Creators on the Rise: A fortune teller convinced H Woo to go full-time on TikTok

By 06/21/2023
Creators on the Rise: A fortune teller convinced H Woo to go full-time on TikTok

Welcome to Creators on the Rise, where we find and profile breakout creators who are in the midst of extraordinary growth.

In college, H Woo saw a documentary about an illicit restaurant being run out of a campus apartment at the University of Southern California.

His first thought was, I can do this.


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He was also a student at USC, and the dining options then (with “then” being 2017) were “horrendous,” he says. So he’d started teaching himself to cook, and after seeing what was going on with Paladar, he wanted to give it a shot. He found out pretty quickly that making food for a large group of people was not as easy as it seemed. But that didn’t discourage him.

“My senior year mostly consisted of once every week or every other week I had friends coming over for dinner,” he says. “It was very casual, and it wasn’t until I graduated where I started hosting six- to seven-course tasting menus out of an old fraternity house off the rail at USC. I did that from beginning of 2019 all the way up until the pandemic.”

By then, H Woo was working as a wedding planner, so COVID not only threw his dinner party plans, but also his full-time job off track. In the winter of 2020, with more time on his hands than he’d expected, he “randomly” filmed himself making a steak dish at home and, thanks to encouragement from his talent manager roommate, posted it on TikTok.

@hwoo.lee i never really delved into my cooking background so… short storytime #storytime #maru #supperclub ♬ original sound – h woo

The video blew up. After consulting a fortune teller to see if content should become his new career (we’ll let him tell you that story below), he committed to “firing off videos as fast as I could,” he says. “There was like, that was all the faith I had, was to just post as many videos as I could without compromising my quality or what I believe is a good video in my eyes.”

For five months, he posted videos–mostly recipes–without earning much money. Then, in fall 2021, brand deals began to roll in, and H Woo realized his leap of faith was beginning to work out.

Now, with 1.4 million followers on TikTok, 590K on Instagram, and and 650K on YouTube, he’s starting to make dinner party content, returning in spirit to those early days where he made multicourse feasts for fellow students at USC.

Check out our chat with him below.

@hwoo.lee this is how i do dinner parties in my apartment (^o^)丿 menu: -korean fried chicken, Petrossian caviar, creme fraiche -hamachi crudo, fish sauce, thai chili, thai basil -dry aged sea bass and Petrossian smoked trout roe beurre blanc -dry aged wagyu rib eye, korean style beef jus, pomme puree -toasted honey ice cream, candied walnuts, smoked maldon -the little tokyo cocktail -the saigon flip cocktail #dinner #dinnerparty#tastingmenu ♬ original sound – h woo

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tubefilter: Pretend somebody’s reading or watching this and they haven’t seen your content and don’t know who you are. Can you give me a little bit of a rundown about you and your background, where you’re from, and that kind of thing?

H Woo: My name is H Woo. A lot of people think it’s Hwoo because that’s how it’s spelled, but it’s H. Woo to play off my Korean name. I am a 26-year-old, based-in-L.A. home cook. I used to run a supper club and that’s how I got into food at USC. I’m self-taught. I worked a cumulative month in kitchens and I started doing food content during the pandemic as a way to express myself. Fortunately it turned into a career path and the food and content that you’ll see from me is third-culture Korean-American focused with a little bit of a fine dining flare, if you will. A lot of dinner party content.

Tubefilter: When did you start doing dinner parties?

H Woo: I learned to cook during college at USC because USC’s food options back then were horrendous. It was the summer of 2017, so I was going into my junior year of college and I watched cooking videos and realized I need to eat, I need to learn how to make something to eat. From there, junior-senior year, I learned to cook on my own.

During that time I also watched a documentary called Paladar. That was about a supper club run at USC, and it was a three-course menu every week. I saw this and I was like, I can do this. I gave it a shot and learned very quickly that cooking for a group is a lot harder than most people think.

My senior year mostly consisted of once every week or every other week I had friends coming over for dinner. It was very casual, and it wasn’t until I graduated where I started hosting six- to seven-course tasting menus out of an old fraternity house off the rail at USC. I did that from beginning of 2019 all the way up until the pandemic. That was about…Not including summer, that was like eight months of these private dinners, and then the pandemic hit.

I went to my actual job, which was, I used to be a wedding planner. Midway through December 2020, I randomly just filmed myself making a steak, edited it, and then decided to post it because my roommate at the time was also a talent manager and he was like, “Post this right now, see how it does.” It blew up. From there, my roommate, friend, and now manager is one of the core reasons why I got into this career path. It’s crazy.

Tubefilter: It’s his fault.

H Woo: It is his fault.

Tubefilter: Somehow it doesn’t surprise me to find out that you were a wedding planner. I feel like you had a good background for cooking–or at least organizing for a group, maybe not cooking yet.

H Woo: The organization aspect is very important.

Tubefilter: It seems like a natural flow. What did you go to college for?

H Woo: I started pre-med. I realized I did not like this at all and I was not doing it for myself, so I switched to business and just graduated business.

Tubefilter: Tell me a little bit about, so you posted this video with the steak, and then how did it become like a regular thing? Did you start uploading more videos right away, or what was that development?

H Woo: I was still working the wedding planning job. I posted this video, it went viral, and it took about three months for me to make the jump from wedding planner to full-time creator.

Tubefilter: That’s very quick.

H Woo: It was really quick. It’s really quick because in early March, my boss, who’s also like my dad, I love him so much, he was like, “I’m going to bring you a fortune teller and the fortune teller is going to tell you if you should do this as a career path.”

I said, “Fuck it.” [laughs]

He brings in the fortune teller, looks at my birthday, just looks at me and what I have to offer, I guess. He’s like, “Your first job should be military, and then your second job should be entertainer.” Then my boss was like, “So can he be this internet social media cook?” He said, “Yes.” So I made that leap. Not just that, but that was like a key moment where I was like…Throughout college I also had smaller, I guess entrepreneurial projects. It was one of those moments where I said, “Just take the leap. Just do it. If it doesn’t work out, you can go back to the wedding planning job.”

Tubefilter: I’ve got to say, I’ve been doing this for almost six years and nobody has ever told me that before. I’ve never heard “I went full-time because a fortune teller told me to.”

H Woo: It’s ridiculous.

Tubefilter: Hey, you could have joined the military, so I’m glad you went for this path instead.

H Woo: I’m glad I did too.

@hwoo.lee sibling dinner party at mine 🤗 menu: – japanese cold noodle cocktail from @moresavorygoods / double chicken please – @eat.campogrande ‘s iberico coppa turned into momofuku style bossam – @momofukugoods bing bread – garlic confit and brown butter ssamjang – spicy cucumber salad, oysters, kimchi – homemade yuzu ice cream #dinnerparty #dinner #familymeal ♬ original sound – h woo

Tubefilter: What changed when you went full-time? How did embracing this full-time look for you?

H Woo: I think because it was such a new industry at the time, no one quite knew what to do. Not that content’s new, but more so of the short-form style of like, virality. Something that most would say is credited to TikTok. I just started just firing off videos as fast as I could. There was like, that was all the faith I had, was to just post as many videos as I could without compromising my quality or what I believe is a good video in my eyes.

I would say the first five months of my full-time content creator job, I didn’t make any money. There was no money made. It was just half faith.

Tubefilter: That’s scary.

H Woo: It was super scary, but leap of faith. Just have faith in yourself. And I just kept posting, hoping that something would come along, and something eventually did, like that August-September of 2021.

Tubefilter: Was that ad money kicked on or did you get a brand sponsorship or…?

H Woo: It was a brand sponsorship. Most of my money is made through brand sponsorships. But that was a rough year.

Tubefilter: I can imagine. No income for five months, I think that would scare anybody.

H Woo: I was going deep into my savings, and I was also still working my last job to make money. He let me work part-time. That was helpful as well.

Tubefilter: That’s good. I’m hoping it’s steadier now in terms of income.

H Woo: It’s more chaotic. It’s much better now. Fortunately, I still have my same manager. He also just got an assistant, so the team is growing. I also have agents, a group of lovely agents at UTA, and they’re also helping me get deals. They’re on literary, unscripted, digital music, all different departments. It’s much more stable now. I still have that feeling of this entire career. It’s a little unstable, but a leap of faith. I feel like I’m still gliding. I haven’t got to the other cliff yet.

Tubefilter: I feel like you seem to have a leap of faith but also a safety net approach.

H Woo: Follow your heart and check with your head. That’s what I tell myself a lot.

Tubefilter: I feel that. How did YouTube come into things? Did you expand to YouTube right away or did you expand to YouTube later?

H Woo: TikTok and Instagram were my first platforms I focused on, and then I slowly started posting on YouTube, but I wasn’t seeing much of a reaction to stuff. Granted, that was a little discouraging, but I would say beginning of 2022 was when it started gaining more followers and more attraction.

@hwoo.lee Replying to @philiplemoine i revisit my first viral recipe. Oh how much i’ve changed in 2 years, better technique and the same depression. 28 day dry aged strip from @alpinebutcher , pomme purée, and a REAL sauce bordelaise. #steak #dryaged #mashedpotatoes #bordelaise ♬ original sound – h woo

Tubefilter: Do you have a main platform focus now? Is it still TikTok and Instagram? Do you split focus? Do you make any individual content for each platform? How is your spread right now?

H Woo: It’s split pretty evenly where my attention goes. Depending on certain deals, certain platforms get more attention. If a brand wants specifically TikTok, specifically wants Instagram or YouTube or Facebook, then I’ll obviously have a unique piece of content for each one.

Tubefilter: Walk me through the average video for you. From conception to posting, how long does each video take? I know, depending on the recipe, this could be a difficult question.

H Woo: I think my approach has always been to…I keep this in mind: When I’m 75 years old, I want to be able to look back at these videos, show my kids, and show next generations, something that I’m so proud of creatively and whatnot.

With cooking the plot is given, make a dish from start to finish. The plotline is already there, which is making a dish. What dish I make stems from all things that my life experience is from, stuff that I like to eat when I was younger. I go out to eat food a lot, and so I taste something at a restaurant, I’m like, “Oh, I like that.” Or I like that technique. I’ll take that and put it to something else. Thinking of an actual recipe takes a while, or executing it does. I’ve had dishes that take anywhere from an hour to actually make to days where I’m dry-aging something or I’m curing it overnight or whatever it is.

Cooking time could be from an hour to multiple days. Generally, if it takes, like, an hour of cooking, it’ll probably take another hour of filming. Just because I film everything myself as well. Let’s just say eight hours for cooking and filming something, and then it takes me probably another six to eight hours to edit, write out recipes, recipe cards. It’s like a full two-day project.

Tubefilter: Do you have a set schedule for how often you’re trying to publish videos, or is it just when you can do this?

H Woo: It’s whenever I do it now. I think if you’d asked me that question at the start of my leap of faith and back in 2022, it was like, at least once a week. Once a week. Once a week. But my focus right now is shifting a lot more towards dinner party content. It’s like a five-course menu in one video. My schedule is very project-based. It’s like, if I have one project, it takes two weeks. Takes two weeks as long as it’s done correctly for me. It’s also weird because when you ask me that, I’m taking vacation in Japan, even though it is work. I’ve been in Japan since beginning of May, so almost a month I’ll be here. It’s like a little bit of a break right now, but it’s like, whenever I can post. I filmed some videos here, but I’m not stressing out on filming everything.

@hwoo.lee inspired by the cold fried chicken from momofuku ko bar in NY, this is by far my favorite chicken recipe i’ve had to reverse engineer #friedchicken #koreanfriedchicken #momofuku ♬ original sound – h woo

Tubefilter: Do you have any projects or things that you’re working toward this year? Anything you talk about? Maybe a cookbook?

H Woo: I would love to do a cookbook. My manager will maybe slap me, but I know I could do a cookbook right now. I know I could have started one last year, but I’m still very much…I think I’m an apprentice of the craft, if you will, but I still think I’m developing my style. Like a typical chef who takes years to develop their style, they work in different kitchens, they work different cuisines, and then they find something that’s like, their forte. I still think I’m in that learning phase, and for me, I could make a cookbook on my process, but I’d rather start the cookbook when I’m somewhat near the end of–well, there’s no end to that process, but what I’ve explored a lot more.

I think if anything, I want to write a book on how to host dinner parties at home.

Tubefilter: I could use that. I think lots of people could use that. I’m so fascinated that you were a wedding planner too, I just feel like that’s such an interesting mix of backgrounds.

H Woo: It’s quite a mix, and then in college, I used to host parties like little concerts as well, so it all kind of blends together.

Tubefilter: It all comes together. It’s cohesive. Last question: You’re on TikTok’s 2023 API Visionary Voices list. Is there anything you wanted to say about that, or anything to wrap up in general?

H Woo: It’s been a long time coming from that leap of faith and I’m honored and grateful to be here.

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