This week, model and cookbook author Chrissy Teigen welcomed a website into the world. “Happy born day,” she wrote on Instagram, with a GIF of a cake topped with sparklers. Cravings by Chrissy Teigen, the website, joins Cravings the cookbook and Cravings the Target cookware line. Rather than a hub for selling her wares (already done), the new site is “a true community of people who love Cravings,” Teigen explains in a teaser video, and “a place where you can see everything that is our family.” She also jokes that John Legend, her husband, is paying for it.
You have to really love Cravings to enjoy this website. It’s a vanity project, starring Teigen as a cool-girl cook and mom at the center. Spread out across her celebrity lifestyle brand, this persona has, for years, successfully lent her some legitimate—sorry, no other word—authenticity. But distilled into a site that exists to … show off that persona via a rickety user interface? It feels more than a little stilted.
Let’s take a quick tour. “I hate baking,” she announces at the start of a video about making a strawberry shortcake recipe from another website, Sally’s Baking Addiction. Both the declaration and recipe choice are confusing, given that she has authored two cookbooks. The recipe execution process includes a gag in which she tries chilling strawberries in each of two fridges in her kitchen, finds both of them full, and announces she’s taking the bowl to yet a third fridge. “Warning, this video contains shards of glass from the bowl I dropped,” the text below the video says. It straddles recipe video and sketch, without fulfilling either successfully.
On an “Ask” page, Teigen responds to fan queries about splurgeworthy pantry essentials, introducing kids to spicy foods, and whether she runs around her house naked (“You lost me at ‘you run,’ ” Teigen replied). These questions are posed in turquoise speech bubbles, seemingly meant to mimic direct messages, as a means to extend Teigen’s truly unparalleled skill at quipping with people on Twitter. But here, stacked on top of one another without any sense of the real-time spontaneity of actual Twitter, they seem like pieces of formal correspondence and read a bit strangely.
A “cravings” tab features an array of recipes, including a sheet-pan salmon meal (simple but with fancy garlic butter), carrots roasted with chamomile tea (more fancy butter), and garlic-roasted bacon. You can sort recipes by hashtags, like “bbqeautiful” and “lifehack,” or, if you make an account, save them to your favorites. I made the sheet-pan salmon meal, which, even with the fancy butter, was shockingly easy for my noncooker self. This part of the site is mostly fine! Beneath each recipe, there’s a button requesting that if you’ve made the recipe, you “Send Chrissy a Picture,” which, like the “Ask” page, vaguely promises an opportunity for interaction, though it’s hard to imagine where that would go, exactly. It’s a promise of intimacy that can’t really deliver, which feels, well, fake.
On the homepage, there’s an area inexplicably labeled “Hot Takes” that appears to serve the same purpose as Instagram (that is, to pass off a selection of painstakingly curated photos as spontaneous). “If someone were to hack my phone, this would be all the things they’d find,” says the copy. Below that is a carousel of photos, sized as though they came directly from an iPhone, bearing a “cravings” signature in each corner, and lurching around as one clicks through. There’s Teigen’s mom smiling over a stove, beneath a garland of sausages (“the day we almost burned the house down”); Teigen in oversize sunglasses holding a disheveled box of doughnuts (“this is me dieting”); Teigen sitting on the floor with her mom eating chips for some kind of challenge? It’s hard to read the lengthy caption on this one, which is white against Teigen’s white dress.
The allure of a peek into her phone is confusing—as any loyal fan of Teigen knows, she already does share “everything that is [her] family,” to her 11.9 million followers on Twitter and to her 26.4 million followers on Instagram. The whole Legend-Teigen unit is on the cover of this December’s Vanity Fair, and the accompanying profile is very in-depth, with Teigen taking the reporter on a tour of her house that includes a stop at the Lexapro on her nightstand. “Unfiltered” already serves as a big part of Teigen’s brand, one that she generally pulls off quite successfully, whether in selling Pampers or making a political point (“lol what a pussy ass bitch,” she wrote in a Tweet about the president after he publicly insulted her and her husband). The website does not, at present, get more unfiltered than this.
On principle, I can get behind the idea of an influencer/celebrity trying to convert status she has rightly earned on other platforms into something that lives in a space that is just hers, particularly given the multitude of problems with Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. But the clumsiness of the website, especially in contrast to her deft and nuanced performance in other realms, underscores exactly why these platforms have so much power. It is genuinely hard to create a pleasing interface and fill it with heaps of funny, conversational, informative content all on your own. Traditional platforms provide plenty of fodder to react to and position around—you can stand out by being messy where others strive for perfection, or by matching the president’s foul language where others demure. On your own platform, you have to fill all the space yourself; no straight man to buttress your performance. Plus, when you’re all alone, the fact that it is a performance feels more painfully apparent.
This may explain why many a celebrity has tried, and failed, to translate her brand into an independent social media platform of some stripe. In 2017, Taylor Swift released the Swift Life, a social network complete with “Taymojis,” which she shut down earlier this year. Before her went Blake Lively, with her magazine-slash-store, Preserve (born: 2014, died: 2015). On the cusp of hyperfame, then-actress Meghan Markle* shuttered the Tig, though possibly that was because “lifestyle blogging” doesn’t go so well with “being British royalty.” Even the Kardashians couldn’t make their own platforms work; the sisters shuttered their $3-a-month subscription apps (basically a paywalled version of their Instagrams) after usage plummeted in 2018.
Maybe it’s just that creating good, consistent work is hard, and expensive, as is creating a platform with an interactive element that doesn’t feel a bit hokey. Teigen appears to have a small team; but making even a modest digital publication is a full-time job, usually for many people. It is possible that the Cravings site will evolve—will fill out with more recipes, will hit its comedic stride in video scripts, and will lose some of the features that didn’t work. This would be a nice future. I would like the salmon sheet pan recipe to have a home. But this future would be an exception, not the norm. And in a way, this pasted-together platform reveals Teigen’s humanity more than a piece of shattered cookware or a barbed comeback ever could.
Correction, Nov. 8, 2019: This post originally misspelled Meghan Markle’s last name.