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Penn State Business Student Launches Online Bilingual Cookbook

With a passion for cooking while being a busy college student, one “hungry business student” created “The Cookbook” — a bilingual, online platform that teaches college students to prepare delicious meals simply and effectively. 

When Adriana Avila came to college for the first time, she didn’t know how to cook anything. She was busy with classes and activities, and back in her home country of Panama, she never got the chance to explore in the kitchen. However, this changed in October 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. While spending more time at home, she finally had the time to try to explore the culinary arts.

“I started getting this passion for cooking and with the help of my mom,” Avila said. “I started cooking all of those delicious dishes that I posted in my close friends [story] on Instagram on my own personal account.”

Even though Avila didn’t know how to cook when she came to college, she grew up watching her mom cook. Avila says that her mom would always give her cooking tips.

“I didn’t know [the tips] were going to be so helpful until I got here,” Avila said. “When I started cooking, I had all that in the back of my head. In the first dishes I made. I had some help from my mom, but I knew what to do.”

When she started posting her dishes on her close friends story, because her friends knew she barely cooked before, they were surprised with her “new side.” They were surprised that not only Avila was cooking, but also that her dishes appeared to be impressive. Then, all her friends started suggesting that Avila create a cooking account specifically for her dishes.

At first, it was only supposed to be a fun account, nothing serious. The account, however, was a big hit right away. On the first day, Avila gained 400 new followers. The first post was only her introduction, but somehow, word about the account spread quickly.

That’s when she decided to turn the account, which was supposed to be for fun, into a serious endeavor. As a marketing student, Avila decided to merge her culinary and marketing skills in the account. It was an opportunity to put into practice her marketing skills and her new passion.

“At first, all of my posts were inconsistent. Now, all of the dishes and the titles are in the same font, same place, same background,” she said. “Before, it was just me playing with all the fonts.”

In the beginning, since Avila didn’t have her own recipes, she would recreate recipes from famous Panamanian cooks. Slowly after, she gained some knowledge of what types of ingredients go with others and started coming up with her own recipes. She also always searches for new online recipes, recipes from her mom, and recipes that other chefs loves. No matter what, she always simplifies them.

“My main target audience is college kids and just people that don’t really have much time to cook. If you can cook delicious meals in a simple way, it benefits everyone,” she said. “I simplify all the recipes and try to make them as simple as possible. For example, instead of using a pot and pan and taking what’s in the pot to put in the pan, I try to do everything in one pot or in one pan, so you don’t have to get all the things dirty.”

Avila aims to simplify cooking without losing quality. She thinks about what types of ingredients college students might already have at their house while selecting her recipes.

“I see the list of ingredients and see which ingredients maybe are not that necessary to make a delicious recipe,” Avila said. “If I see a good recipe with complicated ingredients, I just put the basic ones or replace them with more basic and accessible ingredients for college students.”

The whole process of making the recipes, taking the pictures and videos, and doing the graphic design for the account is done by Avila alone. That sometimes can be challenging as a full-time college student, but her goal is to post and create recipes every day. She also tries to provide an English and Spanish version for every post. 

“I would say that, right now, Panama is my biggest audience because I actually sell my deserts and dishes in Panama, so that’s why most things, like my stories, are in Spanish,” Avila said. “But I also have so many friends here that I communicate with in English, like my Arab friends, for example. That’s why I put the English version for them, too.”

Avila wants to eventually expand her business to selling dishes to Penn State, but she still has to evaluate the market. When it comes to expanding her account, Avila applies the marketing skills she learns in class. It involves choosing the right recipes for her target audience and marketing the product to reach more followers. 

She says that when she promotes her posts, she pays attention to her target audience, the age of the people, and which countries and cities they are from. To boost her Instagram posts, she created a specific category where she promotes all of her Cookbook posts. The areas include State College, Panama, and Miami. For engagement, Avila puts polls and questions so her followers can interact and suggest new recipes. 

“The polls are the ones mostly used in my stories, and in the posts, I ask questions,” she said. “In a recent post, I asked people to put their favorite song while cooking in the comments. That’s a way to engage because they start getting involved with the account.”

Avila’s favorite post is “Pollo al Curry.” 

“That’s my favorite one because it’s not only super good but also because it’s the fastest one out of all my recipes,” she said. “Chop the onion, chop the garlic, put the chicken there, and then just season with everything. It’s literally curry chicken in 10 minutes.”

The most popular post featured was the “Chorizo and Mushroom Risotto with Manchego.” That was her first time posting a risotto. Avila believes that the reason the risotto was so popular was that her followers thought it was a complicated dish, and she made it easy. 

“Use just one pan and then you put the chicken broth and the cooking wine, and that’s it,” she said. “You don’t need anything else. That’s why I think my followers were surprised. They didn’t know could be so easy to make.” 

Avila has short-term and long-term goals for the account. Now, she hopes to sell her dishes in Panama and launch an actual cookbook. She wants to create a cookbook in the near future that’s college-friendly with all her recipes that are quick, simple, and easy. In the future, she hopes to provide a well-known catering service for people in Panama. 

“There are two big [services] in Panama, and I wanna be like them,” she said. “I want to have this huge catering service that you can hire for weddings and big events.” 

To check out Adriana Avila’s Cookbook, click here.

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About the Author

Renata Daou

Renata is a junior majoring in International Politics and one of Onward State's contributors. She's from Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil and no, she doesn't live in the middle of the Amazon forest. She likes learning new languages, reading, writing, and talking about the one time she went bungee jumping.
Follow her on Twitter @renatadaou to see her rant in Portenglish or e-mail her at [email protected] for serious inquires.

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