When I started baking at 16, it wasn’t a cake walk. The first thing I ever whipped up in the kitchen was a disaster. Despite working with pre-mixes and ready made frosting, I landed up with a batch of burnt chocolate cupcakes. That wasn’t it. I kept baking one disaster after another. Most of the times the cake was too dense. On other occasions it tasted soapy and sometimes it was completely baked on the top but undone inside. But there was something about baking that did not let me give up on it. I was so fascinated by the fact that I could mix staple kitchen ingredients like flour, butter, sugar, milk, etc and it would transform into something so magical in the kitchen.
I started reading up on baking. The science behind it to understand what mistakes I was making and what I could do to make it right. I spent hours practicing and experimenting in the kitchen and 6 years later, my debut baking book- Bake With Shivesh ( a HarperCollins publication) makes to the Amazon best seller list the day it goes live on pre-order. I’m sure when I was tossing my failed kitchen experiments into the bin back then, I would have never imagined having a baking book to my credit.
I started my blog about three years back while I was studying political science at Hindu College, Delhi University. I had recently discovered the idea of styling and photographing food to make it look pretty-something I was really bad at starting off but also really enjoyed doing. The blog and Instagram wasn’t easy to keep up with college, especially during exam days. I remember I used to bake at night, shoot in the morning before lectures and write the blog post once I got home. I was fortunately able to manage it pretty well, while also performing well academically.
The first brand that approached me was FoodHall, back when I was 19. They told me they’d send me ingredients that I can bake with. I thought it was the dream deal and couldn’t get better until they also asked me for my commercials. I was so surprised. I’ll get ingredients and also get payed for doing something I’m any way doing? I’m, to date, grateful to the FoodHall team for trusting me and my work back then.
I’ll be honest- it wasn’t easy to figure out how much to charge and how to go about working with brands. I struggled for a long time to figure out how to talk to professionals, draft proper emails, raise invoices, negotiate and stick to my quote, deal with unreasonable demands and with people who didn’t want to take me seriously because I was just a 19 year old kid. But I taught myself all of it. Some big exciting projects didn’t come through and it was heart breaking but I continued to work on creating content to the best of my capabilities, while also pushing my own boundaries to do better.
At 19, I was already creating content for brands like Britannia and Del Monte. My first media feature was in 2015, when The Sunday Guardian did a half page story on me and called me a ‘cupcake genius”. In 2016, Vogue did a feature on me with the headline- “found a career online” . The same year I won Outlook social media award. This is when I started taking work more seriously. I saw potential in my passion and knew I wanted to make it my profession.
By the end of my under-grad degree, everyone around me was applying to colleges, taking coaches classes to prepare for entrances and studying for civils or law. I had always been an academic kid and performed well in my under-grad but I had discovered something else that I loved more. So, I decided to not apply to any colleges or sit for entrances at all. I knew I wanted to give blogging full time a shot. It let me do a little bit of everything I enjoy- baking, styling, photographing, writing and meeting new people. It is very important to be fearless in order to be able to follow your passion. It is very easy to give up what you are passionate about because it is not mainstream or because people around you think it is stupid.
I’m often asked how I managed to convince my parents to let me do that. To begin with, I’m blessed with the most supportive parents who have always given us the freedom to make our own decisions. I was creating content for a number of brands, doing baking and food styling workshops across the country, growing my social media and website rapidly and making a good amount of money- so I did have enough to back my decision. I also believe that once you’re fully convinced about your decision and are confident about it, it isn’t very difficult to get others on board. However, It took me a while to get used to being a full time blogger. I suddenly didn’t have to wake up at 7am for college, no assignments to finish, no exams to study for. I suddenly didn’t have a schedule. I also didn’t have a boss to report to or anyone telling me I should get up and work.
I’ll be honest, it took me a while to discipline myself and create a routine. It was tough do that but the year after I graduated was the best year of my life. I was only doing what I truly enjoyed doing. I spent all my time baking and creating content and working on exciting associations with brands. I also got a small studio made where I worked on images as well as video content. I also traveled to 10 countries in the year after my graduation and every single trip that I made truly helped me grow as an individual and learn more about myself. As cliched as it may sound, its true and I can now see how each experience has contributed to my personal and professional growth. In this year, I built my team, that has contributed to the growth of my website. I have a kitchen ninja, who helps me with baking, two interns for social media & website, one videographer, one CA and a team of business managers. . I also won CondeNast Traveller Social Media Star of the Year and Best Dessert Blog by Better Homes and Gardens in 2017 and Best Food Instagrammer by Living Foodz Epicurean Guild Awards in 2018.
But the best thing to happen to me after college was the book offer from HarperCollins. Writing a book had been a dream ever since I started blogging but I didn’t think I’ll get the opportunity to do it so early on in my career. The book offer came to me when I was 21. My editor, Shreya Punj, got in touch with me on Instagram to ask if I’d be remotely interested in working on a book. We met, discussed how we’d like the book to look like and signed the contract. The 1 year and 3 months after that has been the craziest time of my life. Creating the book was MUCH more difficult than I thought it would be. Someone from HarperCollins team told me that it would be like having a baby. I don’t know how having a baby feels like but I do know for sure that I’ve not invested more time, energy and emotion into anything else before this! It was a long, all consuming, exhausting but very fulfilling experience. Recipe testing and development, styling and photography-I did it all for the book. There were days when I wanted to give up, when I questioned my ability to pull off a project as big as this and when I found it difficult to keep the Instagram & blog alive with the book work. At the same time it challenged me, pushed me and helped me discover things I didn’t know I could accomplish. Now that the book is out I can proudly say that what you see in Bake With Shivesh book is my best work so far.
The book made it to amazon’s best seller list the day it went on pre-order ( 18th September’18) . Needless to say, it has been possible only because of the love and support my Instagram fam and my blog readers. I couldn’t have asked for a better response to my debut book. We celebrated the launch of the book in Delhi on 17th November’18 at Fio in Nehru Place. Over 200 people were invited to join the celebration where I was in conversation with my editor to talk about the book. I also baked a spread of desserts for the people to feast on. This was followed by two hours of book signing and lots of warm hugs and beautiful smiles. Watch the Delhi launch video HERE.
On 23rd November’18 I launched the book in Bangalore where I demonstrated 2 recipes from the book and signed copies for all my readers there. Bombay was a two day celebration. On 8th December I demonstrated 3 recipes from the book to an exclusive group of 20 people at FoodHall Cookery studio, which was followed by a high tea spread of desserts from the book. We celebrated the launch on 9th December at Le15 cafe in Colaba. This time I was in conversation with my friend and mentor Pooja Dhingra.
When I finished working on the book, I suddenly felt like I had too much time on hands. That is when I felt I can take out the time to complete my post graduation while I was still working. It could be something on the side to keep me busy. I applied to the best college in the country for advertising and PR and also got in. I started college in August’18 ( 3 months before the book launch) and the next two months were nothing but plain stressful. I was spending 7 hours everyday in college plus 2 hours in traveling to and back. After those 9 hours and completing my everyday assignments, I was physically and creatively exhausted to do what I really enjoyed doing. I also realized that because of college, I had to say no to many work and travel opportunities- opportunities that mean a lot to me and would never come back. I was going through a phase where I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t happy with the quality of work I was producing, I wasn’t happy with how my time was being spent and I wasn’t happy with what I was being taught in the class room. Even when I was traveling ( I traveled to Amsterdam & Vietnam while I was in college) I was stressed and worried about keeping up with college work. When I was in the classroom, I was only thinking about the calls I was missing and the projects I was saying no to because I only had the weekends left to work. The book promotions and the traveling because of that was going to start and I knew it would be crazy- something I would have had to compromise on because of the college’s strict minimum 70% attendance policy.
In the two months that I was in college, I realized the value of what I had built from scratch in the last three years. I also realized the luxury of working for yourself and following your passion. While giving an interview to The Hindu a couple of months back I happened to mention- ” The year after my graduation was the best year of my life. I’d be the happiest if the rest of my life could be like that”. That is when it hit me- That was my life. I decided to change it. I realized I was trying to fix something that wasn’t broken and that is when I had a very very difficult decision to make. Did I want to stop going to college or did I want to just pull through and get that diploma. It was definitely the most difficult decision for me and I truly hit a low during that phase. I would cry because I was so scared to make the wrong decision. For someone like me who has always been very sure about his decisions, this was something new and that is what made it even more difficult for me.
It was difficult but I decided to put my happiness first. After I came back from my trip to Sharjah, I did not go back to college because I decided to focus all my time and energy into growing my venture- something that I’ve worked extremely hard on in the last few years. It not only gave me more satisfaction but also made me happier. I spoke with my parents because their approval was the most important for me. I realized they were convinced even before I started talking because they had seen the change in me while I was going to college. Now, my idea is not to encourage you to drop out of college. It is important to note that I already had a successful blog and Instagram running that gets me more revenue every month than the annual package I would get after the post grad. But it was the uncertainty that troubled me. It took me a while to realize that life would be equally uncertain after I complete my post grad. What is important is to pick what makes you happy in the moment and pursue what excites you.
Today, as I write this post, I’m in a completely different head space. I’m motivated to keep growing. I am content with the work I’ve done this year and the adventures I’ve been on. I’m grateful for the love I’ve received for the book. I’m lucky to be surrounded with friends and family that support me. I’m excited about the opportunities that await me. And most importantly, I’m happy!