Matthew Merril stirs ingredients in a metal bowl in a kitchen

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By Lindsay Lennon

“Let’s cook a turkey in a dorm room,” Hotelie Matthew Merril ’26 declares in a TikTok video posted shortly before Thanksgiving 2022. He then scrubs carrots in a bathroom sink in North Campus’s Ruth Bader Ginsburg Hall before moving back to his room and—crouching next to his bed—plopping them into a roasting pan with onions.

Merril, a bona fide influencer who has 2.6 million followers on TikTok, deftly wields a chef’s knife to unwrap the raw turkey; he removes the gizzards, loosens the skin, and creates a butter compound with seasonings and fresh spices.

“This is the craziest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he exclaims, buttering the bird with his bare hands.

After Merril finishes prepping, he hauls the turkey down in the elevator to the shared kitchen for roasting, to the stares of passersby.

“Could this be the very first dorm room turkey?” he muses once he’s back in his room, slicing the succulent, nearly picture-perfect bird.

Dubbed a “culinary prodigy” by Mashed, Merril—whose TikTok channel has spurred a slew of corporate partnerships, speaking engagements, and a cookbook, Teen Baking Bootcamp—seems to have been rehearsing for his role as an online influencer long before the title existed. Many fans grew up watching him on Food Network, where he debuted on “Kids Baking Championship” at age 10.

The cover of the cookbook Teen Baking Bootcamp by Matthew Merril

Despite growing up in what he describes as a “household where neither of my parents could cook,” Merril has long had a passion for food. It was sparked by his late grandmother, an Iraqi immigrant who put an American spin on traditional dishes like curries and baklava.

(Merril honored her on TikTok on Christmas Eve 2022—the family’s first without her—by making her recipe for caramel cookies.)

“The kitchen felt like a lab to me—it was this great place where I could explore,” he says. “Some mornings, my mom would be like, ‘Who’s in the kitchen at 7 a.m.?’ And it was 7-year-old me, making cinnamon rolls.”

Merril was a Food Network fanatic and devoured cooking videos on YouTube to hone his technique. In fifth grade, after watching the debut episode of “Kids Baking Championship,” he was confident he could be a contestant.

The kitchen felt like a lab to me—it was this great place where I could explore.

After an application and several auditions—where his longtime love of performing in youth theater came in handy—he landed on the second season.

Merril made the cut through seven episodes, winning the “Macaron Stackaron” challenge (which required the kids to bake three dozen of the challenging confections, piled five inches high) before losing in the eighth and final round.

Merril’s run led to appearances on more Food Network programs, like “Chopped Junior” and “Guy’s Grocery Games.” In 2020, he started posting on TikTok—and discovered he already had a fan base.

“I loved you in middle school,” one user commented. “You were literally my favorite and I was always rooting for you,” wrote another.

(Want to make these treats at home? Scroll down for the recipe!)

Over time, Merril developed his signature playful style—animatedly mixing ingredients in his parents’ kitchen while narrating like an ecstatic sports announcer.

Some of his highest views came from videos where he recreated foods from beloved movies and TV shows, like the vibrant title dish from Ratatouille, Tiana’s fluffy beignets from The Princess and the Frog, and a Krabby Patty-inspired burger à la “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

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The summer before he headed to the Hill as an established influencer, he kept getting what he calls the “million-dollar question”: how would he keep up his prominent presence on social media while attending college?

His response, he says, was that he wasn’t going to let his TikTok-ing keep him from fully experiencing Cornell—that he’d try to find a way to integrate the two.

Merril wasn’t going to let his TikTok-ing keep him from fully experiencing Cornell.

Now, in addition to studying in the School of Hotel Administration and singing with the a cappella group Last Call, Merril posts on TikTok once a week. And he has found an ideal way to relate to his viewers, many of whom are also in college: his popular “Cooking in the Dorm” videos.

With no sink in his room, Merril regularly mixes ingredients in paper bowls. Though he often takes the long walk to the shared kitchen, he has also perfected no-bake dishes like tiramisu and microwave mac and cheese. And when he can’t find a specific ingredient, he improvises—like using Takis chips as the coating for mozzarella sticks, or subbing crushed Whoppers for malt powder in malted salted caramel pudding.

And he’s taking inspiration from one of his heroes, the late Anthony Bourdain, who was outspoken about his discomfort with “celebrity chef” culture; though Merril is grateful for his social media success, he’s more focused on creating memorable experiences around cooking.

“The food has to be the most important thing,” he says. “If the entertainment side is strong, that just adds to the success.”

Matthew’s Blondies

Serves 12–15


Cooking spray

1½ cups (190 g) all-purpose flour

½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

½ cup (114 g; 1 stick) butter, melted and cooled

1½ cups (330 g) brown sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp (10 ml) vanilla extract

1 cup (168 g) chocolate chips

Chocolate chip blondie dessert bars stacked in a pile


Preheat oven to 350º F and spray a 9 x 9-inch baking dish generously with cooking spray. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl if using a hand mixer), mix butter and brown sugar on high speed until butter becomes light and fluffy, around 3 minutes.

Add eggs and vanilla and mix until incorporated, about 1 minute. Scrape down edges of bowl with rubber spatula. Pour in flour mixture and mix on low speed, just until all is incorporated. Add chocolate chips and mix on low speed for 1 to 2 minutes.

Pour batter into prepared baking dish, spreading it out with a spatula so batter is in an even layer, and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. You can slice blondies while still warm, or allow to cool completely, flip baking dish, remove blondies, and slice into squares.

Adapted from Teen Baking Bootcamp by Matthew Merril © 2022 by Page Street Publishing. Reprinted by permission. Photo by Thomas McGovern.

Top: Photo by Noël Heaney / Cornell University.

Published April 10, 2023


  1. Nathalie andrade

    Matthew is very inspiring to all the cornell SHA community. His dorm cooking is not only hilarious but shows true colours of people’s kitchens as we often have to find creative ways to make a recipe work. His charm and wits will bring him far. I am his biggest fan! What an inspiring young chef!!!

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