This month we’re shining the spotlight on Kasim Hardaway, one of CookIt’s talented influencers! Kasim uses his rapidly growing platform – over 61.5k cumulative followers and counting! – to share innovative recipes and highlight unique restaurants in the Kansas City area. We sat down with Kasim to learn more about his passion for cooking, his life as a full time influencer, and his expert advice for newbies in the food media industry.
First things first – can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Kasim: Sure! I like to start with my name since it gets butchered a lot. I’m Kasim, pronounced like “awesome” but with a K. I consider myself a culinary storyteller, photographer, and foodie.
Your instagram is full of drool-worthy food! How do you come up with innovative recipes?
Kasim: I love food. It’s my biggest passion. I’m really into developing unique recipes. I like taking basic things and adding interesting flavors or trying new techniques that I think are cool just to give it a little bit of a different angle.I feel like sometimes it’s really hard to be original when people are always after the most trending recipe, but I like to put a little Kasim flair into everything I do.
Can you remember the very first dish you learned to cook?
Kasim: This is hard! I’ve been cooking since I was like, five! If I had to guess, it would probably be a baked good. Maybe an apple pie or a pound cake. I used to bake a lot, but I’m not that good at baking anymore. I’ve been trying to teach myself though.
What’s an ingredient you can’t live without?
Kasim: This is super basic, but I put garlic and onion powder in everything. I was actually just talking to a friend who is allergic to both and I’m like, girl, I don’t understand how you are living and enjoying food! So yeah, garlic and onion powder goes in everything. I’m really into Aleppo pepper right now too. It’s a Turkish spice. It has a very mild, almost bell peppery flavor. I use it as a garnish a lot just to add some color. Also tumeric! I put tumeric in everything. I put it in my tea, in my savory food, in my sweet food. I love tumeric and my fingers are usually stained yellow.
What did you do before becoming an influencer? What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in making a big change in your life?
Kasim: This is wild, but I went to school for environmental science and then I got an advanced certification in geographic information systems. Basically what that means is that I made maps. So my first job out of college, which was my only real job before making a shift into influencer marketing, was working for Google fiber. I plotted the maps for Google fiber in Texas.
The most important thing I’ve learned in the transition is to really believe in myself. A lot of people told me that I was crazy because I left this cushy job and was sleeping on my parents’ couch. But I believed in myself. I knew that one day I would be successful. So yeah. Believe in yourself and you know, don’t compare where you are to where other people are. Focus on yourself and what you bring to the table.
What are your favorite parts of being an influencer for a living?
Kasim: I love this job because every day is different. I love the freedom it provides since I’m able to make my own schedule. I’m very entrepreneurial, so I love being my own boss and figuring out what I want to do and how I want to do it. But most importantly, it’s getting to be creative. I really love creating things and this role allows me to create all the time. Even if I’m just cooking, I’m experimenting with different variations in the recipe, or different types of photography.
The filtered world of social media often hides a lot of the hard work and hustle behind-the-scenes. What is the reality of being part of the online food space today? What are some of the challenges?
Kasim: Like I said, I love creating, but creating can be overwhelming and tiresome, especially when you’re constantly trying to produce unique things. It takes a lot of thought and energy. When you have a larger audience, there’s just so much community engagement and management that goes into it that people don’t see. I’ve always been very intentional about creating a community and responding to every comment and responding to every DM, which takes a lot of time.
And honestly, this is why I love CookIt because you all provided me with so much more time for life! Before CookIt, I was doing everything and I felt like I never had any time. But now that I’m working with CookIt, I just have so much more time to workout, take guitar lessons, go on vacation, and just live my life.
You have such an impressive following and supportive community! What has been the greatest memory from this journey so far?
Kasim: That’s tough! Probably my first sponsored opportunity. I remember thinking wow, they want me to come to this restaurant for a $25 gift card! This is so awesome. It’s not much but it encouraged me to keep going. Other people saw worth in working with me. It was nice to get that first feeling of like, oh, maybe I’m onto something here.
Can you share a few expert tips for anybody wishing to break into this business?
Kasim: Consistency is key! You have to work at it and work at it for a while. Nothing happens overnight. I would also say remember that you are you and that’s the best thing you can bring to the table. We’re all so unique and we all have our own perspectives. Comparing yourself to others gets you nowhere. Find your voice. If you’re authentic and genuine, people will pick up on that even if they don’t know you.
What is the best piece of advice that you’ve ever been given?
Kasim: I was thinking about this last night! One of my best friends gave me this very short piece of advice. I think about it all the time. She said, “do good work and be a good person”. It’s so simple, but if you do good work, not just baseline or average, but really do a good job, and if you’re a kind person, you will go far.
Can you name a few of your favorite influencers/bloggers?
Kasim: @foodmymuse and @lindseyeats. They both have a similar style of content. Lots of natural light, snippets of hands and pans recipes from start to finish. I love that type of content. I also really love @atasteofkoko. She’s a Texas blogger.
If you had to recommend one recipe of yours for people to make, what would it be?
Kasim: Oh my god. That’s like asking me to pick my favorite child! Okay, right now I would say my Thai tea french toast bites with cardamom cinnamon sugar and sweetened condensed milk for dipping. Literally life changing.
Rapid Fire Favorites
High on the Hog by Jessica B Harris.
How I Built This with Guy Raz.
Favorite social media platform:
The Town Company in Kansas City.
Favorite pizza topping:
It’s gotta be beef pepperoni.
Favorite type of cuisine:
Favorite kitchen tool/appliance:
Definitely my air fryer.
Favorite thing to cook:
Favorite thing to eat:
Also seafood, ha!
Gin & tonic.