Canadian pastry chef Anna Olson once said, “baking may be regarded as a science, but it's the chemistry between the ingredients and the cook that gives desserts life,” and 24-year-old Instagram food blogger Shivesh Bhatia couldn’t agree more.
Based in New Delhi, Shivesh is a self-taught baker, author of two cookbooks and a social media influencer with half a million followers. And right from baking a cake without flour to teaching how to make jim jam cookies at home, Shivesh has smashed stereotypes, one pastry at a time.
Speaking to Outlook, Shivesh discusses how baking wasn’t always a piece of cake for him, the uncertainties he faced and how someone with no formal culinary education made it to Amazon’s best-sellers list with his debut cookbook. Excerpts:
How did a political science student start a baking blog? What interested you the most about baking?
Baking was never an alien concept to me because growing up I would often see my mom and grandmother bake cakes. But until college, baking was just a hobby restricted to the weekends. And I was quite the academic kind. I really enjoyed studying political science. Back then when people asked me what I wanted to do in the future I would always say I wanted to pursue law.
But during my second year in college, I had a lot of time on my hands. That’s when baking for me, started spilling over the weekend and I realised that it was something that actually gave me a lot of joy. I then started my blog ‘Bake With Shivesh’. Later, I set up an account on Instagram.
You are a self-taught baker. How did you learn so much so soon?
Well, it hasn’t been soon. It’s been seven years since I started baking. The first few years were basically one disaster after another. Most of the desserts I used to bake were not fit for consumption. More often than not, I used to undercook or burn my desserts. A lot of times my cakes were very dense and they had an eggy taste and smell.
But I kept practising and experimenting. There was something about baking that didn’t let me give up. And I soon realised that baking, at the end of the day, is science. It’s important to understand what role each ingredient has to play. So, I started looking up things on the internet, I started watching a lot of videos and following a lot of food bloggers. I tried to figure out where I was going wrong and how I could bake differently.
What’s the most challenging and intimidating part about being a baker and an influencer?
I think the most challenging part is to constantly be on our toes and churn out content that is fresh and interesting. That’s the only way we can stay relevant. But, like anybody else in the creative field, we go through creative blocks and phases of not being motivated enough. A lot of effort goes into content creation and there are times when I completely run out of ideas. That’s something that I have struggled a lot with.
Part of being an Instagram blogger is to slay the photography game. Do you think this need to focus on photography distracts you from baking?
That’s a very interesting question. In fact, there was a phase when the recipes took a back bench for me and I started focusing more on creating desserts that were visually appealing so that people would double tap.
But during lockdown I realised that there were many people who wanted to try out my desserts but they never did so because my recipes looked intimidating and complicated.
And my initial idea of starting a blog was to make baking accessible and encourage youngsters to bake from scratch. So, during lockdown I baked a cake in the cooker for the first time, I baked cakes sans flour or butter and I baked cakes with biscuits. Those recipes did extremely well and a lot of people made them and shared pictures with me. So now, I have gone back to focusing on recipes.
Bakers you look up to--Pooja Dhingra
Most underrated baking ingredient-- Vanilla
One baking hack most people don’t know--Do not over mix your batter after you combine your dry and wet ingredients. When you do that you are over working your batter which would result in a dense cake.
One must have tool for baking--Weighing scales or measuring cups and spoons
Two unusual ingredients that go well together--Chocolate and mango
Favourite dessert to make--Eclairs
Baking is still viewed as an unconventional career choice in India especially for men. What challenges did you face and how supportive has your family been?
Even though my family was a bit taken aback with my decision in the beginning, they have been very supportive. In fact, in 2018 I had enrolled myself in IIMC to study Public Relations and Advertising but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to pursue that course. And at the time my parents encouraged me to drop out and focus on baking. So, I have definitely been lucky because it’s very important to have a good support system, especially if you’re trying out something new and unconventional.
Also, by the time I was 21, I had already established myself to a certain degree and I was earning through baking. Those two factors helped me convince my parents that I could pursue baking full-time.
And I was also very surprised with all the overwhelming support I received from folks in the industry. So luckily, I haven’t had to battle or shatter stereotypes of a male trying to bake. In fact, I would say that it helped me to a certain degree. I was this 16-year-old Indian boy pursuing baking and that story actually helped me stand out and get myself noticed.
Apart from baking you have also authored two cookbooks, both of which topped the charts on Amazon. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Yes, I have authored two cookbooks—“Bake With Shivesh” and “Shivesh Bhatia’s Desserts For Every Mood”.
My first book came out in 2018, at a time when I had zero experience in the publishing field. So, I was very surprised when it made it to the newcomers and hot sellers list on the very day it went live.
How are the two books different from each other?
“Bake With Shivesh” focusses on styling and presentation. It’s not just a recipe book you also have sections on food-styling and I have gone into great detail about the kind of props, backgrounds, angles and light one needs to use and also how to make your dessert look as good as they taste. The first book has 50 recipes.
Meanwhile, “Shivesh Bhatia’s Desserts For Every Mood” focusses solely on baking, the process and how every step of it should be enjoyed. It has 100 recipes. It’s my attempt to reconnect with the process of baking and why I fell in love with it.
Do you have any tips to offer to those starting out on their blogging journey?
No matter how cliché it sounds, consistency is the most important thing. I say this because in the digital world everyone expects instant feedback and gratification but unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. If you want to pursue blogging full-time, you need to be consistent and that takes a lot of time. That’s why a lot of people give up halfway because they feel despite putting in so much time, money and effort they are not receiving results. Patience and consistency is key.
And another thing when it comes to food blogging is that most bloggers focus just on food but I think it is important to also add a personal touch to your work. So, for example my blog and book are called ‘Bake With Shivesh’. Your presence needs to be felt in your work because people connect with people. Your personality is unique and it will help you stand out.