More than ten years ago, when the name Phan Anh was mentioned, Vietnamese readers and young people easily recognized her through the brilliant pages of Hoa Hoc Tro magazine. But at present, people now see Phan Anh Esheep as the well-known food blogger with appetizing culinary stories and spectacular dishes. As a matter of fact, she is now known as the owner of the bustling group Yêu Bếp (Esheep Kitchen Family) on Facebook.
Phan Anh has left behind a successful career in journalism at the age of 30, to begin a new path in culinary by sharing cake recipes or lovely photo collections on her personal social media page.
The steps that were “uncertain” to her at that time, turned out to be a refreshing new journey for her, where she’s able to do something different — and palatable: food.
Throughout this career change, how did Phan Anh know she made the right choice? Were there regrets in leaving a successful career behind and pursuing a path she wasn’t too familiar with?
You spent ten years at Hoa Hoc Tro magazine, as a respectable journalist and illustrator. But then one day, you gave that up and pursued your passion for culinary. What was behind that decision?
The motivation for me to leave behind ten years of my youth and many years before that with the magazine I loved and was attached to, was the “stability trap” at the age of 30. Hoa Hoc Tro has accompanied me since when I was a student, growing up with the magazine as my friend, my teacher, like a cradle that has nurtured me.
But when I reached that certain sense of stability, like having a good job, good salary or good colleagues, I then felt my creativity waning. So it felt like this job was “leaving” me. I no longer had the intensity, enthusiasm, and creativity I used to be so full of.
That was when I thought I had to get out of this trap and do something that would bring back my fire. My motivation to do that was having the chance to try from the starting line of a completely new field, the chance to find myself again, to find the enthusiasm in starting something new.
And the new field I chose to pursue at that time was culinary; or more specifically, the role of a food blogger who shares about food on social media platforms. At that time, food blogging was still a very odd concept in Vietnam.
Since I worked in the journalism field and had more exposure to information from the world, I was able to grasp and analyze that the future trend would be about social media. Since then, I thoroughly researched the concept of food blogging to find the direction and inspiration to start this passion — this journey — from the very first step.
Only a few years later, KOL or Social Media Influencers had become a trend, an identity, or a job with great income and was recognized all over the world.
That was the new “revolution” in communication and marketing. With this trend, a person who was famous and always had the most shared posts on social media platforms would have the opportunity to shine, earn a lot of money and become famous.
But even with all those tempting perks, I did not let myself get swayed easily.
I made a bold decision that many people did not understand, thinking that I was arrogant, that I disregarded money, or did not know how to take chances. I rejected invitations to enter showbiz, refused many contracts as KOL, and did not use my established reputation to be a KOL for the sake of money and fame.
I chose a different path. I am an influencer, yes, but Esheep Kitchen is founded on value and reputation. I may be earning a lot right now, but never did I use it to take advantage of others or of situations.
I am still a culinary researcher, still continuing to follow the path of sharing on my own, not encroaching on becoming a KOL “covering all brands”.
Fortunately, it was that path of mine that opened up a commercial promotion market in the culinary field that no food blogger had ever thought of. It gave me a good income, enough for me to carry out and share my passion for food on social media platforms in the most carefree way, without any outside intervention.
And I think that whatever comes, will come. Thanks to the efforts in sharing in an honest, reputable and objective manner, I was able to become a social media influencer, reaping the results which are getting bigger and bigger.
So I think if I dare to “lose”, I will “win” what I want and deserve.
One thing about your journey that is hard to put into words.
I have been on my journey for more than 20 years, so I do not find anything too difficult to say.
I make my own decisions and choices, so I have to take responsibility for them. Nevertheless, I think there are two things that we must always keep in mind.
One is, to myself: Always understand what I want and have to do.
Second, to others: Words should not be a way for others to understand you. Just do your job, then they will understand you better.
Is there anything you want to give up completely?
Of course there is, the old has to go for the new to come. I have a long list of things that I want to give up, and now I have nearly completed it.
There is the impatience of a mind with too many ideas, and always thinks that every idea needs to and must be done immediately. There also is the big ego and the lack of empathy of a young person with a little talent and easy success.
I also cannot figure out how my limitations are gradually improving. There is no fixed milestone. The disadvantages and limitations of myself, when they are exposed to more people, more problems, and more difficulties, they adapt and improve.
I realize the best thing is that every day, on this journey, I am like a pedestrian who starts with too much luggage that feels very heavy. But gradually, the journey allows me to leave some of my luggage behind so I can walk freely, lightly.
Now that I have experienced enough, I think it does not matter anymore. I have gathered many other wonderful things, more precious than I have ever had and brought with me.
What does building the Yêu Bếp (Esheep Kitchen Family) community mean to your career development?
Yêu Bếp (Esheep Kitchen Family) has an extremely interesting meaning. It is what made me redefine my purpose of sharing as a food blogger. Before, I used to think that a food blogger was a “one-way” sharer, someone who only gives what they know.
But thanks to the Esheep Kitchen Family community, I understand that sharing is a beautiful circle of giving and receiving. I am constantly learning things from my Esheep Kitchen Family.
The most difficult thing in building Esheep Kitchen Family is that before it, there was no model or guide on what an online community should look like, so I had to build it from scratch, using principles I personally believe in.
Me and the admin team of Esheep Kitchen Family had to explore step by step, experimenting on each role to find common understanding. Then we had to find a way to build a working process, based on the needs of the community itself to make a community code of conduct. Finally, we used the knowledge we have gained in our field and the life skills we have cultivated over the years to further develop the community.
When Esheep Kitchen Family became widely known, people asked me, “So you just let others ‘imitate’ Esheep Kitchen Family?”. But I do not think of it that way.
If Esheep Kitchen Family does well enough and creates useful experiences and lessons for community development, then I will not keep this “good thing” on my own.
The community needs more active and civilized groups, not just the Esheep Kitchen Family. The group has really helped change the perception of society on many issues that existed before, and now it is transforming positively.
How is the Phan Anh Esheep who now stands in the kitchen and cooks good food different from the past Phan Anh Esheep who wrote articles and did illustrations?
Very different. The illustrator Phan Anh (Esheep) had long hair, a deep voice, and was a slim woman wearing size S. The Phan Anh (Esheep) standing in the kitchen cooking now has short hair that changes color from time to time. She now talks and laughs more, and now wears size L.
I am saying that so I myself can see that I have changed a lot. Before, I was a person who rarely shared, afraid of the crowds, a full-fledged introvert who wanted to do everything on my own.
But then the colorful world of culinary made me open up so much more. First was showing dedication. Then there was the willingness to share my inner feelings with others without being afraid.
I am glad to be more balanced now, using my introverted and extroverted selves to succeed in this new-found passion. I do not let my introverted side make me afraid to share, and also not let the extroversion overshadow a part of me.
Though you’ve undergone massive changes and transitions, do you think all the stages of your life are in some ways connected?
I think of life as three separate points - past, present and future. But even when they belong to different stages, or points, they are interconnected. What you did in the past will definitely have an impact on your present and your future.
For example, my past journey as a journalist continues to influence my present career in culinary. My being an artist and journalist are still very much evident as I do content for my culinary community. In fact, it’s my background in the creative industry that made it possible for me to become an effective food stylist. Furthermore, it helped me express the right words in the most authentic way.
What kind of “Phan Anh Esheep” do you see yourself in the future?
I want to become a happy “old lady”, making the kids laugh and telling the food stories I have accumulated all my life. Then they would love and respect me as their grandmother.
For now, I am just a “25-year-old” Phan Anh Esheep.
What do you think about a community that has the power to influence the public?
For me, it’s quite simple. A community has the power to influence the public when each member of that community finds joy, usefulness, empathy with each other, and is willing to share what they’ve learned and discovered with other people.
Adapted by Thao Van