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TikTok’s famous ‘Hokagay’ chef

Pychita Julinanda

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Tue, March 30, 2021  /  08:00 am
TikTok’s famous ‘Hokagay’ chef

Stacey Nikolay, aka Hokagay or @queerkunoichi, in her ‘ninja’ gear. Both her alias and her gear are references to the manga Naruto, a Japanese pop culture product she grew up with. (instagram.com/queerkunoichi/Courtesy of queer kunoichi's instagram account)

“Last Summer Whisper” by Japanese pop singer Anri is playing in the background while a dramatic slow-motion close-up shows a cup of rice pouring into a rice cooker – all in glittery rose-tainted filter. If you have an account on the popular social media platform TikTok, there’s a big chance you know what video this is.

Indonesian Stacey Nikolay, 27, popularly known online through her alias “Hokagay” and username @queerkunoichi, creates signature videos featuring dynamic angles, lots of zooms and anime references, as well as her energetic voiceovers. Her nickname is a play on the word “Hokage”, made popular by the anime/manga series “Naruto” and referring to the strongest ninja within the series’ fictional village, and the word “gay” is a reference to Stacey’s identity as a bisexual woman.

The TikTok aesthetic

Millennials and Gen Zs will be familiar with the term “aesthetic” as slang meaning images that use a very particular sense of visuals referencing retro color tones and images, as well as the particular individuality of its creator. Stacey’s visual uniqueness is very “aesthetic” and separates her cooking videos from other cooking videos on the platform.

“I’m so glad someone noticed!” she said when The Jakarta Post mentioned this quality as being one of the reasons for her popularity (she currently has close to 900 thousand TikTok followers). Questions thrown at her generally revolve around her experience as a TikTok star.

“I don’t like being called a star or influencer. What do I even influence?” She’s happier to talk about what it’s like behind the camera, something her fans don’t usually consider.

Salmon Chazuke, a Japanese dish that Stacey made in reference to the manga/anime Bungou Stray DogsSalmon Chazuke, a Japanese dish that Stacey made in reference to the manga/anime Bungou Stray Dogs (instagram.com/queerkunoichi/Courtesy of queer kunoichi's instagram account)

“Research on Gen Z’s behavior on social media, especially TikTok, concludes that they have shorter attention spans, which is facilitated by the feature of easy scrolling. Once you find the content uninteresting, it can vanish right away with one scroll.”

“I try to hook the audience’s interest from the very first second. That explains the fast pace and dynamic angles—I make the videos as if there’s no spare second to catch a breath.”

Most cooking videos seem to retain a template with static angles and monotonous editing, but Stacey wants to escape that to show everyone that cooking can be fun. “I want to reach audiences as diverse as possible, from housewives to middle-schoolers scrolling through TikTok.”

The dynamic text she puts up onscreen of her ingredients is another visual element.

“I want my cooking recipes to be accessible even for those who have impaired hearing or even just having a hard time catching up with the audio,” stressed Stacey. “In the future, I want to add subtitles to make them more accessible.”

She does all of this with a minimal set up. “I don’t have a fancy camera nor a stabilizer. It’s expensive. My only ‘gear’ is a cheap ring light I’ve owned for years and my phone,” she chuckled.

Manado meets Japan

“I grew up in a Manadonese household. Every Friday, my mother would prepare various dishes for Sabbath (Sunday). I’ve always wanted to help, but she refused.” So she explored cooking on her own.

“I experimented with available stocks in the kitchen, adding seasonings fit to my taste. I even decided to join a culinary art club in high school.”

As for why she focuses on Japanese food, Stacey giggles - “It’s just that watashi otaku (I’m a Japanese subculture fan).”

Stacey cooking in her ninja gearStacey cooking in her ninja gear (instagram.com/queerkunoichi/Courtesy of queer kunoichi's instagram account)

“Food in anime looks so appetizing! It looks like the cuisine of another universe that I’ve never seen my entire life,” she remarked. “After I grew up and started exploring Japanese restaurants, I was curious on how to create the dishes. But I didn’t have the time — at least not until the pandemic.”

At first, Stacey started cooking at home to make up for not eating out. She began to look up Japanese cuisine on the internet, not only for recipes, but to learn the history and culture behind it. “I actually started learning about the cuisine through (Japanese) films, anime and dorama (TV drama). That’s where I learned the small details—like how zaru soba (cold soba) is for summer and warm soba is for winter and New Year. Or how (the Japanese-style pancake) okonomiyaki is different in each city.”

Stacey watches a lot of Japanese YouTube cooking videos. “If the recipe is from obaasan (grandma/old lady), all the better. There’s no way you question your grandma’s cooking, right? It’s gotta be the authentic, traditional recipe passed down for generations.”

She recalls her own grandmother’s cakalang fufu, a dish common in a Manadonese household.

“From those authentic references, I learned the basic ingredients usually available in a Japanese kitchen—soy sauce, mirin—just like how sweet soy sauce is a must in a Javanese kitchen.”

Identity and visibility

Now that Stacey is well-known, she has no intention to erase the visibility of her identity as a bisexual woman.

“It does attract some attention. There are comments questioning my gender and orientation. “Are you LGBT?” they ask with unfriendly tones,” she said. And since Stacey is now friends with some other well-known social media presences due to her work, their followers sometimes drop “warnings” about Stacey, saying things such as “be careful, she’s [bisexual].”

“At first, it did upset me, but now I think it’s an opportunity to make them understand more about [LGBT people]. My new friends asked plenty of questions about me being [bisexual] at first, and I didn’t mind answering them. They seem to have no problem when they understand,” Stacey explained.

“And I’ve got a bigger platform now. It may be nothing, or it may be able to be utilized to amplify the voices of the queer community.”

Stacey was once offered a contract requiring her to drop “hokagay”, to which she disapproved, keeping the name. “This is who I am, and I want to maintain my [LGBT] visibility.”

Not an influencer

The term influencer is becoming an umbrella term for those with considerable followers on social media, but Stacey refuses to be categorized as such.

As her social media presence grew, Stacey’s met different kinds of people within the social media industry. Although they are nice, she says, sometimes Stacey feels out of touch. She isn’t acquainted with the lifestyle of other niche influencers who spend their time preoccupied with their lavish interests.

Yaki Udon, a Japanese dish Stacey madeYaki Udon, a Japanese dish Stacey made (instagram.com/queerkunoichi/Courtesy of queer kunoichi's instagram account)

“This TikTok content creating thing feels like a different world,” she confessed. Stacey is still, first and foremost, a struggling LGBT internet personality surviving an inequitable environment. Being a content creator provides her with a sense of security, and that is why she is here: earning an adequate amount to get by independently.

Her current position is not a lifestyle for Stacey, it's a means of sustaining her life.

“I’m a content creator, not an influencer.”

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