At 22, he has 1.18 lakh Instagram followers, a degree in Political Science from Delhi University, a popular dessert website and a cookbook releasing next month. Meet Shivesh Bhatia. Baking since he was 16, he was named the 'Social Media Star of the Year' in 2017 by Conde Nast Traveller.
Before the launch of his debut book, Bake with Shivesh, he talks about everything — from his first burnt chocolate cupcake to writing a dessert book.
How did you start baking?
I had always seen baking happening in the family but had never done it myself. My Nani used to bake delicious vanilla and chocolate cakes. But when she fell sick, we missed eating them so much that we decided to try to bake ourselves. However, our first attempt — chocolate cupcakes — was a total disaster.
Did you also undergo training?
I have taught myself by practicing, reading up on the internet and experimenting. It wasn’t an immediate success though. I remember baking one disaster after another. I also ended up wasting quite a bit but I kept at it, and eventually started picking up.
Don’t you think a professional degree would have helped?
If I go to Paris and return with a professional pastry degree, I feel it’d be intimidating for the readers of my blog. They try my recipes because they are accessible and doable. I started baking as a 16-year-old with absolutely no knowledge, prior experience or professional training. My blog’s entire philosophy is ‘If I can bake, so can you.’
Who is your inspiration?
Swedish blogger Linda Lomelino. I stumbled upon her blog Call Me Cupcake even before I started baking. Her pictures, the way she styles her food and makes them look so good, fascinates me. She inspired me to experiment with food styling and photography.
Closer home, I love what Pooja Dhingra has done with desserts.
You also style and photograph all your desserts on your blog and Instagram?
Yes, but I think of myself more as a food stylist than a photographer because shooting food is very technical and there is so much that I still don’t know.
At a time when anyone can become a food blogger, how difficult is to be recognised as an authentic voice?
You need to have original and engaging content. Adding your own personality to your work also helps. People relate more with people than with food.
What do you think has worked for you?
Initially, it was the fact that not many Indian boys bake. It’s also the way I style my food, photograph and present it. I realised early that both blogs and Instagram are a visual medium. No matter how delicious my bakes are but if they don’t look as good, no one is really going to attempt the recipes and be interested because they are not tasting them for real, they are only eating with their eyes.
You travel worldwide tasting desserts, experimenting with recipes and you also have a large team. How do you fund your work and research?
I started making money on Instagram when I was 19. I work with a lot of brands. I promote, create content for them. My revenue comes from there. My team has expanded over the years (a website manager, a CA, a videographer, business managers, kitchen interns), but luckily, so has work. So I am able to balance it.
How did Bake with Shivesh come about?
I had been wanting to do a book ever since I started blogging. A few publishing houses had contacted me when I was graduating but it didn’t feel like the right time then. Luckily, Harper Collins got in touch after I had graduated and could take on a project that demanded 12-18 months. By then, I was also confident that I could produce a good-quality book.
How different is the book from what’s there on your website and Instagram?
It is actually an extension. I don’t want to peg the books as something completely different, which is why I have styled and shot all the images in it because people have seen them over the years and relate to them.
However, the blog only has recipes, but the book also has a very elaborate section on food styling and photography. It’s not a regular cookbook. Along with baking techniques and 52-54 recipes, it also teaches you how to make your dessert look pretty and shoot it right.
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