By JOHN-JOHN WILLIAMS IV, The Baltimore Sun
BALTIMORE (AP) — You have probably seen Tim Chin or one of his photographs of delectable, decadent food somewhere in Baltimore — from the LED Art Billboard near Pennsylvania Station to Visit Baltimore campaigns throughout the Mid-Atlantic.
Netflix found out about him, which led to his being cast as the guest co-host for “Fresh, Fried & Crispy,” a show in which host Daym Drops (a.k.a. YouTube personality Daymon Patterson) searches for the best meals in America.
The episode, which premiered June 9, is the culmination of the past four years of Chin’s combing the region for scrumptious bites and curating mouth-watering images for his social media posts, which have attracted tens of thousands of followers.
Chin, who goes by Chyno and uses @thebaltimorefoodie and @theboywiththebluebeard as his social media handles, considers the work he does as a food personality an asset to the restaurant industry, which has been struggling to find its footing amid the harsh effects of the pandemic. Chin has the added perspective of working in the food service industry for 17 years — everywhere from a movie theater to Panera Bread.
“People make their choices based off of how they are or what they find scrolling,” Chin explained. “Far too often spaces do not receive the notoriety they deserve from larger mediums based off marketing value, popularity, target demographics, so it’s our job to shine the light best we can.”
Keyia Yalcin, owner of the Fishnet, a fish-centric restaurant in Mount Vernon Marketplace, describes Chin as a “bright light of the Baltimore food scene.”
“He has used his platform to be a champion for small business, and his ability to shine his light to help others succeed is something to be applauded,” she added.
For the show, Chin and Daym check out a fried pork belly sandwich from Between Two Buns in Mount Vernon, the Colossal Crab sandwich at the Local Oyster in Mount Vernon and assorted dumplings from Chin’s restaurant, Pinch Dumplings in Mount Vernon, in which he is a majority owner. Chin also teaches Daym the difference between male and female crabs. And while Chin has been featured in two episodes of “Food Paradise” on the Travel Channel and the Cooking Channel, and in various advertisements, this is the most screen time he has had in such a prominent position.
Food influencers are a fairly recent phenomenon within social media platforms such as Instagram, which is the most popular, according to Marie Yeh, associate professor of marketing at Loyola University Maryland.
“Restaurants and small businesses have to come see that as a way to get their name out there or realizing they need to connect with people with influence,” explained Yeh, adding that the public also relies heavily on reviews, menus and other factors to inform their food and restaurant choices. “(Food influencers) can play a very strong role in awareness.”
Craig Falk, owner of the food concepts The Lunchbox Lady and Big Softy for the past six years, estimates that Chin has snapped and posted dozens of pictures of his food, driving “countless” customers his way.
“Chyno’s power to help food business grow comes from the love, passion and unmeasurable drive he possesses,” said Falk, who has known Chin for the past five years. “His big heart shines through his beautiful photos and his spirit when you’re around him.”
Yeh believes that food influencers like Chin have staying power.
“I don’t see it going anywhere,” Yeh said. “If anything, I think it will just grow.”
Chin’s rise within the industry has not been without obstacles. He was homeless for two years while in New York City during Occupy Wall Street. And there was a year in Baltimore when he couch-surfed before getting a job in 2015 at Pinch Dumplings, where he did everything from making dumplings and mixing drinks to helping customers as a “team member.”
“Seeing myself in such a high-profile show legit brought tears to my eyes,” Chin said. “To know that just six years ago I had one bag of clothes to my name and for all intents and purposes was homeless and now I’m coming to Netflix, it’s truly a started-from-the-bottom fairy tale.”
Over the years, during food-related events, Chin has had the opportunity to rub shoulders with elite food celebrities, including Gordon Ramsay, Giada De Laurentiis, Guy Fieri, Jose Andres, and Cindy Wolf. But working with Daym Drops was a first.
“I had yet to work with a Black food personality,” Chin admitted. “To work with such a legend is, and will forever be, one of my favorite career milestones and proved that it can happen. The dream does come true.”
Two of Chin’s tattoos — one of his mother’s name Cathy inked in his neck and her nickname for him, “Apollo,” on his arm — serve as reminders of her. She died in 2004 at the start of his senior year at Woodlawn High School in Gwynn Oak.
“She’s the reason why I chase all these dreams,” he said.
And he has been open on social media about how medical marijuana has helped him to cope with bouts of depression and anxiety brought on by losses and societal stress, he explained. Chin’s racial background — he’s Black, Chinese and white — combined with being openly gay provides its own set of obstacles.
“Being a large Black, openly gay verbose personality isn’t the easiest, as you can imagine,” Chin said. “People continually doubt my ability to persevere. (They say): ‘He’s too loud, he’s too flamboyant, he’s too this or that.’ ”
Dave Seel, who has owned Blue Fork Marketing, a food-centered firm since 2016, runs Baltimore Restaurant Relief Fund, where Chin is a board member. The fund has worked to feed restaurant industry workers through a series of weekly meals. Together, Seel and Chin have worked with restaurants to serve close to 3,000 meals this past year. They also raised $205,000 to assist local restaurants.
“Chyno is the true, authentic face of Baltimore and all of its vibrance,” Seel said. “He encapsulates what is wonderful about this city and what draws literally the whole city to love him. It has been a pleasure to be his friend and follow his journey, which is just getting started.”
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