How 2 women gained millions of followers by cooking on social media

Sonja Collins poses for a photograph in one of the two locations where she records her social media features in Fortson on January 9, 2024.   (Steve Schaefer/

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Sonja Collins poses for a photograph in one of the two locations where she records her social media features in Fortson on January 9, 2024. (Steve Schaefer/

In one of Brenda Gantt’s recent Facebook videos, she demonstrated for more than 3 million followers how to turn leftover biscuits into snacks to “munch on all day long.”

For her followers, it feels an awful lot like they’re sitting across the table from Gantt on any given morning. In the biscuit video, she was wrapped in a gray bathrobe and had a cup of hot coffee in her hands as she discussed the crisp weather in Andalusia, Alabama. With her white-blond hair tied back in a bun and her idle chatter about what she’s planning for the day, the 77-year-old woman comes across like an old friend.

Meanwhile, on TikTok and Instagram millions tune in to the cooking videos posted by Sonja Collins, 58, of Columbus, whose sweet giggles are as much a part of her brand as her mouthwatering meals.

Collins and Gantt both have built their social media reputations not by following the latest trends or calculating the best time to post their videos, but with endearing smiles, warm Southern accents and a few signature catchphrases, such as “suuure” and “it’s gonna be good, y’all.”

Neither Gantt nor Collins set out to become a social media star.

“If I had planned on it, it probably wouldn’t have happened,” Collins said as she cooked in her son Marquay’s kitchen one afternoon.

It was Marquay who encouraged her to begin posting videos. First, she made hair tutorial videos, but it wasn’t until she started cooking that her account exploded.

She shoots her videos in the short-form style that performs best on TikTok and Instagram, where most videos last about a minute. She sorts through viewers’ requests to decide what she’ll make.

Collins captures each step in the recipe, then edits the clips together before posting.

Despite her impressive following, she didn’t grow up interested in cooking. She said she was more of a “tomboy” who preferred to play outside rather than sit and watch her mother cook.

Her cooking skills eventually improved through trial and error, and by asking her mom for advice. She has developed her own recipes by playing around with ingredients, and now she can cook almost any kind of Southern dish, and can figure out how to make something just by looking at a photo.

Brenda Gantt of Andalusia, Alabama, has built a large following on Facebook. Courtesy of Brenda Gantt

Credit: Courtesy of Brenda Gantt

icon to expand image

Credit: Courtesy of Brenda Gantt

Gantt, on the other hand, learned how to cook from a young age. When she was a child, she said, her whole family would gather in the kitchen to help with dinner. She carried that knowledge with her as she raised her own children, and now she teaches her grandchildren to cook, along with millions of strangers.

She posted her first video on her personal Facebook account to teach the young adults in her church how to make her acclaimed biscuits. Chris Harwell, one of those young churchgoers, came across the video while scrolling through Facebook one night. It was blurry, shaky and she filmed it with one hand while mixing biscuits in the other, “but it was instant gold,” he said.

By the next day, the video had gained thousands of views. When she read the comments flooding in under her videos, Gantt said she realized, “Oh my Lord, they really can’t cook!”

Not long after, her son-in-law set up a separate Facebook account for her to answer questions and publish more videos.

“She always had something to give, something to teach, some little thing that she could share with you,” Harwell said. “She’s teaching in a way that, hey, other people can do exactly what she’s doing here.”

Gantt shows her followers how to make foods without a recipe — dishes she knows by heart, such as biscuits, chicken and dumplings, fried chicken and roast beef.

“God gave us five senses,” she explained on a FaceTime call. “If we use our five senses, it’s all gonna turn out good.”

Three years ago, Collins was a pricing manager at Winn-Dixie. Before her Facebook days, Gantt was a middle school teacher for 25 years.

Social media has provided both chefs and amateur cooks with a way to share their recipes and build a following outside of the traditional pathways. Platforms such as TikTok, Instagram and Facebook allow the everyday person to steal the hearts and stomachs of fans around the world.

“They feel like they’re in the kitchen with me,” Collins said of her followers. “My smile makes them feel comfortable. Things I cook make them think of their mom and their grandma.”

Elzie Collins, her husband, is grateful she has found this outlet, so that she doesn’t have to put herself through the stress of her old job. Plus, he gets to eat everything she makes.

As for Gantt, when her husband died, she said, she asked herself “what was my purpose in life now that he had gone?”

“Cooking With Brenda Gantt” is one answer to that question. Since that first biscuit video, she has published two cookbooks, appeared on television and attended book signings. Teaching others how to cook also lets her share skills she believes are fading from society.

While Gantt and Collins likely never will meet most of their followers, the two Southerners have become fixtures in the routines and kitchens of people around the globe.

They already had a recipe for success before they ever “started broadcasting that out to the world,” Harwell said. Social media “just gave them a platform.”

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