You've probably seen it by now: a chef meticulously preparing tiny burritos for a tiny hamster's perfect dining experience. The video, which is set to classical music and runs less than 90 seconds, was uploaded to YouTube Tuesday night and has since racked up more than 2.5 million views and Twitter endorsements from the likes of Jimmy Kimmel and Katy Perry. While the burrito-eating hamster has become something of an Internet celebrity, so too has its masterful "chef," who isn't actually a chef at all.
That enviable burrito maker is Farley Elliott, a comedy and food writer who regularly writes for this blog. You may know him as our resident strip mall rat, who's been known to travel as far and wide as Reseda, Compton and Diamond Bar to explore L.A.'s fiercest strip mall pupuserias, carnicerias, Indian bistros, boba cafes and late night sushi bars.
We reached out to Elliott via email to ask about how he became the Internet's most celebrated hamster chef, and he set the record straight on the questions you've all been asking in the Youtube comments: No, he's not a chef. Yes, he worked with a hamster trainer to make sure the hamsters (there were several) were all well fed, and no, he will not cater your next dollhouse party - so don't even ask.
Squid Ink: Aside from acting in the video and expertly preparing the tiny burrito ingredients, what was your role in creating the video?
Farley Elliott: I can't take credit for the concept; it came fully-formed by the crew at Hello Denizen. Their main agency creates lots of great videos for companies, and they were looking for a way to branch out and really show their visual skills, so they hit on this idea, and just brought me into the conversation to see if I could execute it. I do a series of fun and very un-silly cooking videos on my own website OverOverUnder.com, and one of the guys from Denizen had seen that, so they thought I might be able to pull off making really tiny burritos.
SI: What do you think made it go "viral"? And how do you know when something has officially gone viral?
FE: Viralness? Virality? Verility? I don't know if there's a metric for something that nobody even knows how to pronounce. I DO know that getting friend requests from high school classmates you haven't seen in over a decade, just because you cooked some food for a hamster, has got to mean something. I just hope that all of my ex-girlfriends have seen it, and they now weep for what could have been.
In terms of what gave the video such reach, I think it's actually a pretty time-tested formula. Animals are awesome, food is the best and making high-quality, visually appealing videos will always win. Most people leave out that third one; they might still find success, but they tend to be more of a flash in the pan. Hello Denizen plans to be around for a while.
SI: Did anyone get in touch with you randomly after seeing the video?
FE: Yeah, lots of old high school friends that I haven't seen in over a decade. Old bosses, weirdly; I think they just wanted to be like "Ooooh, that's why you were so weird at the office. You wanted to do this sort of stuff instead. I get it now." I am almost 100% certain that my parents still have absolutely no idea about any of this.
SI: Were you actually making the tiny burritos or was that just editing trickery?
FE: How dare you! I made so many tiny burritos! And I wrapped them probably better than the guy at your local Chipotle, because I am a tiny food-making machine.
SI: Can you tell us about the ingredients?
FE: Yes. Actually, we should clear something up right now. The comments on this video have been overwhelmingly amazing, but lots of folks are worried about what we fed the hamster. So, to be clear: The shots of us putting the burritos together DO NOT match up with what was actually fed to them. We worked with the hamster trainer for like three weeks, teaching them to sit at the table and all that. The trainer let me know what the hamsters like to eat, and what worked for them in terms of digestive stuff.
So the actual burritos are about one and a half inches long, and they're made up of egg roll wrappers, raisins and a few nuts. In a couple, we added a leaf of cilantro for a touch of color, but that's it. No guac, no sour cream, no chicken and no beans. This is not a burrito you'd want for yourself - unless you had your own mouth pouch, in which case, game on.
SI: Where'd you get the hamster? Did he do his own stunts? Were any hamsters harmed in the making of this video?
FE: That hamster is a star in the making. Well, this may be pulling the curtain back a bit, but those hamsters were stars - we actually had like four little guys on set, so that one wouldn't ever get too full. Hamster safety first, people! There was a great trainer who worked with them to get them to sit at the table using a complex series of commands, treats and stern warnings, none of which I understood myself. I learned that I am dumber than a hamster.
SI: What is it about watching hamsters eat burritos that makes people so happy?
FE: Most commenters seem to agree that there's something human-like about it all, and that's delightful. They way they hold the burritos, they way they just plow through them like the rest of us do at 2 a.m. at a taco truck. It reminds us of ourselves, but with cuter packaging and an unfettered love of excess.
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SI: What message do you hope that the world comes away with after seeing this video?
FE: Let's all up our collective games when it comes to making videos. Quality is key. But really, when you start with such a stellar idea, it's hard to mess up the rest. Also, there's a lot of misinformation out there - I am not a chef, just a guy who put in some R & D time to figure out how to make tiny burritos that adorable hamsters could eat. And no, I will not cater your next dollhouse party.