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“I like the challenges, but mostly I love spending time with my baby”: Susur Lee and his son Jet Bent-Lee on their fast food makeover TikTok account with six million followers

Featuring a deconstructed and reconstructed TV dinner, Domino’s pizza and instant noodles

"I like the challenges, but mostly I love spending time with my baby": Susur Lee and his son Jet Bent-Lee on their fast food makeover TikTok account with six million followers
Susur Lee (left) and his son Jet Bent-Lee Photo by Taran Sodhi

Seeing Iron Chef Susur Lee create edible poetry out of the world’s finest ingredients is so 2021. Over the past year, the culinary icon has become a TikTok star, creating gourmet dishes out of junk food while millions of viewers salivate. The project is a co-production with his youngest son, Jet Bent-Lee, who orders fast food—fried chicken sandwiches, TV dinners, Starbucks cake pops—and challenges his dad to give it a gourmet makeover. “I like the challenges, but mostly I love spending time with my baby,” says Lee, who says the father-son dynamic is what makes the videos so popular—though the food porn doesn’t hurt. Here, they tell us the secrets to their success.


Jet: I don’t really know what sparked the idea to bring my dad a Chick-fil-A sandwich and see what he could make with it. I had seen people on TikTok do similar challenges with McDonald’s, but I had never seen it done with Chick-fil-A before. My dad had never even heard of Chick-fil-A, so his reactions are all genuine—like the faces he makes when he realizes how greasy the chicken is. My dad being my dad, he even used fresh herbs from his garden for his dish, and the presentation was sick. This was back 2020, and I put the video on YouTube, where it got a lot of views. After that, we did the same thing with Panda Express. That one was really popular too, so I decided to post a shortened version of the video on TikTok.

Susur: I had never been on TikTok. I still don’t even know how it works. I don’t want to know, to be honest. At first, I didn’t really get the idea—Why do you want me to make gourmet dishes out of junk food? It’s not about being a snob—I just don’t like fried food. I can probably count the number of times I’ve eaten it on two hands. But I think this is what a lot of young people want to eat these days, so it is both a social study and a challenge. Some dishes require a little more thought and planning than others. I was quite proud of the Panda Express challenge. I made a modern Chinese delicacy—fried rice inside a crêpe parcel on top of a nest of fried noodles—out of the most oily, unappealing takeout. The TV dinner was another tough one. The chicken wasn’t even chicken—it was chicken mousse!

Jet: But you turned it into something really complex and gourmet—chicken dumplings with a corn cream sauce topped with applewood smoked bacon and truffle shavings.

Susur: I gave myself a 9 out of 7 rating. Ha! I really do enjoy making these videos even if I don’t understand the technology. For me, it started as something to do when restaurants were closed during the pandemic. But, most importantly, I’m spending time with my son—my baby. When my two older sons were growing up, I was always at the restaurant, but with Jet I have this opportunity to spend more time with him, which is such a treasure.

Jet: I don’t really give him any direction. Obviously he doesn’t need direction in the kitchen, and he also has quite a bit of experience in front of the camera. I did set up a TikTok account for him just because he kept asking to watch the videos, so he was always asking to borrow my phone.

Susur: I wanted to see how many viewers we had, but then I can’t really wrap my head around these numbers into the millions. It’s encouraging to see what people really like, and I don’t feel the same pressure as with Iron Chef or even running a kitchen at one of my restaurants, which is very demanding and requires a businesslike mindset. With these TikTok videos, it’s about having fun. We are filming at my home kitchen—I’m not even wearing shoes, just socks, which would be big trouble in a restaurant kitchen.

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Jet: I think some people may be surprised at how relaxed my dad is in the videos, but for me that’s how he has always been. He has to be a certain way in the chef world, but at home it was our mom who would discipline us. My dad would always laugh, even if we were being bratty.

Susur: When Jet was little, we used to watch cartoons together, like SpongeBob SquarePants, and he would love to watch me laugh. He was just such a happy little guy. I always say that Jet is my favourite, but it’s okay because my two older boys really love Jet too.

Jet: Of course, I don’t really see myself as being better or worse than my brothers, although we’re definitely very competitive. I think Dad calling me “the favourite” is just a family joke.

Susur: It’s not a joke. Jet has the most refined palate. The other day, we were eating crème fraîche and he said, “Dad, this is real crème fraîche,” and he was right. When he is able to identify and articulate these small details about food, it makes me smile inside. I used to think that maybe he could follow in my footsteps. I always said to him, “Jet, you have a chef’s hands.” I would watch him build my Singapore Slaw when he used to work at the restaurant during summer break—he’s very talented in the kitchen. But of course I want all of my boys to do whatever they are passionate about.

Jet: I grew up playing competitive tennis, so that was really my focus. I did enjoy working in my dad’s kitchens, I think maybe because I’m not the most social guy. I like working behind the camera and coming up with new ideas for content. Our fast-food-to-gourmet challenges are great, but they can get a bit repetitive just because so many of those places use the same ingredients. So we started introducing new segments. One that people really seem to like is our rare-fruit videos, where I will buy some exotic fruit and get my dad to try it. We did one with a durian, which is a spiky, fleshy, very pungent Chinese fruit. And we did another one with a $100 Miyazaki mango.

Susur: I really like that our videos have different cultural elements. A lot of the ingredients we focus on are ones that may not be as familiar to North American audiences. And then there’s an aspect that is about being a mixed-race kid, with a Chinese father. All of my sons know that I have philosophies about being Asian.

Jet: Ha. Oh, yes.

Susur: Jet has taken on being very frugal because I taught him well. We’ll be finished eating, and if there are any leftovers, he will say, “Okay, Dad, should we save this for the next meal?"

Jet: My dad takes it to another level, though, so it’s sort of become a joke. I’ll take, like, one lemon wedge and put it in the fridge. I’m kidding, but he is not. We were filming a video where he only uses egg whites—so of course he bagged the yolks to take in to work. That’s not a joke for the cameras. That’s who he is.

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