In real life, he’s known as Shakeel Adam.
I came across Shak’s Instagram page about 2 months ago, when an Instagram user commented on one of my pictures and told me to “Check this guy out!” Curious as hell, I decided to obey and open the link to his page. And this is what I saw:
Yeah. I was wildly impressed, blown away by what I had seen, that a baker this talented, lived in my city, and was just a year older than me? No waaaaaaays. So I did what any teenage girl would do and quietly stalked his page, casually liking pictures but never daring to comment or make my presence known.
Until one day, the idea came to me that maybe I should meet this guy. The chances of him being a grossly anti-social and grumpy troll were pretty slim, especially given that trolls are probably allergic to the colour pink.
And so, after sliding into his DMs and some behind-the-scenes WhatsApp action, we eventually met up at Bottom Drawer cafe on a particularly rainy day, and much like the weather, the conversation was anything but dry.
Here’s a write-up of how it went down below:
TheFScientist: What inspired you to start baking?
ThatCupcakeShak: I started baking when I was in Grade 5, just helping my sisters around the kitchen, my older sister actually bakes cakes for orders, and so that was one of my influences. I used to watch The Food Channel a lot too, TV shows like Unwrapped and Cake Boss are my favourites and I loved watching it and seeing all the interesting creations they used to come up with.
So when I was in Lower 6, one day I got the courage to make a cheesecake, and I had never done a cheesecake in my life before, but I just wanted to make one. My sister then invited me to her house and she said that she would show me what to do, so I did everything, but she just showed me the steps and everything. And it actually came out really nice, people really enjoyed it, it wasn’t that fancy or whatever. But ever since then, I just thought to myself, what else can I do? So then I just started baking cakes and I learnt with my sister cause she takes orders as well, I just used to always watch what she did and how she baked as well and I got a lot of experience from her, she gave me tips about how to do icing and do this and that.
When I first made the cheesecake, my cousin’s wife tasted some as well, and now her cousin takes orders as well. So she was getting married, and she was like ‘Can you do my wedding cake?’ and now I was thinking, I’ve never done orders in my life and she wants me to do her wedding cake and it just shocked me. I spent a lot of time debating with myself on whether or not I should do it, and in the end I did do it, and it was a beach themed cake and it had seahorses and all that. My sister helped me with it, I did all the baking and she did the fondant decorations, but the ideas came from me. That gave me the courage to do orders, so people would approach me and ask me to do a cheesecake or this and that. Initially, it was tough to decide how I would deliver the cake, presentation but as time progressed it got easier. School holidays were spent baking, I would randomly make cupcakes, or a cake just to see what I could do.
Then when I got to Upper 6, a friend of mine was doing a fundraiser for charity and he used to see a lot of the baking that I would do on Instagram, and he asked me to do some cupcakes to sell at school. And it was a really big hit, teachers and students would come to buy from me at breaktime, and this went on for about 2 weeks. And then as demand increased, I was doing about 4 dozen cupcakes, and it got a bit hectic because I had to bake them, ice them, decorate them AND THEN study for my mock exams at the same time. But it was really cool because that’s how I got a lot of exposure, especially from my Instagram. From then, my baking kicked off. Instagram gave me a lot of confidence. I stopped for a little while during my A Level exams in November so I could focus, and after I went for a 2 week holiday in Zambia to visit my sister, and then after that it was just baking.
A lot of my inspiration also come from other bakers on Instagram, like the Snickers cake and I also like to experiment with flavours like strawberry, but I don’t like to use artificial flavouring. I’m more into natural things, and I’ve always been aiming to have my food look nice, taste nice and it should be as fresh as possible. So that’s basically how the journey started.
TheFScientist: That’s pretty awesome, and yeah that is how I got to hear about you, through your Instagram. I’ve also seen there that you’re heading to Malaysia pretty soon, what’s that all about?
ThatCupcakeShak: So this is really exciting, but also pretty scary, but I’ve been accepted to the Malaysia Institute of Baking. It’s located about 10 minutes from Kuala Lumpur, just outside of the city. The course I’m taking is Baking Science & Technology, it involves all the fundamentals of baking, from hygiene to pastries, you name it. It’s 2 and a half years, and it incorporates the business side as well so you do accounts, you do economics and you do business studies. You do everything that’s related to food, it’s really broad and it’s really cool, so I’m leaving quite soon actually, in the next week.
I picked Malaysia because I’m Muslim and it’s really important for me to go somewhere where they don’t cook with alcohol, and I can be sure that the meat is halal and I can be sure that I won’t be served pork. I’m really scared because I’m one of the first people in my family to study abroad so it will be very different, but hopefully it will be really good too. But it’s exciting, because it’s something I really want to do. Initially, everyone, was so negative about it, like they would ask me why I’m baking and being a guy as well…. but you know what, some of the best chefs in the world are men.
TFS: Totally, that is true! You should just do what you love. Here’s a random question, what do you think of putting salt in cakes?
TCS: Well, if it was a vanilla cake, I wouldn’t. But chocolate cake, definitely, it actually brings out the chocolate flavour. It makes a big difference in brownies and chocolate cakes. But I wouldn’t advise salt for a vanilla cake. Adding just a little bit of coffee, like a tablespoon to a chocolate cake also makes a HUGE difference, it really improves the flavour.
TFS: Thanks, I will try that. It’s really funny cause we were doing a fundraiser for our First Team Tennis about 2 years ago, and a friend of mine actually mixed up sugar and salt when she was baking a cake… so her cake had 2 cups of salt in it and it was an absolute disaster, it made my day, I could not stop laughing. Have you ever been pressed for an order and something just went horribly wrong? Tell me about your worst kitchen fail.
TCS: It has happened actually. I once made cupcakes and they just flopped. And when something like that happens, you can’t just cover them with icing and deliver them, you have to start again. At least they’re edible and I can still have them at home, but they don’t qualify to leave the house. If it doesn’t look right then I’ll be like no. I just can’t. Cause some cakes just look nice but they don’t taste good at all. But for me, it has to look good AND taste good.
There was also the one time I was making a cheesecake, and I thought I’d added 3 tablespoons of gelatine, but I wasn’t too sure… and the next morning I removed it and I thought it had set and everything was fine but after 5 minutes, the whole thing had collapsed. So I had to make another one and get it to set in the 3 hours before it needed to be delivered. That was like the worst day of my life. But you get used to things like that happening. Sometimes I’ll get 6 orders for one day, and you have to be super organised and do all your stuff on time because everybody wants their stuff at the same time. I have to wake up at 6 am sometimes, and it’s honestly tiring sometimes, with all the walking up and down and it takes a LOT of time. It’s really hectic also because I do everything myself from the baking right down to the icing.
TFS: Oh wow, that is hectic, you do put in a lot of hard work, and you can see that, just from how appealing all your stuff on Instagram looks. Thank you so much for meeting with me Shak, it was honestly a pleasure.
TCS: Thank you to you too, it was an honour to be here.
- He is the youngest child, he has 2 older sisters and his brother is the oldest, there is a 13 year age gap between them.
- He strongly advises all you bakers out there that when making buttercream frosting, make sure that your butter is at ROOM TEMPERATURE. No cheating by putting it in the microwave, take your butter out the night before you bake to be safe.
- His favourite type of cake is carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.
- He does all the cleaning up by himself, and washes his own nozzles and piping bags.
- The food he hates the most is beetroot and if he could condemn his worst enemy to eat one food, it would be beetroot.
- He owns about 20 icing nozzles and his favourite is the rose nozzle. He does all his rosettes and decorating with it.