TikTok Chef Tini Younger Dishes on Her Viral Mac ‘n Cheese, Gordon Ramsay and Making Her Own Wedding Cake (Exclusive)

The former 'Next Level Chef' contestant partnered with Carnation for their new Kickin' Jalapeño Flavored Evaporated Milk

<p>Tineke Younger/TikTok</p> Tineke Younger

Tineke Younger/TikTok

Tineke Younger

TikTok chef Tineke “Tini” Younger couldn’t believe it when her mac and cheese recipe went viral.

“I was like ‘What the? It's mac and cheese. I've posted mac and cheese before.’ And then it just kept going and going and going, and it was 60 million views in a week,” she tells PEOPLE in an exclusive interview.

Her hit recipe for the classic comfort food dish — now with over 100 million views on TikTok since being posted in November — is a straightforward recipe that exemplifies her accessible approach to teaching cooking on social media.

“It's not too over-complicated. You don't really need a lot of skills for it. You can be new in the kitchen and you can learn how to make mac and cheese. Not a lot of ingredients… It's nice, simple, but it's still flavorful,” says Younger, 22. “I just try to make it as simple as possible and break down every step so anyone can feel like they can cook."

Even though her recipe may be simple, it features one surprise ingredient — Carnation Evaporated Milk — which made a partnership with the brand a natural next step. Leading up to National Mac and Cheese Day on July 14, Carnation has teamed up with Younger for their new Kickin’ Jalapeño Flavored Evaporated Milk, their first-ever flavored product.

“I actually drank it out of the can today,” she laughs. “You can taste the evaporated milk right away, and then it kicks you with the jalapeño and it's very fresh. It goes really well with the mac and cheese.”

Carnation is also debuting free “Mac it Better” kits in honor of National Mac and Cheese Day on July 14. The limited-edition kits will include a can of the new flavor, a can of regular Carnation Evaporated Milk, a printed out version of her viral mac and cheese recipe and a $25 gift card to purchase everything else needed for the recipe.

<p>Evan Kalman for Carnation</p> Carnation Kickin' Jalapeño Evaporated Milk

Evan Kalman for Carnation

Carnation Kickin' Jalapeño Evaporated Milk

They will be available on Carnation’s website in a series of three first come, first served drops on June 25, July 9 and July 14.

Younger, now the host of the Bite Originals YouTube series From Scratch with Tini, started to gain popularity on TikTok while attending culinary school near her hometown in Walkersville, Md. After posting a video of herself making dinner for her then-boyfriend Antoine Wright Jr. in 2021, she quickly went viral. (The two announced their engagement in November 2023.)

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“It got 14 million views overnight and it was just steak and mac and cheese. And so I just kept doing it,” she says of her start. “My favorite part about cooking on TikTok, and just on social media in general, is just seeing all the messages of people like, ‘I can't cook, but I made your recipe and everyone loves it.’”

A year later, Younger competed on the second season of Fox’s Next Level Chef hosted by Gordon Ramsay, which was filmed in 2022 and was on air from February to May 2023.  Although she had a position at a restaurant in Florida secured for the summer, she dropped everything for the chance to join the show.

“I have an internship, but this is Gordon Ramsay. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I do not want to miss out on this,” she recalls.

On Next Level Chef, Younger placed eighth out of the 18 total contestants. But she says that the lessons she took from Ramsay and the show’s other two mentors, Richard Blais and Nyesha Arrington, were more important than the competition itself.

<p>FOX via Getty</p> Tineke Younger on Next Level Chef

FOX via Getty

Tineke Younger on Next Level Chef

“It was the best learning experience ever. So I don't say I lost, because I feel like I won,” she says. “I used the show as my internship. I could literally just ask them, ‘How do I cook this?’ and they would tell me. I learned how to make frog legs, ostrich, cow tongue, I learned how to break down a lobster.”

Younger’s experience with the trio of celebrity chefs certainly paid off — following the show, Ramsay reached out to her about future collaborations.

Related: Gordon Ramsay Says He’s ‘Lucky to Be Here’ After ‘Really Bad’ Bicycling Accident: My Helmet ‘Saved My Life’

“Gordon was like, ‘Do you want to have your own series on our YouTube channel called Bite Originals?’” she says. Younger stays "in connection with Gordon and he's been fully supportive," she adds.

Looking ahead, Younger’s next big recipe isn’t for her fans on TikTok, but instead for herself. Younger and her fiancé plan to tie the knot in a November ceremony in Jamaica — and she’s in charge of the cake.

“We're shooting for lemon cake. And my wedding's going to be in Jamaica, so a rum buttercream to really go with the Jamaican setting," she says. "It's my most important [recipe] right now — it has to be perfect because it’s my wedding day."

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