For people who are tragically online, there were three main lifelines during the pandemic: food, cottagecore and thirst traps.

Whether it was baking bread, drooling over Connell's chain in Normal People or suddenly deciding it was financially feasible to buy yourself fresh flowers once a week, we all had our ways of getting through.

But for those selfsame tragically online people, there was mercifully one account that combined all three in one scenic online location: Men With the Pot.

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What started as an Instagram and YouTube account achieved enormous popularity once it landed on TikTok. Their videos are an ingenious combination of unctuous dishes, bucolic scenery, rapid-fire transitions, chopping board ASMR and more than a few visual nods-and-winks.

It wasn't long before TikTok users creating reaction videos to the relaxing and sultry cooking videos became almost its own content sub-genre. With almost nine million followers on TikTok and reactions from Lizzo among their glories, it's safe to say Men With the Pot is its own secluded, verdant corner of the internet.

So it was a surprise to all of us when it turned out that the mega viral TikTok account (and de facto hunky woodland boyfriend of the Internet), was revealed to be filmed in none other than Northern Ireland.

Where, you might ask? "I would rather keep it secret to you", Slawek Kalkraut, one half of the pair behind the account, tells me, and it no doubt one of their most accidentally beneficial strategies: if you don't know where the hunky, foresting, resourceful "man in the woods" is, he could be anywhere.

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In reality, the Men With the Pot – Kalkraut and Krzysztof Szymanski – are actually two Polish friends who have been living in Northern Ireland for 15 years. They film their videos, with Slawek cooking and Krzysztof behind the camera, in a remote spot "near the Fermanagh border", but if you're thinking of rooting out, think again.

"It's not really that accessible to get there", he says. "You need to have a four by four."

Getting to this point has been a similar enough slog for the friends, too. Both worked 12 years in hospitality, Slawek as a night manager and Krzysztof as a head waiter, caring for others and figurative worlds away from the serenity of the lush outdoors that brought them fame.

"It wasn't a bad job, I can't really say that", Slawek says. "I dedicated one third of my life working there, I made friends. But we had to do something because it got to the point where we were just fed up with everything."

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Once the idea for Men With the Pot came to him, it was a "three minute" decision to devote themselves to it. "I was cooking something in the kitchen and all of a sudden I'd seen some video and I was like, 'Okay, why can't we not do this?'"

And so began their journey to something simpler, more fulfilling, just before the world was plunged into doing the same, out of necessity, if not choice. "I was finishing eight in the morning and go back home, get changed and go to the forest", Slawek says. "We did that for a year before anything actually happened."

In that year, the friends perfected the formula that click with followers: the ASMR of chopping vegetables; shots that make the most of the lush scenery; a sneaky bit of bushcraft, crafting utensils from branches, building drying racks for pasta, washing ingredients in a stream; and some seriously impressive knife skills.

They've shared a range of recipes that one would think impossible to cook outdoors: creamy pasta, dessert crepes with homemade honeycomb, "forest donuts", bread. It doesn't get more surreal than seeing a perfect loaf of bread emerge from a coal-dusted skillet in the forest, when most of us can't manage to proof dough in our kitchens.

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So why does this work so well? Slawek can harbour a guess: "I think it's because you show everything is done in 60 seconds, that ASMR of cutting ingredients, of nature and everything that combined together. It kind of gives this unique experience, which is hard to explain.

"If you ask me for the recipe for the success, I won't tell you because I don't know. There's no recipe for it."

Ask the TikTok comment section of their videos, however, and there's a very different answer: the videos are sexy.

Slawek knows this, and laughs ruefully at me mentioning it. "It wasn't our intention, put it that way, but that's how people find it." But he does know where it potentially stems from: the fateful rainbow chicken dish.

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Posted on 12th August 2020, the video of vegetable-stuffed chicken – which now has over 40 million views –features a slow zoom in to an oiled-up chicken breast being rubbed and frankly, that's all the internet needed. "Dead chicken getting more love than me" reads one comment, "why you gotta zoom in on the chicken rub like that I'm already lonely" reads another.

Before the month was out, "man in the woods" was hunk of the month.

"It just came out the way it came out, and we really were battling ourselves to post it or not. And we did", he says. Now, "when they see chicken, they know it's going to be something sexual or something like that", he laughs.

This sultry note extends to how Slawek handles his knife – deftly and with clear prowess – which the pair now sell and which has its own charming back story:

"I have a small shed at home. I had the angle grinder. I had some blades from the old saw, and I was like, okay, you know what? I'm going to make my own knife. And I went to the shed and I designed something, I made the handle and I put everything together. And there was a knife."

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From not much, suddenly, something.

For Slawek, there's definitely an aspect of making the most of now in this work, having come to a realisation about his life and how he was spending it that many of us can relate to after the pandemic.

"If I knew that I wanted to do this after I finished school or before I went to the hotel and I stuck there for 12 years, I'd be a wiser man. I'd be in different place right now. But I think this comes with time, you get mature over years."

He recalls the point at which he knew he had to make a change: "It was four in the morning, and I was thinking, 'What the hell am I doing here? Why am I here? I'm wasting my life. I don't want to do this. I don't like this job. I don't like these people I see in every single day'.

"The biggest slap in the face was that wherever you work in Christmas, Christmas Eve, Christmas night, people would be walking past reception saying 'Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas'. And you're thinking, 'How am I supposed to enjoy this time? My family is at home'.

"This was my choice. I'm not blaming anybody else. I just blame myself. I was little bit down at that moment, and I was picturing my son being asking school. 'Okay, where is your dad working?' 'He works in hotel'", he remembers. "No work is embarrassing", he stresses, "but for me at that point, it wasn't right."

With this mentality, the Men With the Pot are intent on making the most of this surreal and unexpected fame. The pair have plans to buy land in Poland where they will build three luxury houses guests can rent to have a taste of the Men With the Pot living: beautiful scenery, peace and great food cooked outdoors. They also have a cookbook coming in May 2022, as well as new knives coming to their online store.

"This is our five minutes, right? So we want to create as much as possible."