleans. Read more >

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  1. I went to college in the late 60s-early 70s when the only appliances we were allowed were an iron and a popcorn popper (ostensibly to be used in the lounge). We made all kinds of grilled sandwiches by spreading butter on the bread, wrapping it in tinfoil and putting a hot iron on each side until toasted. The popcorn popper turned out many a soup (with careful attention) and deep fried wads of bread dough rolled in sugar (ersatz donuts).

    Sure wish we had been the proud owners of an Instant Pot with an air fryer lid - just think what we could have done!!

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