Shivesh Bhatia credits his mother and grandmother for stirring up his interest in baking. The barely 24-year-old self-taught baker, who has already published two hugely popular books on desserts and baking, admits to growing up "eating the most delicious cakes and desserts" dished up by his mother and nani.
"Every time we visited my nani, we were always welcomed by two freshly baked cakes sitting on the counter," says the popular food blogger and pastry chef based in New Delhi, India.
By the time he turned 16, his passion for cakes – not just eating, but baking them too – was firmly set.
"I didn’t know much about baking at the time," he says in an interview with Friday from his home in Delhi. "But it intrigued me to keep learning and not give up despite several baking disasters."
His perseverance surely helped. Today, he has more than half a million followers on Instagram and as many subscribers to his YouTube channel Bake With Shivesh. Named in Vogue’s list of 20 Under 26, he has also been featured in several major media including Vogue, India Today and the Sunday Guardian.
The spark for Shivesh’s passion in baking may have been kindled by his nani, but it is his friend and mentor Pooja Dhingra, a pastry chef, businessperson and owner of a bakery chain who he is grateful to for helping him hone his culinary skills. "She is truly the best in the industry. Pooja taught me to have dedication and conviction towards everything you do. To go after what you believe in and not let the obstacles stop you from getting to your goal."
It’s perhaps that dedication and conviction to his passion that helped him write two books, bag around 10 awards, including the CondeNast Traveller Social Media Star of the Year, the Best Dessert Blog by Better Homes and Gardens and Travel and Leisure Best Food Blogger Of The Year.
The journey, though, has not been sweet all through.
As a teenager, Shivesh remembers getting his cousins together to bake a chocolate cake during one of his visits to his nani’s house. Picking up a pre-mix and ready-made frosting from a supermarket, they decided to make chocolate cupcakes. The result, though, was far from anything palatable. "I’m almost embarrassed to talk about how those cupcakes looked. Let’s not go into how they tasted," he says.
Nevertheless, that did not stop him from embarking on more baking adventures. "I’d bake every day, whipping up one disaster after another." If sometimes the cakes ended up dense, at other times they had an "eggy taste and smell". If one time they were undercooked, the next time they’d be burnt to cinders. "But these disasters taught me the importance of gaining knowledge in baking and I started reading up on baking – the science behind it, the tips and tricks [chefs employ] and kept practising and applying them in the kitchen," says the author of Amazon chart-toppers Bake With Shivesh and Shivesh Bhatia’s Desserts For Every Mood.
Shivesh approaches baking as a science. Realising that every ingredient in a cake or a pastry has a crucial role to play in the final outcome, he began watching videos and reading blogs of chefs as well as researching extensively on how to create the best desserts in as simple a way as possible. "I tried to understand where I was going wrong and how I could bake differently."
Shivesh admits that although he had many hobbies as a teen, what he enjoyed was baking and taking pictures of his creations. "That truly made me happy."
So, when the time came to choosing a career, the young man was clear: It had to be "baking and blogging full time."
"I’ve always taken my hobbies seriously," he says, adding his real journey in the field of culinary arts began when he was pursuing an undergrad degree in political science. "I started reading a lot about baking which inspired me to not give up and keep getting my hands dirty in the kitchen. Moreover, I absolutely loved photographing and styling my desserts."
After graduating in political science in 2017, he decided to pursue baking and blogging full time. "While it was an easy decision to take initially, I did question it multiple times over the next six months. But I knew that this was what my heart truly wanted."
He is all praise for his parents for being extremely supportive "throughout all my crazy adventures. [But] this was also a time when blogging had become my steady source of income, so it was not difficult to convince them [that there is enormous potential in this field]."
Once he perfected his recipes, he decided to put them down in a book "to share with as many people as I can", he says. "I wanted readers to recreate these recipes and not be intimidated by complicated methods and fancy baking terms. Baking made easy and fun is the guiding principle behind my books."
Although a major influencer in the sphere of cooking, Shivesh makes it clear that maintaining a blog and regularly uploading new recipes to his YouTube channel are no easy tasks. While he is inspired by some of the content online to make "something great of my own", he admits to spending a lot of time researching, creating, executing and perfecting recipes that people would want to try. "Having a niche in terms of creating simple yet aspirational recipes is what helps me keep things interesting," he says, offering a tip to wannabe food bloggers.
Shivesh says that there was a phase he went through when he would focus on creating desserts that were visually appealing just so their pictures would gather more ‘Likes’ online. However, during the pandemic period, he found that people who wanted to try out his recipes were reluctant, believing they were complicated. That’s when he decided to go back to his initial idea of making baking accessible to all, including youngsters and first-time bakers.
To that end, he tried baking a cake in a cooker, cakes sans flour or butter, and some cakes with biscuits.
The fact that they were doing very well online was proof that he needed to go back to the cutting board and focus on recipes, he said.
Today, with almost everyone with a smartphone clicking and sharing food pictures on Insta and other platforms, what tips can he offer aspiring food bloggers/photographers to up their game?
Study good food photographs online and attempt to replicate them but with your own individual style, he says.
"One important piece of advice is to not give up! I know it’s really demotivating when you spend so much time clicking a good picture and it doesn’t get the response you wanted. But you’ll learn so much from these experiences and trust me, every fifth photo you take will reflect new results. With every photo I took, I got so much better."
Quickfire questions with Shivesh Bhatia
Two baking tips
• Add an empty vanilla pod to your jar of sugar. It will make the sugar taste and smell of vanilla.
• To soften butter faster, cut it into cubes and let it sit on your counter for 10 minutes. Smaller pieces soften up faster.
Three ingredients always in your kitchen
Good quality vanilla, lemons, dark chocolate.
Two dishes you prepared after some experimentation that left you pleasantly surprised.
Rose Milk Cake and Macarons
Your favourite desserts
My Devil’s chocolate cake and chocolate chip cookies.
Three recipes readers must try out from your recent book, Baking with Shivesh.
• Pecan brownie tart
• Fig and honey cheesecake
• Tiramisu mousse
Two less popular ingredients that work well in cakes/pastries?
Lavender and olive oil.
Tips for bloggers
Consistency and patience are key. Also, a little bit of your personality should be present in your work. It will make it stand out.
Chef Shivesh’s recommended recipes
I love chiffon cakes! The addition of lemon in this recipe gives it a perfect zing
I love eating and baking with mangoes, and if there’s one cake I could eat all summer, it would be this one. Moist, fluffy and bursting with flavour