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Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and why you started Project Vegan Baking?
Sure! My name is Tom, I’m twenty-eight, I’m from London and I’m the face behind Project Vegan Baking. This little project of mine started a few summers back when I had just recently gone vegan and was challenged by a colleague to bake vegan macarons. Prior to that I had zero baking experience; no heartfelt stories of baking apple pies with my grandma or frolicking in the forest for ingredients! I am very competitive so combine that with sheer unfiltered curiosity, I refused to concede on the challenge.
After twelve grueling attempts I finally cracked vegan macarons. A few months later I decided I’d try baking something new each week of the year and started posting it on Instagram. That was where Project Vegan Baking began!
How did you discover your niche in such a saturated space like food blogging and find a position among other vegan bakers?
In a way I didn’t look for my niche, it just sort of fell into my lap! I was already vegan and the blogging just came naturally to the project that I started. My page was truly just a way for me to document my amateur attempts at veganising all my favourite desserts and it wasn’t until I gained a few followers that I ever thought to turn it into a proper blog with a website.
I found my position among other vegan bakers by quite literally befriending them! I would scour the internet for all sorts of tricks and tips for niche vegan recipes and in the process spoke to many lovely bakers in the community.
You’ve gone from zero to over 50k Instagram followers in just a few years! What do you think has driven this growth? Has it caused you to consider future projects such as one day publishing your own cookbook?
I think when I started taking the photography of my baking quite seriously was when I started to gain traction. My pictures get reshared by lots of food platforms that often have upwards of a million followers. I’ve also not stopped engaging with comments and messages from followers as I genuinely love to talk about food science and am always happy to help others with their baking trials and tribulations.
Having my own cookbook is definitely something I’ve considered and have been fortunate enough to speak with a few publishers about the possibility. If my following continues to grow, it is definitely something on the agenda for the next 1-3 years.
What would be your main considerations if you were to publish a cookbook? How would you ensure you create something special for your audience while still standing out from existing cookbooks?
I’ve thought a lot about this and I would love for my first cookbook to be a vegan baking bible. Something with a range of difficulties that uses all the tricks of vegan baking so that anyone, vegan or otherwise, can pick it up and get great use out of it. My real-life job is very analytical and data-driven so I would love to pack the book with little snippets of the science of the ‘why’ the cake rises rather than just the ‘what’ and ‘how’.
It’s very hard to stand out amongst existing cookbooks because there’s an ocean of everlasting waves that bring new ideas every year but as long as I focused on the quality, and made it accessible to everyone, I like to think my book would stick.
What is the formula behind creating and writing your original vegan recipes? How do you effectively simplify such a complicated process? Is there a certain tone you aim to strike with your audience or a structure you have found readers can more easily follow?
Generally I wait for inspiration to strike, which isn’t ideal when I’m trying to grow my page with regular content! To streamline the process I do a lot of research before I even pick up a spatula. As fun as it is to just get stuck in, you end up wasting a lot of food with bad attempts so I like to do my research and have a good starting point.
Coming from a maths background, I actually struggle with writing recipe blogs in a poetic and enticing way so I just let the science do the talking! I recently did a blog post on vegan macarons and it includes 2000 words detailing all the fun science behind what makes a macaron and I like to think the food science nerds out there will be drawn to that!
How do you plan your content? Have you found that a particular kind of post will get more engagement than others?
I use my Instagram fairly organically but over the years I’ve learned a few optimal times for posting. I typically only bake a few times a week so I’ll plan those posts around those times – typically a Sunday evening or a mid-week lunch time!
The posts that do the best are unsurprisingly those that take the most effort. Big show-stopping desserts like layered cakes or Baked Alaska will get more engagement I suppose because they are rarer and/or people are super intrigued how they are veganised. It’s wildly frustrating when the opposite is true because you spend hours or days on a process to receive less engagement than a simple 2-ingredient recipe!
Are there any cooks or bakers that particularly inspire you, or certain recipe books you always find yourself returning to?
I actually don’t own too many vegan cookbooks! Veganism isn’t a new concept but the overlap of vegan cooking into the classic methods of pastry and patisserie is a much more recent endeavor so there are very few books that offer the kind of recipes I’d be looking for.
Also a lot of the content I consume is digital so I will tend to take inspiration from bakers that have a big online presence. Some examples include Claire Saffitz and Erin McDowell who are both food writers/recipe creators that have awesome YouTube channels or shows that are super easy to watch and learn from. In a way it’s the closest thing to in-person teaching which is a lot easier than learning straight from a book.
What important lessons have you learned since starting Project Vegan Baking? What advice would you offer to others looking to build more of an online presence?
I would say that you have to enjoy what you do in order to compete with these content farms that dominate most digital media spaces. Reach out to peers in your niche and create a community to lift each other up. If it wasn’t for a few tips from fellow food photographers on Instagram I never would have invested in my camera and reached the quality I’m at today.