At 22, Caitlin Sakdalan is spending her days hopping from one restaurant to another, creating amazing content for her food blog BeFatBeHappy—basically just living the life we all secretly want.
At the 2018 Influencer Awards Monaco (IAM), often referred to as the "Oscars" of influencers, Caitlin was one of two people who received the Best Hope Food Influencer of the Year Award. She gave Cosmopolitan all the details, including what it ~*really*~ takes be a successful food influencer.
To the uninitiated, please explain what your job entails as a food blogger. What's a typical day like for you?
It's my job and pleasure to explore wherever I am and discover the best eats. Whether it's navigating New York City or Southern California, I strive to find and share visually tantalizing and tasty cuisines. A typical day for me could be going to multiple restaurants for meals and photo shoots, experiencing fantastic food while building content for my page. It could also be me at home, editing photos while coming up with engaging and authentic captions, writing blog posts, answering emails, or doing other work remotely. Another day could be me traveling to a different country for a press trip to learn about and encounter a new place and culture. It varies, but it's certainly not your typical 9 to 5.
You started your blog four years ago. How is your content different now vs. when you first started?
One thing's for sure: My pictures are 100 percent better than the over-filtered, poorly composed photos I was posting on Instagram four years ago. I've learned so much about food photography and continue to evolve my style and shots. I also think I'm a bit more refined now; it is so important that my content remains authentic to who I am and food I love, but I do plan it out and put more thought into the things I share. With this in mind, I have been more holistic in my approach. My three core drivers in life are to feed my appetite, feed my soul, and feed others. This comes out on my online platforms and life in various ways. The most obvious is how I feed my appetite daily and share myself devouring mouth-watering food.
My three core drivers in life are to feed my appetite, feed my soul, and feed others.
When it comes to feeding my soul, I'm consistently looking to live a purposeful life based on my faith. On my Instagram stories, you'll often find posts with words of encouragement or life lessons that I find valuable and hope can lift others up. Lastly, there is feeding others. This is something that ignites my soul. I'm on a sponsored trip to Indonesia right now, and we got the opportunity to visit an elementary school on a small island. Even the simple act of buying little girls snacks and seeing the reaction on their faces filled my heart with pure joy. To me, everyone deserves to be fed and feel the comfort of having a meal, and I am dedicated to using the influence I've been given to benefit causes greater than myself.
When working with businesses, I strive to partner with ones that work to do good, like OneHope, a wine company that gives back to charitable organizations for every bottle bought. I'm so blessed to live the life I do, and as my influence grows, I feel more responsibility to provide value to those that are choosing to follow me, aiming for @befatbehappy to be a celebration of life and to bring people joy.
Do you do everything we see in your blog, YT, Insta or do you have a team to help you out?
Yes and no. Most of my content is done by me, but I have many talented friends that I collaborate and create with, which is one of my favorite parts of my job; I have met many amazing spectacular and have been introduced to what feels like a whole new world. I also go through seasons when I have an intern solely based in New York to help me with content when I'm away from home for a long time.
Please tell us more about the Influencer Monaco Awards and the category you won: "Best Hope Food Influencer Of The Year." Congratulations, btw!
Thank you! The award was totally unexpected—I just felt so honored to even be nominated amongst hundreds of superb creatives and media influencers. Considered the "Oscars of the Influencers," hosted by Influencer Awards Monaco (IAM) ambassador Pauline Ducruet of Monaco, daughter of Princess Stephanie and granddaughter of Grace Kelly. Along with her partners, the principality of Monaco brought together the top international influencers from around the world for a gala and Influencer Awards ceremony regarding talent in various categories from food to fashion.
My night was a whirlwind and from connecting with wonderful people to being internationally recognized for my passion, I couldn't be more grateful.
From thousands, the IAM jury determined a shortlist of 50 influencers in each category. After a public voting period and another jury deliberation, the Top 10 were chosen in each category and invited to attend the official gala and awards ceremony, where two finalists would win in each category. On October 7, 2018, I was graced to be one of the two recipients of this distinguished award and received the Best Hope Food Influencer of the Year Award for 2018. The event itself was glamorously done and in line with Monaco's association with luxury and grandeur. My night was a whirlwind and from connecting with wonderful people to being internationally recognized for my passion, I couldn't be more grateful.
Where did you learn how to review food?
I believe it's a combination of my innate abilities, inborn passion for eating, and my formal studies at Fordham University. In fact, when I was recently cleaning out my closet, I found a journal from the second grade with a whole written entry about crab cakes from Maryland. I suppose it was ingrained in me since childhood because I was always a curious and adventurous eater. At Fordham, I graduated with a degree in Media Studies and Communications. Past this, living in New York City was an unparalleled playing ground that specifically allowed me to expand on my experiences and palate. And although I'm no longer studying in school, one of my mottos is to stay hungry, which for me means to learn and grow, a process of life that should never stop.
Who are the foodie mentors you look up to?
The late Anthony Bourdain for his complete candor. I always appreciated his authenticity, curiosity, and willingness to try new things. He also loved Filipino cuisine and championed our culture, which holds a special place in my heart.
I also look up to David Chang, who unapologetically champions for Asian cuisine to be treated with as much respect and dignity as the more mainstream ones like French or Italian. As a chef, he breaks boundaries and has remarkable vision. If you haven't seen his Netflix show Ugly Delicious yet, get on it. It's quite interesting and informative on the food industry, and he talks quite a bit about both elevating and respecting Asian cuisine.
You're Filipino American—were you born in the USA? How often do visit the Philippines, and where do you usually stay when you're in the country? (Out of curiosity, do you understand/speak Tagalog?)
I was born and raised in New Jersey, from the most loving parents who both migrated to the states when they were teenagers. When I was a child, I only visited once, but as an adult, I try and go back every year. In 2017, I spent three months in BGC. I traveled everywhere within and went to close areas like Tagaytay and drove far as well to Bataan. And of course, I flew to islands like Bohol and Boracay.
I do understand and speak Tagalog; not perfectly, but I am thrilled and proud to be connected to my roots in this way. I've understood since I was a child because my parents and family members always spoke the language around me, but I became fluent when I started watching Filipino teleseryes.
Since you're a New Yorker, what are the top 3 food items a tourist should try in NYC?
It's such an international city, and you will find some of the finest food regardless of cuisine type. I always miss New York for this reason, and tourists should immerse themselves in this way. For me, the below are simply the quintessential New York specific items that simply cannot be replicated:
PIZZA: From the classic New York slice, to the fancier embellished pies, New York does pizza the BEST. Hands down. Try everything from a $1 slice at a place open 24 hours, Joe's supreme classic cheese slice, Prince Street's pepperoni and cheese square, and Rubirosa's Vodka Pie.
BAGELS: They are never the same anywhere else. Eat both a classic toasted bagel with cream cheese and a fancier one with sausage, egg and cheese or cream cheese and lox.
DELI SANDWICHES: Whether it's an artisan deli or a local bodega (a Spanish term meaning corner store), New York has supreme deli sandwiches. Every New Yorker has their favorite bodega, and usually it’s the one right by where they live. The range of options seems endless from a Chicken Cutlet with Mozzarella and Vodka Sauce to a Classic Italian Sub, but you can almost never go wrong.
"Calories are just numbers. Count memories instead."
What's your favorite Pinoy food?
It's a tie between sinigang and giniling. I can eat both every day for the rest of my life and be satisfied. In general, Pinoy food is my comfort food, and it's what I crave and come back to most.
Can you share the most memorable dish you've ever tried?
This is always a hard question for me, because I've had SO many amazing dishes. Maybe one of my favorites is from 242 Cafe Fusion Sushi in Laguna Beach, California—it's Toro Nigiri Sushi topped with Seared Foie Gras and dressed with this citrusy ponzu and green sauce. It's simultaneously a refreshing and melt in your mouth umami flavor bomb. I'm salivating now just thinking about it.
Is there anything you wouldn't eat?
No, I live by the philosophy that I'll try anything once and give it a fair shot. I must say though, I hate ketchup.
What's your advice for people who travel to eat? How do you build up your food itinerary?
Do your research and step out of your comfort zone, away from the tourist traps. If there are a few famous spots that everyone says you must go to, there are obvious reasons for its clout, but some of my BEST experiences have been from hidden gems that are hard to find and super local. The more locals you see, usually, the better.
Also, build in different types of experiences. Go to hole-in-the-wall type spots and more refined fine-dining establishments. Do traditional and contemporary fusion. There is great value in both, and seeking varied experiences is in my opinion the best way to travel.
Where is your dream destination + dream dish to try?
I haven't been to Palawan yet, and I really want to get there soon. I also want to go back to Japan and go everywhere and eat everything. I went to Tokyo for the first time for five days, and I was BITIN!
Dream dish: The perfect seafood paella from somewhere in Spain. I want to go to San Sebastián and discover the cuisine there.
What's next for you, Caitlin? When are you visiting the Philippines?
It's one of my greatest desires to make Filipino food and culture mainstream in the U.S. and globally. I'm working on something and cannot wait to share more about it when it's ready. Furthermore, I'm currently in Indonesia on an invited press trip sponsored by the Ministry of Tourism Indonesia to promote their culture and culinary experiences all throughout the country. I'm having an exceptional time learning all about this country, meeting and collaborating with other influencers, and it would be amazing to partner with the Philippines in a similar fashion. I'm proud to be a Filipino, and I would love nothing more than for the rest of the world to understand for themselves why that’s so and how fantastic our food, people and culture truly are.
Also, I desire to continue expanding my reach and be a young, authentic and influential voice in the food and travel space. It's my dream to have my own food and travel series on Netflix.
Hopefully, I’ll be in the Philippines again by the beginning of 2019. There will be a trip back home for me that year, I just have to get on the planning!
Your mission statement is on point: "…food, enjoyed in the right way with the right people, can bring joy, togetherness, and memories rather than being enslaved by it with the 'counting of calories' and the like—which has been dictated by our society today. It is my hope that together we can 'befatbehappy.'" What inspired this mission? Was there a specific instance that made you say, "I'm starting this blog NOW."
I think our society today is obsessed with body image. We're all guilty of excessively caring about our appearance, myself included. But I love food too much, and I believe we have this one life God has given us. It would be a waste to not enjoy and savor the world God has created and the beautiful things in it. Obviously, life is all about balance, but befatbehappy is a testament and reminder to the fact that we must live life fully. That's why I always say, "Calories are just numbers. Count memories instead."
I don’t think there was a specific instance that made me start back in August 2014. I had been toying with the idea because I honestly just wanted a personal archive of my foodventures in New York without having to bother my friends and family with posting a ton on social media. I knew I wanted to have my own page for that reason. Today, @befatbehappy as a platform and "rally call" so-to-speak has grown and evolved as I have, because well, it is me. It's who I am just displayed out on the internet for people to follow along if they desire. And I'm so thankful that people find that interesting enough to support.
Visit befatbehappy.com to get the latest updates on Caitlin's food adventures!