Students find fame with Foodie Instagrams


Jessie Iacullo has more than 20,000 followers on her Instagram account. Courtesy of Jessie Iacullo

By Emily Baranik / For The Pitt News

Jessie Iacullo stood in Starbuck’s line one morning in March 2015 and scrolled through the pictures of burgers, donuts and coffee that dominated her phone’s camera roll.

The senior communication and nonfiction writing major thought she could do more with the photos than let them clog up her memory, so she logged onto Instagram, made a new account and posted her first photo — a dish of eggs benedict from The Porch.

Stemming from that single picture, Iacullo joined a social media empire: the world of “foodie” Instagram, where culinary connoisseurs, amateur critics and those solely interested in the beauty and preparation of dishes all come together. As NPR food writer and author Eve Turrow, put it in an Atlantic interview, the millennial generation is obsessed with food, and more specifically, with drooling over the most aesthetically pleasing dishes on the screen.

It’s within this evolving relationship of food and technology that Iacullo and several Pitt students have been able to carve out a niche.

Iacullo’s account, @hungrygrl_bigcity, which now has more than 20,000 followers, documents Italian dishes — pastas dripping with melted cheese or oversized slices of pizza — classic American burgers and chocolatey desserts, frequently reposted from her followers.

Her dining destinations vary from Florence, Italy, to Wildwood, New Jersey, with a frequent honorable mention to her current hometown: Pittsburgh.

Her Instagram account has even boosted her career path.

Iacullo created her account as she was about to start an internship for Food Network in Manhattan. Armed with the recent success of her personal AOL Instant Messenger-inspired account name — “grl” instead of “girl” — Iacullo created a second Instagram page for the magazine from her own iPhone.

The account is no longer active, since no one took over the page after Iacullo left her internship, but Iacullo credits the magazine’s foodie Instagram as a beneficial learning experience.

“Being around the magazines all the time, I saw via pictures what looked good and what wasn’t appealing to me,” Iacullo said.

Iacullo took her internship knowledge with her while studying abroad in Italy last spring, where she focused her posts on Italian food. She gained about 6,000 followers during the semester and said it was the peak of her Instagram.

“Everything looks beautiful there, you don’t even have to try,” Iacullo said.

Similarly, Elaine Khodzhayan, a junior majoring in finance and human resources, also found Instagram fame from her own kitchen. Rather than featuring international and restaurant-produced food inspiration, her account, @andachocolatedrizzle, features only her homemade baked goods.

“Ever since I was really young, I loved to help my grandma and my mom in the kitchen,” Khodzhayan said.

She started her food Instagram in August 2015, and in the past year has amassed 24.6K followers and posted 272 photos.  

Khodzhayan said she runs her Instagram on the motto, “You eat with your eyes first,” so she plans for the photo from the moment she starts baking. Khodzhayan usually posts daily updates of her baked treats, which range from lemon blueberry rolls to creme brûlée bars.

Most of her posts — including chocolate-drizzled Nutella crepes and her decadent eight-layer chocolate truffle cake — showcase her sweet tooth.

“[Followers will come] as long as you stay true to the reason you started,” Khodzhayan said. “I really, really do try to show my personality through my posts.”

The success of a food-stagram is based on the number of followers an account can amass. Some of the most popular foodies on the app, referred to by Bon Appetit as “influencers,” can make money and get sponsorships based on their uncanny ability to “make people want what [they’re] having.”

None of the foodies at Pitt have quite reached that level, or, like Iacullo, just aren’t interested in letting their pleasure become purely business.

“I just go where I like to eat, or where I want to eat,” she said, adding that she’s built an online reputation off the “mutual love” between she and her followers. “I think interacting with my followers is a really important thing … [Other accounts] will follow people just to get followers and then unfollow them. I definitely don’t do that.”

It’s possible that these foodies are part of what the New York Times’ called “Pittsburgh’s Youth-driven food boom.” If so, senior communication science and disorders major Abby Marodi most explicitly fits that bill.

Marodi started her account — @pittsburgh_foodie, with 11,000 followers and 516 posts — while bored in physics in the summer of 2015. She noticed that there wasn’t an Instagram dedicated solely to Pittsburgh’s culinary scene.

Though Marodi keeps in mind the flavor of a meal before she posts a photo, she said aesthetics are key to her food choices. Her posts are colorful and angled to best show off the dish. Displaying donuts in zig-zagged lines and sushi arranged in geometrical patterns, her account has an organized flare.

“Sometimes I pick restaurants based on how good their lighting is for pictures,” Marodi said.

For Marodi, interacting with followers means spreading the word about great food and restaurants to the rest of the city. She enjoys exploring new places and wants to tell others about them, too.

“I feel really good when people say they take my advice for different restaurants,” Marodi said.  “I think Pittsburgh is such a growing foodie city.”

Disclaimer: Jessie Iacullo has written for The Pitt News.