Cake, cake and more cake. Pineapple and pecan nut cake elegantly draped with orange blossoms, chocolate ganache swirled over layers of cake, steaming roly poly pudding and hot custard. Small cakes, large cakes, zesty lemony mini cakes, coffee cakes, clementine cakes, ooey gooey sticky cakes. Raspberries piled on stacks of pancakes, drizzled with golden syrup, sticky baked chocolate cake, whole juicy pears baked in a cake. Wida Foster, of Cupcake Richard, is all about cake. Not just any cake, mind you. Vegan cake. Because, in her own words, "We want vegans to have nice cake. And we want nice cake for everybody."
I came across Wida’s Instagram feed a few months back and marvelled. Yes, I marvelled. Really. Her dark, moody photographic style makes brilliant use of natural lighting, gorgeous floral arrangements, textured backgrounds and a beautiful range of vintage props. Add to this her natural sense of styling, and this vegan cake is something you must eat. Now.
Cupcake Richard is Wida’s vegan cake business, which she started quite recently after a fairly long stint in the corporate world where she worked in the field of nutrition. Still passionate about nutrition, she's turned her attention to recipe development, baking, food styling, photography, and the gutsy work of creating something beautiful everyday. She's a baker, but more accurately, she’s an artist.
Turns out Wida has a thing for tigers, and named her business after her favourite fictional tiger, Richard Parker, of the Life of Pi fame (you know, the book by Yann Martel). She also wants to help real tigers in the wild and through her business supports Save Tigers Now, by selling a limited collection of tiger postcards created by South African artists. You'll find more details about that on her website.
I asked about her styling techniques. "I’ve always been a magazine addict," she says. She talks about a friend in the publishing industry who says she’s one of those annoying people who mess with reader statistics. Wida reads any and every magazine, because she has a thing about styling. She bakes and bakes and then takes the cake, together with her growing collection of cake stands, outside where a weathered table her father-in-law once made serves as the backdrop to her photographs. There she works her magic shooting either with her iPhone 5, or her Canon DSLR. Once she's edited the pics in VSCO, she posts primarily to Steller, which is by far her favourite visual platform. With over 8000 followers on Steller, Wida is something of a rockstar. It suits her story telling style of photography brilliantly and is also a wonderfully designed space for recipe sharing.
As if there isn't enough to do, what with all the tigers and the cupcakes, Wida has just finished #the100dayproject. This collaboration, initiated by Elle Luna, encourages a group of followers to commit to a repeated creative task for 100 consecutive days. Participants come up with their own hashtag and share their daily creative journey among the Instagram community. Wida, not surprisingly, focused on #100daysofveganbaking, ending with a triumphal baked chocolate pudding. Oh, and she's also working on a #kitchentravels project, where she visits the kitchens of friends and family members, documenting them baking some of their favourite recipes and then reinvents those recipes with a vegan slant. "It rarely works out right the first time," she says. Recipe development is a challenging task,but judging from the end product, she definitely getting it right.
I was especially interested in the role Instagram has played in Wida's business venture. Early on, she said, Talya Goldberg (of Nifty250 fame) expressed such enthusiasm about the platform that she signed up and started using Instagram to showcase her business offerings. She's found it an invaluable part of Cupcake Richard, with loads of interest both locally and internationally coming through via Instagram.
I asked what advice she would give other creative business owners about using Instagram. She responded thoughtfully, "Instagram is a visual product, a way to show what your product can be. Pay attention to your photos and most importantly, let the photo do your product justice."