Social media star's recipe for happiness
We could all use a little more sweetness in these trying times.
And what better way to pass the time in self-isolation than to get busy in the kitchen?
A Gold Coast mum is doing her part to add a dash of sugar, a hint of spice and a big dose of positivity to the chaotic climate of the coronavirus pandemic.
Elise Strachan wears many hats - baker, author, TV presenter, businesswoman and, perhaps her least favourite, social media influencer - but she's best known as the cupcake lady from YouTube who amassed more social media followers than Jamie Oliver.
The former flight attendant quit her job to start her own business from home after selling out of cupcakes at the local markets. She launched her My Cupcake Addiction YouTube channel in 2011 and quickly gained a dedicated following thanks to her colourful creations and bubbly personality.
Her rainbow checkerboard cake, for example, went viral with 25 million viewers in just seven days.
The self-taught baker certainly has the skills to make some drool-worthy desserts, but she admits finding herself at the forefront of the online recipe revolution was a bit of a fluke.
"I looked at opening a physical cake decorating school and I thought YouTube would be a good way to test the market," she says.
"I thought if they like my videos maybe they'll come to my school or my market stall. I didn't think it would take off in the way it did.
"I grew up in an entrepreneurial family and I always knew if you want to build a business you have to look for the next big thing. Technology has always been a recipe for success for me."
The mum-of-two grew and fed her growing fanbase from her home studio with the help of husband Alec and eventually moved her young family to the US where she landed a Food Network show and a cookbook deal.
She started up a production company in Los Angeles, hiring six staff members to make bespoke content for clients.
But it turns out you can have too much of a good thing, be it sugar or social media.
"Social media can be fantastic but I recommend everyone take a break from it," she says.
"I got to a point where I was making so much content for so many different places that I'd lost the core of what I truly loved, which was me at home with my kids making cupcakes.
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I’m at the end of the kids (& my!) epic birthday week and I can officially say I’m partied out!! 🎈 Party pooped perhaps?? 💩 This morning I had less than an hour to get 50 cupcakes, 2 kids and me out the door and somehow I made it (just!) AND filmed it for my insta stories 🥳 Happy birthday to both my little men this week, Ollie on Tuesday and Jacob on Thursday 💕 #mycupcakeaddiction @elise_strachan #monstercupcakes
"When I started out, being an influencer was an unknown. Now it's like it lumps you in with a bunch of people who threw on a bikini and got a bunch of followers overnight by being very sensational and doing things you wouldn't want your kids to be watching.
"There's also a really fine balance between providing the amount of content people want but also maintaining that authentic connection that the audience has come to know and love. I came to a point where I felt I was losing that connection."
Finding herself in a creative funk and craving a slower pace of life, she moved back to the Gold Coast with her family and took a self-imposed hiatus from YouTube.
She started renovations on her Currumbin Valley farmhouse and these days you're just as likely to see Elise with a paintbrush in her hand as a piping bag or a spatula.
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New episode of #FarmhouseSwitch is up! Link in my bio 🤗 In 2020 you’ll be seeing a lot more of me spreading my #upcycledrenovation message. 🌏 I’m trying to encourage less new stuff being made, and more second hand stuff being reused and recycled as our planet faces a trash crisis that none of us can ignore 🗑 Plus - you save a ton of money so there’s really no down side.... So excited for you guys to see how these chairs all turned out! The Adirondacks got the 🌈 treatment!
"I shot a home reno show called Farmhouse Switch with Facebook Watch. A big focus for me has been using mostly second-hand items to bring the cost of the renos down. I'm really enjoying the process and spreading the message of sustainability," she says.
"Another part of it is understanding the people who watched me 10 years ago are growing up too and that I need to tailor content in the direction of where their lives are heading."
But fans don't need to worry about Elise cutting sugar out of her life completely.
The new SBS Food series The Sweet Life with Elise Strachan, premiering on Thursday, marks her return to TV.
She has the envious job of being taste tester and sous chef to a diverse array of experts from around Australia who are lighting up social media with eye-catching desserts inspired by their cultural heritage.
"Traditional cooking on TV is 'I'm going to do this, I'm going to do that' but that doesn't necessarily have as much personality in it," she says. "For The Sweet Life I've found amazing Australian-based chefs who have desserts influenced by their own culture that are trending or if not, they should be."
From 3D jelly flowers to handpainted mandala cheesecakes and Indonesia's unusual street food treat of banana, chocolate and cheese, these are not just your run-of-the-mill desserts.
"For me it was like getting free one-on-one decorating classes with all these insanely talented people," Elise says. "Australians are so incredibly creative. When it comes to chefs, food and desserts, we bat well above our average. We are a melting pot of so many different cultures."
Going into production in mid-January, the show gave Elise something creative to focus on after waiting out the Black Summer bushfires on her in-laws' farm in Moruya on the NSW south coast - where she baked for the local fireys of course.
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This was the last family pic we took the day before leaving my Mother in Laws farm. We were so lucky to have been in one of the few tiny coastal towns spared from this horrific disaster, but the anxiety and fear we faced for an entire harrowing week is something that would have been experienced by so many families, regardless of whether they lost homes or property or not. As I took this pic and sent it to my Mum, I couldn’t help thinking there was a very real possibility it could have been the last family pic where we were all safe and smiling. I wanted to thank you from the bottom of my 💕 for all your amazing messages of support, prayers and thoughts 🙏🏻 We are home and safe now, but this experience has changed me, made me reevaluate my priorities and reminded me appreciate the little things that i realised I’d been taking for granted.... Big L💓VE to you all 💕
"We were there for 10 days with fires all around us and it got to a point where you just want it done so it's not a constant threat anymore," she says. "People were staying up all night on alert to watch the wind changes. I had my kids there which was also really intense.
"When that's in front of you the only thing you care about is your loved ones. It gave me a lot of appreciation for what really matters.
"We got back to my farm on the Gold Coast and the day before we were due to start shooting the show (in Sydney) we got flooded in. It was like coming out of the frying pan into the fire. I thought I was going to have to cancel, but I finally got out. And now with the coronavirus, it's been a wild start to 2020."
Best to 'keep calm and bake on'.
The Sweet Life with Elise Strachan premieres Thursday, April 2 at 8.30pm on SBS Food.