Meet Onigiri, the VTuber defying physics to teach Twitch how to cook

VTubers are known for playing games in front of their audience, or maybe singing karaoke. Onigiri bucks the trend, inviting everyone into her kitchen on Twitch to whip up culinary delights, break bread, and trade cooking tips.

Onigiri, an oni chef VTuber on Twitch, isn’t your typical streamer. She doesn’t sit there playing games (at least seriously), drawing amazing art, or performing beautiful music.

Where her love really lies is in cooking. The mashing of a kitchen with a model that can only occupy a 2D space might seem impossible, but Giri has managed to innovate to meld her passions together. She might only cook meals for two ⁠— herself and her Onibro who sits off camera and helps with the stream ⁠— but she invites thousands into her cozy virtual kitchen every time she goes live.

However it wasn’t forged out of pure love to start with. To put it bluntly, her lack of skill in all areas VTubers typically thrive in forced her to create a unique broadcast and find her own niche.

“I’m a little bit of a boomer, so going into the streamer sphere where it’s populated by zoomers, everyone knows how to play video games or has a special skill like drawing or singing,” she laughed. “When I went into V Tubing I quickly realized I can’t do any of those. I’m a terrible singer, I can’t draw to save my life, and I play games but silly ones ⁠— I can’t play skill-based ones like Apex Legends.

“I really had to find my own niche and what I was potentially good at, and personally I found it exciting when other streamers or VTubers did cooking streams. Whether it was [with a] handcam or they’re an IRL streamer from their kitchen, I always wanted to check it out. Then I was like ‘wait a minute, why can’t I just do that?’

“I didn’t want to provide handcam content. I thought I could do better, maybe something that was never seen before. I looked around and no one really cooks the way that I intend to present my cooking content. So I was like ‘okay I’m good at cooking, I like cooking, I’ll just do that!’”

Twitch: Onigiri

Onigiri has mastered mixed reality to bring her VTuber cooking streams to life.

Onigiri started VTubing in August 2021 ⁠— first with just a simple PNG avatar, before quickly leveling it up and getting more immersive with her streams. Having been locked inside for more than a year she was enthralled by the V Tubing community as a self-professed weeb.

That, plus her passion and love for cooking, spurred her on to take the plunge. She didn’t want to set up a camera in her kitchen and broadcast herself to the world as the level of privacy and separation was paramount.

“It released the pressure of trying to put a pretty face on in front of the camera,” she explained. “You can dress however you want but still let your personality shine through via an avatar. It was really fun to just connect with the three people that were watching me, but I didn’t feel the pressure to have my face look a certain way or my room.

“It was just an anxiety thing, a boredom thing, but now V Tubing has really filled that emptiness for me. I’ve been blessed with a really loving community ⁠— although they might come off kind of strong, but I love them a lot and I’ve been lucky to have them. I’ve been counting my lucky stars that I am where I am because of them.”

Onigiri wields mixed reality perfectly to immerse viewers into her kitchen ⁠— not her proper one mind you, but a fully-functional set she designed ⁠— while keeping the VTuber feel. You can see her hands, always in black gloves, moving along rhythmically when cutting vegetables or stirring a pot.

What you can’t see is her real-life body. Using a chroma key and a morph suit, she is able to keep herself out of the picture. Her VTuber model stands in her place, moving around and following her hands to keep an authentic feel.

“I pitched my idea to a family member and they were like ‘yeah I can help with that’,” she explained. “I told him ‘I want to do cooking, I don’t want it to be a handcam, I want it to be immersive. Is there some way you can have my model move and maybe capture my IRL hands and kitchen?’

“We realized a good way to make it work was using a chroma key to our advantage so I can block myself and my background out and only have my foreground show up and everything else would be my model. I’m very lucky that it did work out the way it did.”

It might seem janky to watch at first, and the first streams were far from polished. However, as time goes on it’s become more fine-tuned and seamless. She can often host guests just by dragging their models next to hers, much like inviting someone over to your house and having them linger by the stove.

The stream is a home away from home, and something born out of her love for cooking from quite young.

“I am Chinese, and for Chinese people, food is a very strong culture for us. Both my parents cook. We eat at home every single day. My parents believe in the typical ‘why buy this thing when we have it at home’. My mum made sure all the meals were home-cooked and we shared a dinner table, all that.

“They never really pushed me to learn how to cook but they always ask me if I want to help out, maybe cut some green onions, wash some dishes, just watch ⁠— things like that. It was always around me, every single day, and I was gradually like ‘can I try this?’ and they were very encouraging. That’s where it all started.”

As she got older, Onigiri began to appreciate the smaller things. It’s one thing to make food just to sustain ourselves, but she really wanted to push herself in the kitchen to truly improve. That involves sitting down and watching the Food Network (Bobby Flay and Guy Fieri, to name a couple of stars), flicking through YouTube (she really wants to collaborate with Uncle Roger one day), and reading food blogs.

It can be a learning experience, but it can also be a reflective one. Just standing there toiling away at a task for a set amount of time, not thinking about anything else, is immensely satisfying.

“Cooking is my own mental meditation time,” she said. “I can zone out for 30 minutes and it’s fun to go on YouTube and be like ‘this recipe looks cool I want to try that’. Sometimes it turns out great, sometimes not so much, but it still has a very rewarding feeling.”

Watching her at times is like an extended cut of hit anime Food Wars ⁠— something Onigiri laughed off because she “doesn’t have a super competitive personality”. That being said, she has done collabs with other VTubers where they battle it out over the cooktop.

“When there are the cool collabs where they want to challenge me to a cooking ‘battle’, it’s definitely kind of exhilarating to be like someone who wants to cook with me or against me,” she laughed.

Most of the time though her stream is cozy. It’s just Onigiri hanging out and cooking with her chat right there, and maybe a guest or two. Sometimes it’s a “hand and brain” collab where her guests give her a shopping list of ingredients and they guide her on how to make the recipe. Other times, she’s just trying to cook something new “just for the experiment”.

“Obviously it’s great if it turns out well, but for content they don’t care if you mess up. It’s like ‘oh shucks I messed up, now you guys know what not to do for next time’ and you brush it off. No one wants to see perfect execution every time ⁠— that’s kind of boring.”

However, being a VTuber chef is not as simple as setting your camera down in your kitchen and recording a stream. There are all the usual processes like getting a model, stream assets, and more. For Onigiri though, she has to go the extra mile with her kitchen set-up which features plenty of standalone hot plates, two beloved cleavers, chopping boards galore, and a camera perfectly angled to keep everything else tucked away and hidden.

It does bring its own set of challenges ⁠— but the number one problem for her is time.

“There’s tons of things but the limitation I find sometimes is that the stream is usually 3-4 hours long,” she explained. “There’s a lot of things where it’s a slow cooking process or it requires marination over 2-3 days or whatever, so I can’t physically make it because of the stream constraint.

“There’s also the fear of reflections and stuff. As a VTuber, reflections are the bane of our existence. When I’m prepping for a stream I have to be careful about certain things. Am I using a lid? Is the pot too shiny? Where’s the angle of my knife? And also will this take too long to make?”

And in case you were wondering, VTuber models aren’t immune to random oven burns or misangled slices of a finger either. Sadly the morph suit and the pixels don’t give her any immunity from any kitchen mishaps.

With all that being said, Giri’s kitchen is more than just her cooking for show. She wants viewers to ask her questions and be interested in the cooking process. It’s as much a learning experience as it is entertainment.

No matter if someone is a total novice or if they are working in the industry, she hopes to share at least some insights into her life through food, help people find what they like, and teach them some great life skills.

“Especially now with everyone being homebodies, people want to learn how to cook. I have had a lot of people come into my streams and say ‘I’m so glad I found your stream because I love your videos.’

“I have seen an increase in people being interested in cooking and people asking in chat for tips, whereas before it was ‘oh you’re cooking, that’s cool’ but that was it. I get a lot more inquisitive people who are interested in the process of cooking and baking or if I have any tips to share.

“When people come into my stream and ask for any ideas about a really easy meal that a non-chef can make, or anything for a beginner to start with, I recommend boiling some eggs or making some instant noodles. You might laugh and it may seem like a troll answer, but you have to understand the basics of controlling a flame, how to boil water, know when things are done, judging heat. It takes practice.”

With her first anniversary approach, Giri is brimming with plenty of plans including another subathon (in her first one she made ramen from scratch: tonkotsu, tare, noodles, and all the trimmings) as well as wider goals for Twitch..

One of them is to hopefully keep going for the years to come. Another is obviously continuing to educate Twitch on all things cooking, and provide a kitchen for everyone to visit if they are feeling homesick and want that community feel.

As a leader though? There are a few foods she wants to try and make: “Birria [for one] ⁠— the slow cooked mexican pork ⁠— but that takes 6-7 hours. I also really want to smoke something, but that requires being outside and ventilation and a few days.

“But a smoked slow-cooked brisket or something? That’d be awesome.”

Onigiri is a joy to watch, but how does her food actually hold up? Well I’m a pretty avid cook myself, and so I asked her for some advice before we parted. I had a friend’s housewarming the day after our interview and wanted to take something over for a potluck. Her suggestion? Green bean pan.

And take it from me, it was damn good.

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