In real life, Matthew Bounds is just a normal guy working a full-time job with a ton of unfinished home improvement projects and desperately needs a vacation.
But on social media platforms, you’ll recognize Bounds as “Your Barefoot Neighbor” serving up hometown favorite recipes and do-it-yourself projects.
“I started to document a portion of my life in hopes of someone relating to it,” Bounds said. “The name Your Barefoot Neighbor came from the overall aesthetic and core principles I always want my social media platform to adhere to. Relatable, friendly, down to earth, and always willing to help when necessary.”
With almost 400,000 followers, people definitely related to his content and came back for more, but that wasn’t always the case.
“I was non-existent on social media in the spring of 2022,” he said. “A friend of mine created a TikTok channel and I started an account just so I could support her. I decided to try my hand at a few DIY videos and had a lot of fun doing it. I found a great community of people online and when I began sharing some of my cooking attempts, it really resonated with folks.”
Bounds, who lives in Gulfport with his husband, CJ, is up each day by 6 a.m. for his full-time day job, off by 5 p.m., and then heads to his kitchen for cooking and filming.
“It’s so rewarding and exciting and humbling all at once,” he said. “I have received messages from people saying that they are struggling with severe depression and ate today because of one of my videos. I’ve been told that I gave a young person the confidence to try cooking for themselves. I am gay and mention my partner often, and I have received feedback from parents of gay teens, thanking me for being so visible and positive. It has become so much more than just cooking and I am so happy to be able to do it every day.”
And that passion and dedication led Bounds to join the HomeChef Throwdown challenge on Feb. 2 to benefit the nonprofit charity, Lasagna Love. The six-week TikTok competition was the brainchild of Desarae Legros, who is also known on TikTok as the Cooking Comedy Chaos.
“She messaged me one day with this idea for a cooking competition,” he said. “We spent the next few weeks brainstorming logistics and who would be involved. There are seven competitors, and each Thursday we post our footage from the current cooking challenge. As a group, we decided on the category each week, and the audience votes on a challenge to add to the chaos.”
The challenge also includes Bay St. Louis’ Mississippi Kween, Caroline Davis. Each week’s challenge showcases a small business the group is passionate about and incorporates one of its products in a recipe. Fans vote for their favorite creator with a $1 donation to Lasgana Love. At the end of week seven, the two creators with the highest number of votes will go head to head and cook in real time on TikTok Live.
“The Throwdown has taken on a life of its own and is getting a tremendous amount of attention,” he said, adding that the thought of cooking on a live show makes him a little nervous.
“I am terrified of public speaking,” he said. “On camera, with the potential for millions of people watching me after editing, I’m fine. A room of a dozen of my co-workers and I have to present something? Instant panic.”
And being a social media influencer was not in Bounds’ original thoughts for his future. His father was a baptist preacher and most of his childhood was spent in Hurley.
“I always dreamed of being a veterinarian and it just didn’t pan out,” he said. “College wasn’t for me, and that’s ok. Looking back, it all worked out perfectly and I would not be where I am today had everything gone according to plan.”
Bounds and his husband met 16 years ago and lived in Kiln before settling in Gulfport. Bounds is an insurance adjuster and his husband is finishing his master’s degree. The couple is constantly searching for ways to help improve their community.
“Last summer, I googled the name on the side of this little building I kept driving by to see what it was,” he said. “It was Elijah’s Closet, an incredible non-profit serving foster kids and families along the coast. That google search led to a friendship with the president and today I am most proud to say that I am a supporter of this wonderful operation. In September, my followers on TikTok helped me put together 40 beds for 40 foster kids for my 40th birthday, the frames, mattresses, pillows, sheets, the works.”
And he’s always looking for the good in every situation. Bounds approached working from home during the worldwide pandemic global shutdown as an opportunity to teach himself to cook.
“I have always wanted to be one of those people that could just whip something up and I was not even close,” he said. “When we all went to work from home during the pandemic, I decided that I wouldn’t let my saved commuting time go to waste and that I would teach myself to cook. I found that I enjoyed it so much. I love being in the kitchen and while there are plenty of fails, when something turns out right it is such a great feeling.”
He started following his cooking mentors online and began learning.
“Gordon Ramsey was the first person that I learned from, and he taught me to scramble an egg and make a pan of risotto,” he said. “He focuses on the basic principles and once you master those, it’s a lot of fun to build on them. I was not active on social media during the time I was learning to cook, so I learned a lot from well-known names on Youtube and by watching Worst Cooks in America. Anne Burrell taught me to sear meat properly on that show.”
His advice for anyone wanting to become a social media influencer?
“Manage your expectations and be ready to change direction,” he said. “If you go into it thinking you’ll be an overnight sensation, you’ll be very disappointed. Be ready to provide as much support to others as you want to receive yourself. Be authentic and love what you’re doing and your people will find you. Not everyone is going to like you. Try new things and explore your creativity.”
He added something that he wished someone had told him years ago.
“Go for it,” he said. “Stop waiting for anyone’s approval.”
And when he’s not at his day job, cooking on TikTok, avoiding home improvement projects, or wishing he was on a dream vacation, you’ll find Bounds on a comfy stool in a quiet bar with a great bartender.
“I love a laid-back, no-rush evening with CJ or a close friend, picking over appetizers and sipping a drink,” he said. “A close second is spending the day working in my yard and then enjoying the evening on the back porch with beer and pizza.”
You can find Your Barefoot Neighbor on TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook.