Cristina Manjon: Instagram Baking Sensation.
Why did you make your latest transition?
I have always loved baking. About 10 years ago, when I was living in Madrid, I was diagnosed with diabetes. I took a step back and started baking for myself and my family even more than I had before so I could control the amount of sugar. In Madrid I had a good friend and we had always talked about opening a tea shop. We were about to get started when my husband got a job in the US and we moved to New York. I didn’t know many people and my husband was traveling a lot. So, I started baking and giving cakes to friends and neighbors for free. It was a way to feel complete. My kids were getting older and I had more time. I didn’t know much about social media but someone told me to open an Instagram account to show my cakes, so I did. That’s how I started.
What are you doing now?
I run Fortynine Figs (@fortyninefigs). It’s an Instagram baking account. I didn’t know anything about photography when I started. I knew how to bake but not post. So, I did a small online course about food photography and learned about using natural light and how to show a beautiful cake. It was a small investment that paid off. Taking the photos after I baked something made it all more fun and interesting. I’m not selling or giving cakes away much anymore, but I love to share information, images, videos and also share a bit about myself. I like to share the recipe if people are interested and I also love to show a new technique I’ve learned. I’m self-taught, so I love the idea that other people can look at my account and be self-taught too.
What surprised you most about the transition?
I was so surprised that people were following me. At first I didn’t have people commenting or communicating much, but now we’re like a little family and it’s a really nice relationship. I understand that Instagram isn’t simple and some people aren’t honest on social media, so I’d rather have fewer followers and have a good rapport with them. I give them recipes, I answer their questions and it’s real to me. So, it’s a big surprise to have this supportive, warm community who thinks I’m talented. An added thrill has been when my work gets picked up by big food media and it has happened a few times. It was incredible when Delish invited me to their professional kitchen to do videos. I never thought anything like that would happen. I also never dreamed anyone would ask me to try out for a TV show, but I was invited to try out for the American version of the Great British Baking Show back when my account had fewer followers. It was a lot of fun, but it also made me realize that I’m not sure if TV is for me. Maybe I will write a book about baking at some point, but I love what I’m doing and I don’t want to be famous, I want to have fun.
One other thing that surprised me was that all the experts say if you want to grow an Instagram account you should focus on only one thing. I have done a lot with pies, but I started with cakes and also love sourdough bread. I know those are different communities on Instagram, but I do it anyway because I enjoy it. I love doing videos of sourdough bread and showing people the phases of baking and how I use the available tools. I just think bread is so beautiful.
How did you decide to pursue these opportunities?
Since I was a little girl, I always wanted to have a business. I didn’t know what kind, but I always loved baking. I’d done it since I was little and it was a passion. At this point in my life, I want to contribute to supporting my family and have a career doing something that I love. If I knew I wanted to do this years ago I might have gone to culinary school, but I am proud that I’ve learned myself by testing, trying and not giving up.
What advice would you give to someone in the same circumstances?
Most people think they aren’t good enough or not interesting enough to do what they really want to do. I was like that too. I was afraid. I thought I was just this person who makes cakes and I was afraid to get serious. But the passion is what makes you good and interesting. Don’t be afraid.
Given your vast experience both professionally and personally, do you have a top 5 or 10 list of things that you would tell people if they would like to follow in your footsteps or follow a similar path?
-Always be responsive when people contact you.
-Take good advice.
-Always try different things.
-Listen to yourself and make you own rules.
Cristina Manjon was born and raised in Cadiz, Spain. She has lived in Madrid and New York with her husband and children. She studied business in Spain and is a self-taught baker, pie artist and food photographer. @fortyninefigs is a feast for the eyes and Cristina continues to make meaningful connections with her followers.