Rohnert Park mom behind TikTok sensation offers recipes for spring, summer salads
Darlene Schrijver stood at the kitchen counter of her Rohnert Park home, a giant wood salad bowl surrounded by beakers full of ingredients in front of her and her iPhone perched overhead in a camera mount.
She closed her eyes, took three deep breaths and launched into her intro. “Welcome to The Salad Lab, where we’re making fabulous salads every day,” she began.
That intro is a friendly, familiar greeting for Schrijver’s 2.6 million followers on TikTok, where she shares her highly stylized salad videos several times a week.
The 50-something mom of two grown children started what would become The Salad Lab during the pandemic. It was a way for her to share recipes with her daughter, Athena, a former champion weightlifter who was away at college.
Schrijver, who previously lived in the Mark West Springs neighborhood, lost her recipe box and binders in the 2017 Tubbs Fire, along with her home. She needed a different way to give Athena the recipes. Her daughter spent a lot of time on TikTok, so she started sharing them there.
“My husband said, ‘You won’t last two days,’ and that’s all it took,” she said. “So I challenged myself to 30 days and I made 30 salads in 30 days. I think I called it 30 Famous Salads.”
One of those was a recipe for a salad the Kardashians often ate on their reality TV series, “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.” The recipe quickly went viral, and Schrijver’s follower count kept growing.
“People started interacting more and more, and we were starting to build this whole ‘salad community.’ I know it sounds cliche, but it snowballed,” Schrijver said.
Schrijver’s love of salads is long-standing.
“I’ve always been a big salad person. Whenever I go out to lunch with my girlfriends, if it’s my pick, we’re always going to Monti’s or somewhere that has a really good salad,” she said.
She appreciates Sonoma County’s bounty of fresh produce, which gives her plenty of raw material to work with.
“I started to realize the abundance that we have here through Tierra (Vegetables, in Santa Rosa). When my kids were growing up, we got their weekly boxes,” she said.
Schrijver also frequents local farmers markets and said Oliver’s is one of her favorite places to shop.
But she’s careful to not get preachy about local and organic, knowing that not everybody has the ability or desire to access that kind of food.
“You really walk a fine line on social media of being out of touch and too snobby,” she said. “I do everything. I do salads that have french fries on top. I have the Nicki Minaj salad that has Popeye’s chicken nuggets on it. But I also do the New York Times best green salad on Earth, and Bon Appetit salads.”
Her inspirations for salads are wide-ranging — from seasonal ingredients and celebrities to bicycling around Dry Creek Valley.
Schrijver created a cheeseburger salad inspired by her days of training for a triathlon. After a long ride, she’d head to Bear Republic to meet her family for a well-earned burger and beer.
The celebrity-inspired salads are the ones that get the most views, though. A recent fruit salad that featured a rainbow of berries and tropical fruit over keto-friendly Zuma Valley coconut cream, a product popular with singer Lizzo and model Bella Hadid, racked up more than million views in a matter of hours.
One night when Schrijver was scrolling on her phone, she saw Hadid had shared her favorite salad recipe. Schrijver pounced and was one of the first to make the salad, which has since been posted on countless blogs, videos and Instagram accounts.
“You have to jump on these things right away,” she said. “So I’m here at Oliver’s at 9:45 at night, with a girl in front of me with two cartons of ice cream and the guy in front of me with three cases of beer. And they’re looking at me with my armful of salad products. That one went viral, too. So Bella follows me now.”
Schrijver has a pretty typical kitchen, save for the cabinet full of lab beakers and racks for holding test tubes on the counter.
“The science beakers came along as I progressed and tried to make it more fun,” she explained. The beakers hold her prepped ingredients, and the test tubes are for the liquid ingredients in her dressings.
Although you only see her hands in her one-minute videos, Schrijver delivers every instruction with a beaming smile you can hear in her voice.
Schrijver supposes some of her appeal for younger TikTok users is that they see her as a mom giving advice on making salads. She’s quick to point out that’s exactly what she is.
“I’m the salad lady, and with salad comes the whole diet industry. I always emphasize that this is not a diet page or anything like that. It’s a meal,” she said. “I don’t claim to be a chef or a professional. My parents owned a flower shop when I was growing up, so I’ve got knife skills.”