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Lynn Yamada Davis, TikTok chef known for playful ‘Cooking With Lynja’ videos, dies

Alexandra Del Rosario
Los Angeles Times

Lynn Yamada Davis, a social media star known for her fast-paced and kooky “Cooking With Lynja” online tutorials, has died.

Hannah Shofet, Davis’ eldest daughter, confirmed Friday to The Times that her mother died Jan. 1 at Riverview Medical Center in New Jersey from esophageal cancer. She was 67.

In a phone interview, Shofet celebrated Davis for being a “real poster child of having a family and also pursuing your dreams.” She also praised her mother for representing older women and Japanese culture on social media.

“When she would go to award shows or was invited to these amazing things, it’s kinda cool that she was this older … Asian American woman that was doing these things in the spotlight,” Shofet said.

In a tribute published Friday on Davis’ YouTube channel, her son Tim Davis recalled her “peaceful” final moments and shared several photos of the social media sensation throughout her life.

Holding a recent photo of his mother, Tim said she looked “so intelligent and elegant in this picture.”

“When I think of my mom, this is who I think of,” he said. “The Internet’s grandma. She was the best. So glad you guys got to experience how wonderful of a person she was and that you guys treated her so well.”

Davis, a third generation Japanese American, was a maverick when it came to bite-sized cooking tutorials on social media platforms including TikTok, Instagram and YouTube. In 2020, Davis started her “Cooking With Lynja” YouTube channel, in collaboration with Tim, who was a freelance videographer at the time. Amid the heat of the COVID-19 pandemic, she served up mouth-watering recipes and Gen Z humor in the form of wacky, over-the-top edits and cheeky jokes. She amassed a following of more than 9.6 million subscribers on YouTube, 2.2 million Instagram followers and 17.6 million TikTok followers.

An MIT alumna and former engineer, Davis said in 2021 that stay-at-home orders during the pandemic offered an opportunity to share her family recipes. Her first videos were straightforward (and relatively calm) instructional clips that walked her followers through the process of “deconstructed sushi,” keto hamburgers and lasagna. But like a true content creator, Davis adapted to the changing trends of social media.

Expanding to Instagram and TikTok, “Lynja” took her cooking videos to new heights — and audiences.

Davis’ shorter-form Instagram and TikTok videos tackled trending foods with flair, sharing her takes on McDonald’s “Rick and Morty” Szechuan sauce, strawberry tanghulu and fellow food creator Emily Mariko’s viral salmon bowl. Stylized quick cuts, miniature “Lynjas,” blown-out audio and the throwing of ingredients into her backyard quickly became staples of Davis’ later videos.

In recent years, Davis collaborated with a number of other food content creators including YouTube star Nick DiGiovanni. Their super-sized collaborations broke several Guinness World Records — the world’s largest cake pop, chicken nugget and sushi roll among them. The duo also documented their travels to Japan, and most recently, Italy.

DiGiovanni, 27, honored Davis by celebrating another side of the internet star. In a video posted on his Instagram account Friday, DiGiovanni shared his favorite memories with Davis — including their Guinness successes, ice-skating and go-kart racing.

“Love you Lynja,” he said at the end of the video.

Cooking influencers including Ahmad Alzahabi, Alessandra Ciuffo and Sam Way also paid tribute to Davis on Instagram.

In 2021, Davis earned her first food nomination for the Streamy Awards, which recognize online content creators. The next year, she won her first Streamy. She was nominated again in 2023, but the prize went to YouTube star MrBeast and his video with actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Forbes also honored Davis on its Top 50 Creators list in 2022.

Davis was open about her battle with cancer, telling her fans (the “Lynja-turtles”) in May 2021 that she was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2019. She said the cancer caused her voice to sound like a number of animated characters, including Marge Simpson from “The Simpsons” and Nintendo’s Toad. In 2021, she was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, but also completed treatment that year.

“Long story short, I’m doing great and I love making these videos for you,” she said. “If I have any advice for you, it’s get check-ups annually, drink lots of water and stay close to your friends and family. Lynja out!”

In addition to Shofet, Davis is survived by husband Keith Davis, daughter Becky Steinberg, sons Tim Davis and Sean Davis and siblings Jay Yamada and Karen Yamada Dolce.

Davis was laid to rest in California during an intimate funeral service on Jan. 9, her son Sean Davis said on Instagram. The family noted that fans can donate to the Monmouth County, N.J., SPCA or the Monmouth & Ocean chapter of food charity FulFill in Davis’ honor.

©2024 Los Angeles Times. Visit latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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