Over the past decade and change, the world of viral cooking hacks -- much like the end times of late-night infomercials -- have slowly grown increasingly crazed. From depicting calm iterations of home life and office happenings in the '80s to highlighting dystopian clips of families dancing in sleeved-blankets and employing inexplicably screaming hosts (may Billy Mays rest in peace) ...
... it seems viral food videos may be headed down a similarly alarming path. Beginning with quaint, overhead clips depicting a pair of hands -- much like our own -- preparing biscuit-dough monkey bread and mini tacos in the mid-20-teens, the viral food industry has rapidly devolved to terrifying new lows in the years since its incarnation. A Deep-Fried BBQ Chicken Pizzadilla. A Hot Dog Waffle and Pineapple Potato Salad. Hell, even a four-layer "deep-dish surprise" featuring pasta, spinach and artichoke dip, Oreos, and garlic knots. It's grim out there folks, with the only end in sight a potential media shift comparable to the 2010's digital boom.
Yet these two worlds are not as separate as they may seem, with one mystical figure harnessing the absurd powers to dominate both realms in their final stages. Rising from the ashes of the Sham-Wow guy and these gag-worthy cooking "hacks" comes another figure retroactively destined for alarming culinary virality, taking extreme measures to stand out in the infomercial universe and make that as-seen-on-TV coin -- none other than Cathy Mitchell. Ranking among Billy Mays and Anthony Sullivan as a master of the 3 a.m. sales pitch, Mitchell is an expert in the art of "dump cooking" teaching her pour-it-and-forget-it culinary technique on several daytime talk shows, moonlighting as a direct-response advertisement salesperson since the early '90s, purveying a myriad of kitchen unitaskers and several glorified panini presses, like the Snackmaster and the Xpress Redi-Set-Go.
Yet among all the late-night products she's peddled and dump cakes she's baked in pursuit of a hefty payday check, one of Mitchell's business endeavors stands out as the most deranged of her career if not the entirety of as-seen-on-TV history -- her unassumingly devious 2014 cookbook, Ramen Joy and its accompanying TV spot. While this deceptively innocent title may conjure pleasant images of Japanese delicacies and distant memories of dorm room dinners, the reality is far more sinister. Everything food you've ever known and loved can and will be made of 10-cent instant ramen.
"Feast your eyes on these homemade dishes and chocolate-y desserts," the voiceover narrates as the camera pans above a massive spread of several unwitting, almost normal-looking treats, like tacos, brownies, and bonbons, "all made with ramen noodles."
In a commendably optimistic attempt to capture our inevitable horror at the suspiciously-crunchy buffet before us, the infomercial cuts to a smiling blonde woman, clearly enthralled by the prospects of uncooked instant pasta hiding in her deserts. "Really? Ramen Noodles?" she says, clinging to a package of the dehydrated dinner, bearing a toothy grin to the camera.
"Yes, Ramen!" Mitchell gleefully replies, introducing herself, her titular cookbook, and hoisting a laundry basket full of ramen to highlight its bulk-buyable properties. "Check these out!" she says, presenting the buffet before her. "Ramen shrimp, ramen tacos, and even ramen sliders!" While in complete fairness, it should be noted that the aforementioned ramen sliders are likely a play on ramen burgers, a longtime staple at high-end food markets across the nation (namely, New York City's Smorgasburg market), Mitchell's take on this trendy culinary fusion spans well beyond artistic experimentation, arguably delving into a desecration of Asian cuisine, prepared by a Paula Deen/Estelle Costanza hybrid.
Case in point? the saleswoman's soda-filled smokehouse pasta. "Watch this," she says smiling to the camera, a twinkle of pure, unbridled insanity glimmering in her eye. "Brown some beef or any other meat with a ramen seasoning pack, dump in a package of ramen, a good size squirt of ketchup, and a can of cola, yes cola, for a fantastic barbecue beef pasta better than what they serve at the rib joint at a fraction of the cost," she said, clearly having never stepped foot in any rib joint in her entire life.
However, this bastardization doesn't stop with extremely sugary beef. Between the demonstrations for ramen-crust pizza and "the best salad ever" topped with "croutons," made of uncooked pasta ("Oooh! Love that crunch"), Mitchell shares what may be the most embarrassingly midwestern dish to ever exist -- a leftover chicken, veggie, and ramen casserole. "And here's my favorite!" she says with madwoman enthusiasm. "Just dump some ramen on top of some leftover chicken and veggies. Add a can of soup, stir and bake," she instructs "a delicious feast for the entire family for all less than three dollars!"
However, no meal -- or entirely unhinged ramen infomercial for that matter -- is complete without dessert. "How about those decadent truffles, or Grandma's ramen apple pie?" she asks the viewer, panning over a plate of noodle-y deserts. "Mmmmm mmmm!" she moans, quoting the official expression of politely pretending to like a pie consisting of apples and ramen noodles, choking down a bite of the dessert with a scoop of ice cream and an overwhelming fear of late-stage capitalism.
So folks, as you attempt to find creative uses for the hoards of ramen you panic bought last year amid the onset of quarantine, Cathy Mitchell, in all her 90s' glory, is your woman. Desprate times -- and attempts at virality -- call for desperate measures.