How a Hobby Turned Into a Career: TikTok Chef Alejandra Tapia on Her Rapid Rise as a Food Creator

Photo credit: Grapho Mind/Shutterstock Alejandra Tapia (Licensed) by Caterina Cox

We’re reaching out to some popular creators to get their best tips and tricks for success and better understand the ups and downs of life as a trailblazer on the internet.

This week, we spoke with Alejandra Tapia (@nanajoe19), a TikTok chef who has amassed 6.6 million followers in just a few years.

While in quarantine in 2020, Tapia began posting videos of her cooking for family members. She told Passionfruit the content creation started as a hobby, a simple way of updating her family on what she was up to during the pandemic. To her surprise, TikTok users started rapidly engaging with her content. 

With a sudden and unexpected audience, Tapia began learning how to content intended for a larger audience. With the help of her husband, they quickly learned the technical and business aspects of being a creator. 

Just a few years later, she has become one of the most popular cooking creators on TikTok, having cooked for celebrities such as Lizzo. With a growing audience, she keeps her followers engaged by showcasing her take on Mexican cuisine with an international fusion twist.

In an interview with Passionfruit, Tapia discussed how she gained her following, her evolution as a creator, tips for finding the right talent management, advice for up-and-coming creators, her favorite content creation tools, and more. 

The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

I heard that you originally began posting cooking videos on Snapchat for your friends and family until your family introduced you to TikTok. How has your content evolved from the early days of TikTok to now?

My content has evolved a lot. Sometimes I look at my old videos and I cringe. Sometimes when I go through my notifications, and it’s an old video, I’m like, “Oh my gosh, they found me” and I start deleting the videos. It’s just so different because I wasn’t trying to be a content creator. 

So I go in with a plan now. I try to make my presentation look nice. I try to make sure that it’s clear that everything is visible. If you look at the quality from before, I would record from an iPhone 6, I didn’t know anything about editing, and I didn’t know anything about lights. I knew nothing. 

Now I know a little bit more about editing, different apps, and lighting. I still record with my phone, but I do want to start recording with an actual camera. And I want to start editing with actual software instead of doing it through my phone. So it has evolved, and it’s going to evolve more.

Can you elaborate on what editing equipment and lighting setups you currently use?

When I started I would record off of my TikTok app, and I didn’t even know how to move or cut clips. I struggled a lot in that area. Right now, I use an app called Splice. It’s the easiest one for me to use. 

For lighting, I just use ring lights. And then I also have big [Neewer] lights whenever I run out of daylight at my house to avoid the shadows of my hands. But that’s about it. 

And then I film on my iPhone 13. That’s all that I use.

What advice do you have for other cooking content creators to stand out on TikTok and other social media platforms?

The advice that I always give everyone, and I always try to stand by my own advice, is to be consistent. Sometimes the views are not what you expect. Sometimes you work really, really hard on a video and the views are really bad. And you kind of beat yourself up. I’ve thought, “Oh my gosh, no, I probably did a horrible job on this video. Let me go and delete it.” 

I just feel like sometimes they need to be consistent, and don’t beat yourself up if the views are not always what you expect them to be. But you can create a pattern. And little by little, you’ll start picking up momentum. 

Stay persistent, and stay true to yourself. Be creative. Be you. When I first started making my videos, I was really insecure about my voice. Whenever I would hear my voice, I thought it was the most horrible thing I’d ever heard in my life. I also have a very heavy accent. I would get really embarrassed, so whenever I would do my videos I would always try to use my customer service voice. And now I’m just like, why? Like, I could have just been myself and used my own voice from the beginning. 

How do you monetize? What tips do you have for other creators regarding monetization?

Get yourself a good team. I have my manager. I was doing perfectly fine on my own but I was really stressed out because it was so much for me to negotiate with brand deals, answer emails back and forth, grocery shop, and be a mom. It was becoming way, way too much. 

When I finally decided to get my management on board, they took most of the work that comes with monetization from me. I just focused on creating and being a mom. I also got on [TikTok’s] creator fund once I had enough followers, but usually, most of my monetization comes from brand deals, and for that, I need a good management team. 

Can you tell me about the process of landing with your talent management team? What was the road leading up to that?

They’ll start emailing you whenever they see that you’re picking up a following. They’re looking on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook. They’re everywhere. 

I didn’t go with the first person. Or the second one. I would see emails from them all the time, and I ignored them because I’d heard terrible stories about management teams. 

But my current manager was really persistent. He would be on my emails all the time and be like, “Oh my gosh, I love your breakfast burrito. It looks so good. Whenever you were ready to talk about management, let me know,” and I was eventually like, “Okay, dude, okay.” 

I would always see his emails, and sometimes I would even ignore him and think, “What’s wrong with him? Like, there has to be something wrong,” because I heard really horrible stories about managers. After a while, I gave him a shot. Because he was always there, and he wasn’t just asking to manage me. He was saying, “Congratulations on this,” “Congratulations on that,” or “This lunch looked delicious.” So I decided to give him a shot. And honestly, I feel like it’s one of the best choices I’ve made. He’s amazing.

What green flags would you suggest looking for when choosing a management team?

Someone that offers more than just money to you is a good sign to look at. And then if an agency is a good agency and really wants to work with you, they’ll look for you. Even if you ignore the messages or the emails they’ll come back, they’ll DM you, and they’ll find a way to get a hold of you. 

Do you have any resources that you might have used that help you to become a better creator?

I started to surround myself with other creators who do food. We have a little community and we try to help each other out. I’m really good at telling who is there to help and who is not. If one of our views is low, everyone will say, “Well, maybe you should try this or do this,” to help each other out. We want to see each other win, we want to boost each other. 

Can you elaborate on the community you formed? How did you find that community?

So that group is my same style. Everybody has their own style. There’s ASMR cooking, Asian cooking, American cooking, the BBQers, there’s all of that. We have Latin cuisine in common. We are all cooking the same thing. Same recipes, different ingredients sometimes. That’s the community I stood by because we can help each other out. 

I know at one point you cooked for Lizzo. Can you talk about the biggest opportunities that you’ve had from your TikTok platform and how that’s impacted you?

Lizzo was probably one of my first big opportunities. Because of that, people found out I was from Central Valley. I was all of the news. I had a lot of news stations and radio stations ask me how I did that. 

Then I got my verification on TikTok, which was a huge thing. So that opportunity helped with that. And it introduced me to a lot of other people. I also cooked for the Rivera family, a well-known family here in the Latin community. They are Jenni Rivera’s kids, and she’s like the queen of all Hispanics. I met so many people and traveled to so many places. 

What can followers expect in 2023? Is anything new coming, on or off TikTok?

Yes. I tell my husband that 2023 is our year. We have a lot of plans for TikTok. For example, I was telling you I want to make my videos look more professional. I want to focus on making long-form YouTube videos for people who need more explaining to make it really easy for them. We have that in the works. There are a lot of surprises we have coming for them. 2023 is our year and I’m excited to show them what I have for everybody.

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