For Haligonian Pete Earley, gaining recognition on TikTok wasn’t a mistake – it was a goal.
Earley, who goes by @earlypete on the app, has been making content since March 2020. He has 391,000 followers and 30.5 million likes as of January 2022. Earley’s content revolves around all things food: food marketing, restaurants, the food industry, and fun tidbits and facts he comes across.
One of his best known series is called “stunt food or good food.” Earley takes viral videos and clips of food being made and critiques them. These dishes range from a macaroni and fried chicken burrito, deep fried and rolled in Flamin’ Hot Cheetos dust, to gallon-sized milkshakes with rims dipped in frosting, topped with whole cheesecakes. These are the types of videos produced to be visually appealing and catch the eye of the casual Instagram or TikTok viewer. But, as Earley dissects, they would often not taste very good in real life, making them “stunt food”.
Earley sits at the Cheeky Neighbour restaurant on Quinpool Road. It’s a bright, cold day in mid-December, and it just snowed the night before. Outside, plows push their way through the streets, followed by cars still covered in snow.
He’s happy to talk about anything, including his interest in food and cooking, which has spanned his entire life. He remembers helping his mother prepare and cook meals as a child. According to her, he was only four years old when he invented his first recipe.
“I probably just pointed to an apple, and that became said recipe,” Earley says with a laugh. “But at the same time, that definitely inspired me, and I was really privileged that my dad had a good job and my mom could afford to be a stay-at-home mom for most of my youth.”
Earley also remembers traveling to Ireland as a child to visit his cousins. It was through these summer trips that he became interested in the small cultural differences between different places, specifically in food and fast food chains. This theme has carried into his present-day work on TikTok, where frequently makes videos educating his viewers about Canadian-specific food or commenting on food idiosyncrasies of other places.
Breaking into the restaurant industry
Earley got a job bussing tables at Ardmore Tearoom — a popular haunt for many university students — at age 14. From there, he worked his way into the kitchen.
“I graduated high school in 2007, and I’d already been cooking for a few years at that point on the weekends, and as sort of a part time gig, dishwashing, prep cooking, nothing too seriously on the line,” he says.
From there, Earley worked his way up, eventually cooking full-time at a number of restaurants across Halifax including Piatto and Steak and Stein, both popular spots downtown.
At one point, he worked with a chef who was certified with a “red seal,” which is a certification in the industry that indicates expertise in a field. Earley pursued an apprenticeship under the chef, which involved taking coursework and gaining experience, learning what he would have in a formal culinary school while being able to also work as a chef.
“I didn’t have the culinary school experience where I’m in a kitchen and I’ve got a beautiful whole flat fish to de-bone and all those cool things,” he explains. “But we did manage to find ways for me to do things like, a full carcass butchery, and other things like that. So I got the experience. I didn’t go to culinary school, but I did the equivalent.”
Exploring other interests
However, working full-time as a chef was not Earley’s end goal, and eventually, he went to Dalhousie University to pursue another one of his lifelong passions: political science.
Earley graduated from Dalhousie in 2017 with an honours degree in political science. Earley wanted to stay involved with food, but rather than go back to being a chef full-time, he decided to go into “commercial food,” which involved food marketing.
He first worked for Maple Leaf Foods, and then Molson Coors. When the pandemic first hit in March 2020, Earley focused primarily on advertising and communications.
“A lot of what I’d do involved making up big cheat sheets for the different salespeople,” he says. “So if they needed, say, three interesting facts about all the brands of beers, with a little graphic, what different size kegs they come in and what they can sell to a bar, I’d put that together and make it a nice, pretty document, then get it all printed out and distributed.”
Earley enjoyed the education this provided, and being able to look into obscure, interesting food facts. However, a few weeks into the 2020 lockdown, his boss approached him with the news that they would be reducing the company. Earley was optimistic about having a chance to take a small break from things, and took the opportunity for a change in pace to focus on content creation with his friend, Tony Kaill.
After a brief period of brainstorming, where he figured out what kind of content to create and which platform to use, Earley and Kaill decided to film videos on YouTube about how to be a content creator.
“We filmed this one video on how to set up lighting, how to light a room for shooting video, basically,” he says.
They’d do fun little challenges with each other on the channel as well. One included competing to shoot the same video while adding their own creative twists to it.
Once, they competed to see who could get the most followers on a social media app, which is how Earley ended up on TikTok.
Doing what he loves
While his follower count has grown, Earley has stuck to his roots. Many of his videos focus on his home province. He’s compared the best poutine places in Halifax and covered the unique pizza style of Pictou County.
For several videos, he’s promoted different charities that tackle food insecurity. These charities have mostly been in the United States, due to the way TikTok is set up, but Earley would like to give back to his home country someday.
“I take no credit for it,” he says. “It’s the people that follow me that have raised well over $1,000, now closer to a couple thousand. It’s super cool.”