Interview: Brian O'Shea on His Viral Online Food Series

By Virginia Werner, September 11, 2017

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In our CHat Speakers series, we take a look at some of the people whose lives and careers have been shaped by WeChat. Find them at CHat Shanghai, a two-day conference designed to educate and inspire use of the WeChat ecosystem on September 21 and 22 at The Place near Xintiandi.

Brian O’Shea is the creator and producer of TasteBuds (伶牙俐吃), a video channel about Chinese food that has become very popular with Chinese locals. Brian moved to China in 2016 from Argentina and self-taught himself Chinese by downloading a set of audio lessons and dedicating his morning coffee to learning the language.

Only three months after publishing his first video, Brian’s channel has over 100,000 followers on Chinese social media platforms and an average of 50,000 views weekly, having reached over 300,000 in a single video.

Brian will be in Shanghai later this month for the CHina CHat conference, a two-day conference designed to educate and inspire use of the WeChat ecosystem on September 21 and 22 at The Place near Xintiandi. We spoke with Brian about his video channel’s success and his most memorable Chinese food eating experiences.

Tell us about yourself. What brought you to China and why did you decide to stay?
I'm a 24-year-old foodie with an interest for all things unknown. I came to China because I wanted a change and I wanted it to be big. Turns out China had everything I loved about Argentina and didn't have what I hated the most: football and crime! And most importantly: it has Chinese food, my biggest love!

Can you describe TasteBuds to us? Where did you get the idea for this show?
TasteBuds is a food channel that focuses on the unique things even Chinese people might have missed. It's snappy and dynamic, which appeals mostly to young people who spend time online. I got the idea the first time I visited Asia and realized the amount of different foods in the world and how much I loved them; I wanted to show everyone what they were missing! 

Taste Buds

Why do you think your show appeals so much to Chinese people? How has leveraging Chinese social media (such as WeChat) helped you build your brand and audience?
I think Chinese people like my show because it helps them realize that foreigners aren't as different as we seem, and that if this foreigner is willing to try the nastiest of Chinese cuisine then there must be other foreigners as open minded as me. They also love to see somebody enjoying the local treats and appreciating the stories behind the dishes.

I ran into some issues creating a public WeChat account because I lacked a shenfenzheng, but the company I am currently collaborating with is helping me open one soon. 

But even without that WeChat is still playing a bit role. Right now I have three different fan group chats with their own managers that help me promote content, share videos and answer questions. 

If you can tap into the full potential and successfully promote your brand through WeChat the limit is literally China’s population. And this is not even limited to China as a territory; there are Chinese people all over the world!

What is a typical day of filming an episode of TasteBuds like?
The way filming works is I do my own research online or in person to find the restaurants and I go film without giving notice. I ask the boss if it's okay to film and set up camp in the quietest corner. I order their specialty or the dishes I’m after, film for an average of an hour, talk to the owner or the chef to learn more about the dishes, pay and go home to edit, which takes a maximum of two days per video.

Brian O'Shea

What is your favorite Chinese food? What is your least favorite?
Although I don't have a favorite I feel like I have to mention luo shi fen as a food I often find myself craving. It’s basically a very strong scented bowl of rice noodles in a snail soup, with fried peanuts, sour bamboo shoots, pickles, seaweed, fried crispy tofu and options of meat, egg, fishballs, and more. You can smell it from a block away and you either hate it or love it!

My least favorite has to be stinky fish, fermented fish that smells like rotten socks and tastes like spicy rotten socks! It’s a Hubei special that is going to make you cry and potentially vomit, but I still encourage people to try it. You never know!

Find Brian at a KOL panel at CHina CHat, a two-day conference designed to educate and inspire use of the WeChat ecosystem on September 21 and 22 at The Place near Xintiandi. Check out our preview here

China Channel provides workshops and training to organizations looking to enter and make better use of WeChat.

Read more interviews in our CHat Speakers series here.

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