Q&A

I put up my first post on plantbasedartist.com just one year ago! To commemorate a year of blogging, I thought I’d post more about myself! I recently posted on Instagram to see if you all had any questions for me, and I was happy to receive many great questions. Thank you for that! Please note that I have combined or paraphrased some questions. If I have not answered your question directly, I apologize!

The featured image for this post is of doughnuts I made to celebrate the occasion!

This post ended up being a lot longer than I expected, but I had fun with it and it was great reflecting on all of your questions. I hope you’ll enjoy reading it – or at least skimming ūüėõ¬†

What inspired you to start your blog?

I started plantbasedartist.com on May 21st, 2015, shortly after I graduated from college¬†(undergrad). I had been posting my food pictures on Instagram and Facebook prior to this time, and I had been getting a great response as well as encouragement to start my own blog. Many people started commenting to ask for recipes for my posts. So, I thought last summer in particular would be a great time to start blogging, as I had more time on my hands before starting medical school. Part of the reason why I started my blog was to create an “arsenal” of relatively quick recipes for me to refer to once I started medical school. Truthfully, I haven’t really done that, as I’ve been developing new recipes and making totally different dishes throughout this year. I also feel that my food, since influenced by many different things, is unique, so I wanted to create an avenue through which I could share my love for creativity with food.

What are some helpful tips on making a blog so successful?

First off, I’d say that in order to start and maintain a blog, it is something that you genuinely enjoy doing it with nothing in return. While I now have foreseeable goals for my blog and Instagram, I started off with no idea they would become as successful as they have. Initially, it helped that I was posting very regularly and frequently on my blog. As I have limited time now to post to my blog, my Instagram account has helped to bring traffic to my blog.

Where do you get your inspiration and ideas from? Who was your biggest inspiration to cook on quite a professional level?

Many people ask me about where I get my inspiration, and here is finally a complete response to that question. I get most of my inspiration from the following:

1) My heritage as a Gujarati Indian-American. Growing up in an Indian-American household has certainly developed my understanding and innate connection to Indian cuisine. I find it particularly easy to create new Indian-inspired dishes, and create classic Indian dishes I grew up with as a result of my heritage.

2) Instagram. This one’s pretty obvious. There are SO many talented food bloggers, home cooks, chefs, food photographers, etc. on Instagram. I get a lot of inspiration from Instagram, and I’m grateful to it for giving me the platform to share my own work.

3) Snapchat and¬†social media in general. I get inspired by seeing food posts from others – whether the food was made by them or served to them by someone else. In fact, I recently recreated a dish I saw on a friend’s snapchat, even though the only information I had was a brief description of the dish and a picture.

4)¬†TV. I used to watch a lot of cooking shows in high school, but after that point I rarely watched cooking shows because I haven’t really used a TV much since then. I used to watch pretty much everything – from daytime cooking to cooking competitions. While I haven’t really had any direct inspiration from food TV¬†since it’s kind of distanced now, I’m sure some of my content has been inspired by things I’ve seen in the past.

5) YouTube. I haven’t really kept up with YouTube recently, but I used to watch a lot of cooking videos in college. I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily loyal to particular YouTubers. I usually just searched for a particular dish and watched a few¬†videos to get an idea of what it is, its variations, and how to make it. I still continue this, but I spend far less time with it. If I’m trying something new, I usually skip through a video just for some initial instruction on a particular cooking technique or process.

6) Individuals. I wouldn’t say I have a single person who has inspired me to cook. My mother and late grandmother have certainly fostered my passion for cooking and I am continually inspired by the friends I have made on Instagram.

7) Restaurant menus. Simply reading a restaurant menu gives me so much inspiration. There’s a lot of inspiration that can be found simply in menu item descriptions.

8) Travelling. I’ve been very fortunate to travel to many different places, and I’m definitely inspired by the foods I eat and see on my travels. One of my recent trips was to Italy last summer, and that has definitely inspired a few posts on Instagram as well as a recipe or two so far.

This all probably shows that I’m pretty obsessed with food, and I guess I can’t deny that ūüėõ I am flattered when people consider my cooking professional, although I certainly do not consider myself a professional. My recipes and photos most certainly have their flaws, and I always welcome constructive criticism.

Who taught you how to cook? Have you had any professional training?

I pretty much answered the first question in my previous answer, but there is not a particular person who directly taught me how to cook. I have also not had any professional training. I’ve just primarily experimented on my own! It might be fun to try a cooking class sometime, but I haven’t yet participated in one.

What do you use for a camera? How do you make your videos? 

I currently use a Canon EOS 70D DSLR camera with a 50mm f/1.4 lens for food photography. I previously used my iPhone and a much older, lower quality DSLR camera for my blog images and Instagram posts. I’ve only done videos with my new camera, and I just use a tripod when I do!

Can you share some tips on photographing food (camera settings, lighting, angles, etc.) and presenting food (plating, etc.)? Any tips on photographing with minimal lighting  and DIY backgrounds?

In terms of camera settings, I don’t really have any specific recommendations as I’m still figuring it out itself! I am learning more about the specific manual features online, so I’d recommend just searching Google for help with settings. There are so many resources available! As for lighting, I did use artificial lighting (this one¬†specifically) during the winter when I would rarely be free to cook when the sun was out. I wasn’t extremely happy with the results, but it wasn’t bad. With the later sunsets now, I take full advantage of daylight only and shoot near a window. I also use a foam core board as a “reflector” as per recommendations from other food photographers. Daylight produces the best results in my opinion.

As for presenting food, I get a lot of inspiration from the internet and social media (read my response above for more details). I think a lot of my direction from plating comes from my fine arts background. I’ve taken numerous fine arts classes in and out of school growing up, and art has always been a passion of mine. In college, I also minored in Visual Communication (graphic design), so I think my course work even with digital arts has matured my “eye” for art and fostered my creativity. My main expression of art recently has been through presenting food. If I were to share any tips regarding food presentation, it would be not to fear negative space (i.e. space on a plate with no food). Minimalism can also be an effective tool. I try to control the number of elements I use when plating a particular dish. I also try to be conscious of the colors I use through using a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. In addition, I try to keep the dish itself the focus of a shot. I do think props are great and also important for “setting the scene” for a particular shot, but I limit my use of props. I also try to use props that are not distracting and do not take away from the dish itself.

For DIY backgrounds, this is also something I’m playing around with. I recently have been using large 3’X3′ ceramic tiles that I found at a store that happened to sell only tiles. I highly recommend this option, as floor tiles can be relatively inexpensive and widely available.

How do you find time to cook in between med school? Any tips on that?¬†When do you usually cook during the day? Or is it during weekends when there’s less going on?

I get these questions quite frequently. While I do have a busy school and study schedule, I find it is always possible to make some time to cook. It does not take nearly as long as it might seem to cook and prepare posts for Instagram. On average, I usually block out an hour of my day to cook, shoot, eat, and clean up a particular meal. Cooking has become my ideal (and sometimes only) study break, and I save this time by avoiding things like watching TV. This process has become much more efficient over time. I usually cook and prepare posts in the evening after classes and before I start studying again in the evening. Sometimes when classes start later, I wake up early to create a breakfast post such as a smoothie bowl. This usually takes less time (about 30 minutes). On weekends, I sometimes spend more time, simply because I truly enjoy the process. I usually only cook once a day and eat leftovers or other quickly prepared (i.e. not styled) meals (such as a hearty salad) or snacks during the rest of the day.

I think that cooking has made my study time more efficient, as I have something to look forward to doing on a mostly daily basis. Cooking also gives my mind much needed rest, and this has helped me retain information better. I also sometimes use cooking time to review material mentally, although I usually use this time to take a complete break.

Any tips for a beginner cook? I love trying new recipes but it takes hours and I get exhausted to do anything else.

My main advice is to just keep at it! What worked for me was just forcing myself to cook as much as possible. Practice really has made the whole process a lot more efficient for me. I’ve also enjoyed every moment of it, but I understand that it’s not always enjoyable for everyone in the beginning.

Do you try and remain frugal? What’s your budget like?

Frugality is definitely a relative term. By my definition I¬†wouldn’t say I’m extremely frugal, but I’m definitely conscious about the amount I spend on food.¬†My weekly budget is very variable and depends on whether I’m stocking up on some pantry ingredients, primarily buying produce (I try to buy in season to avoid overpriced produce), buying particular items for a new recipe, or just splurging. So, I’d say my weekly budget for food ranges from $40 to $70.

What do you feel was your biggest challenge putting your work on social media? Any stories of people trying to bring you down? How do you deal with the haters?!

To be honest, I don’t feel I have any particular challenges when it comes to posting to social media. My posts are genuine and I stand by them 100%, so I do not have any reservations about posting when I do. I consider myself very fortunate to have received such positive feedback thus far, so I do not have any stories of people trying to bring me down. If I have, I cannot remember any particular incidents. Everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion, so if I were to receive hateful comments, I would simply take them with a grain of salt. At the same time, I always welcome constructive criticism.

Have you always been vegan? If not, how did you go about changing your diet?

I have not always been vegan. I transitioned dairy out of my diet in December 2014 (from lacto-vegetarianism) for ethical reasons. Now, I consider myself vegan for ethical, long term health, and environmental reasons. I used to eat a lot of cheese/dairy in my cooking and really relied on it. Once I took it out of my diet, I really just swapped out the dairy¬†for fresh produce, and I started eating much more healthy and nutritious meals as a result. Slowly but surely, I started incorporating many¬†more fresh fruits and vegetables into my cooking¬†(I was already eating things like whole grains, nuts, legumes, lentils, etc). I also stopped eating many processed foods in general, as dairy sneaks its way into many processed foods. Over time, I’ve lost the desire to eat cheese and many processed foods altogether, and I only rarely turn to vegan (processed) cheese options. It’s amazing how our taste preferences adapt over time!

I’ve read people make the switch to clean eating and reap many benefits. Ex. clear skin, weight loss, energized, clear mind, etc. Have you noticed the differences with your health in comparison to the past?

I’ve certainly gained a lot of energy throughout the time I’ve transitioned my diet. I think this is due in part by eliminating dairy but also due to eating more fresh fruits and vegetables as opposed to processed foods. I have also had much clearer skin during this time, although I know this is not always the case with others. I used to have minor problems with acne, but this has not been an issue over the last year or so. Overall, I’d definitely say my diet has had a very positive impact on my daily life as well as my studies!

Have your medical studies had an influence on your diet? At least one understands what some foods do to the body.

To be honest, I don’t think my studies have influenced my diet. They have, however, validated a lot of what I am already doing in terms of keeping a balanced diet with plenty of whole foods (fresh fruits and veggies, beans, whole grains, legumes, nuts, lentils, etc.) and limited processed foods.

When you are done with school, what is your dream job? What medical specialty are you interested in (if you know so far)?

My dream job is something that allows me to have a positive impact on my patients lives whether it’s through traditional medical practices, through nutrition counseling, or through another form of treatment. I aim to have a multi-faceted approach to ‘treat the patient and not the disease.’¬†I also hope to continue my food blog to inspire others beyond my future patients. At this time, I have many clinical interests, so I am not interested in just one medical specialty in particular. I want to keep my options open at this point, so I’m keeping an open mind for now!

 

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6 thoughts on “Q&A

  1. Fantastic Q&A! I loved learning about how you learn to budget your time with cooking and med school–that is such a tough lifestyle and I think it’s amazing that you work hard and are super diligent with your priorities on maintaining a difficult curriculum and your passion! I definitely will keep in mind your photography tips as well!

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  2. Sheil you’re an inspiration for myself! I’m so fortunate to have been your roommate in undergrad, and to continue to call you a very close friend. Best wishes for you both in your cooking endeavors and medical school!

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  3. Hopefully will be starting medical school this upcoming August. Incidentally I’m also trying to phase dairy and processed foods out of my diet, your blog is very inspiring and helpful. I’m sure I’ll be making many of these recipes during study breaks. Thanks!

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