مشاركات عشوائية

10 out of 10: How Bellator veteran Keith Lee became one of the world's most influential food critics

featured image

When Keith Lee received his walking papers from Bellator MMA in 2021, he wasn’t exactly sure what was next for him.

After dedicating his life to combat, the 26-year-old veteran decided he needed to create a sustainable life for his growing family that wouldn’t necessarily depend on anyone but himself. At the time, he wasn’t sure exactly where it would take him, but feeling lost at the time led him to find a whole new career.

“I felt very useless after losing my contract with Bellator,” Lee explained while speaking to MMA Fighting. “I promised myself to build something that no one can take away from me and I am me. Completely separate from everything else I do. It’s just me and you can’t take who I am away from me.

Fast forward to just over a year later, and Lee is now considered one of the world’s most influential food critics with a growing fanbase that includes 7 million followers on TikTok, but the how it all happened actually dates back to his mixed career. Martial Arts.

For most of his life, Lee suffered from social anxiety, which can vary in severity, but it caused him serious problems given that he participated in a public sport that essentially requires interaction beyond simple fight in a cage. He struggled to do interviews, so Lee decided to use social media to get more comfortable in front of the camera.

“I started doing TikTok to get more comfortable with interviewing for MMA,” Lee explained. “Because at the time I was just doing MMA. In that part, it was about learning to slow down, to speak in a more monotonous tone. I usually speak that slowly anyway, but when I am excited or nervous, I speak very quickly.

So I could see myself at the beginning of my videos I was talking really fast and everything was kinda fast and jerky and I was like what do I do to slow myself down so I can articulate so you can understand what I’m saying .”

According to Lee, when he started producing videos for TikTok it didn’t even focus on food reviews, but rather family-centric content. Nothing was easy, however, because Lee says his social anxiety caused him to struggle on camera as he constantly worked on getting better at public speaking.

“Before, it took me an hour and a half to shoot a two-minute video when I started,” Lee revealed. Because I would get so nervous. My hands were getting sweaty, I was sweating, I was watching the video. I would stutter, repeat myself over and over and it would just be me [on the video] but [in my head] it was a thousand people watching me, even though at the time I was just recording it and not posting it.

“It would just be me freaking out. Thanks to that, I learned to relax, to calm down and I think that’s what attracts people.

The family content Lee started creating eventually led him to make cooking videos, but it was actually his wife’s pregnancy that changed everything.

“She was craving a lot of crazy stuff, so I was like I might as well tape it,” Lee said.

That’s when Lee got a call from People vs. Food – a popular YouTube channel with over 12 million subscribers – to appear on their show. This invitation got Lee thinking about how he wanted to capitalize on this appearance, which meant coming up with a format that would keep people coming back to his own account.

“I was like OK, if I was going to be on their show and I was a viewer, what would I be looking for if someone was on another platform?” said Lee. “What would I look for to go to their platform and watch their videos? I was like the food reviews. I would watch someone do food reviews all day. So let me start doing food reviews.

“I told my wife that I guess I’ll just start putting out food reviews before moving on to People vs. People.” Food and literally from early November to now I gained 1.7 [million] at 6.4 [million followers].”

Lee’s commitment to his particular style of food review, which usually involves him sitting in front of the camera, explaining where he got the food, the different dishes he’ll try as well as the cost he paid, and then rating each item on a scale of 1 to 10 began to attract more and more attention to him.

The moment Lee realized his food reviews were really starting to explode came after he visited a food truck in Las Vegas who reached out to him on social media.

“I did a review for a place called 303 Food Truck,” Lee said. It’s a food truck here in Las Vegas. I was tagged in an original video he made about a cheesecake sandwich with mascarpone cream in the middle. It sounded crazy and I got tagged in it a thousand times. So I was cool, I’ll go try it and I won’t even think about it much.

“I tried it and that video in the first 24 hours was about 6 million views. He called me back and he said ‘the line is out the door.’ It’s a food truck so from their parking lot to two parking lots over huge lines of people. It’s crazy!”

News crews in Las Vegas caught wind of the attraction with a reporter interviewing people online who came from all over the country to experience the food truck thanks to Lee’s review on TikTok.

That original video now has nearly 30 million views, with the food truck still reporting astronomical sales months after its review went live.

“From this video, I had five companies that sold over $50,000 worth of products in less than 12 hours just from one review,” Lee said.

As his food reviews have skyrocketed in recent months, Lee has insisted that he doesn’t charge for these companies and goes out of his way to always pay for his own meals, although sometimes some owners refuse to charge him.

Lee added that despite his increased notoriety thanks to TikTok, he still does his best to hide whenever he receives food from a restaurant he intends to revisit. He never tells the company what he’s up to and usually restaurants only find out he’s reviewed their food after the videos are posted.

Customers flock to the restaurant to try the same food Lee just reviewed, which is usually when these business owners find out about his incredible influence.

“They call me like ‘what did you just do? What just happened? said Lee. “That’s how I like to do.”

More recently, Lee has been tagged by several companies struggling to survive or gain traction in a fiercely competitive restaurant market, leading him to try their food to let everyone know what they’re missing.

Lee promises his food reviews are always brutally honest — if he doesn’t like a dish, he’ll absolutely rate it that way — but he’s also found some real hidden gems while visiting these lesser-known restaurants.

A Las Vegas pizzeria called Frankenson’s may be the latest business to see growth thanks to Lee’s criticism. Owner Frank Steele recently spoke to KTNV in Las Vegas about the explosion of attention his restaurant received after Lee featured them in one of his videos.

“I have people from Iowa, people from California, from Lake Havasu. I brought people over from Utah because of that video,” Steele said. It’s just overwhelming. It has been a blessing. This restaurant has been my dream for 30 years.

The video with Lee’s original review now has over 22 million views.

Lee says helping restaurants like this win well-deserved business is more than he ever could have hoped for when he started doing food reviews on TikTok.

“It means the world to me,” Lee said. I like to be a vessel of God. It’s hard to put into words because again, I get it. My last fight, I was cut from Bellator in August 2021 and have fought once since September. This gap year was probably the hardest time of my life. Trying to figure out what’s going on and trying to rationalize that I was kicked out of a promotion I always wanted to work with and then completely rebranding myself and allowing God to use me for what was supposed to be done.

“When I started seeing things like that, businesses being saved and people being grateful for things, it always hits me in another place. It’s still at a point where I don’t fully understand what’s going on all the time. I just make videos. I’m just a guy with a camera.

Professional fighting, even in an established organization like Bellator, still rarely offers up-and-coming athletes true financial stability. Although he still enjoys mixed martial arts and continues to train almost daily, Lee admits that his food critics ultimately gave him and his family a living.

He even started a partnership with Chipotle just days ago after a review of his custom-made quesadilla and restaurant dip gained traction with his followers. Now, the “Keithadilla” will be available from March and even Lee still doesn’t understand how it all happened in such a short time.

“My life has changed,” Lee said. “I can’t say much, but I can say that my life has changed and I will be eternally grateful to him. I’m in a different slice than I’ve ever been with fights. It’s surreal. It hasn’t really touched me yet, but to say the least, I can live with it.

Oh and one last thing – Lee still plans to fight again as well.

As successful as his food critics are, Lee isn’t giving up on his MMA career because it’s still something that matters to him, even if his fight schedule may need to slow down a bit.

“I plan to fight at least once or twice this year,” Lee said. “I have a lot of deals on the table and a lot of deals that I just made, so now I’m going to focus on settling them. Figure out where I’m at in life before you promise me a fight, because I’m a real fighter at heart. I think that’s one of the main things I was put on this earth for. When I do it, I do it well.

“When I do something, I put all my effort into it. I don’t do anything halfway and fighting is something you can’t play with. I refuse to fight or schedule a fight and do it at half or filming content. When I’m at camp, I’m at camp. So when I have time, that’s going to be my main focus, but right now I’m just enjoying life.

Post a Comment