In 2015 I was asked to do an interview for an Italian cake magazine, unfortunately after I’d done the interview and just before publication the magazine ceased to exist…and no it wasn’t my fault. However I thought as no one has read the interview maybe you would like to now.
Q. When and how did you start practicing sugarcraft?
A. I started my working career as a trainee chef in a five star hotel kitchen where my head chef always made sure I was working on the deserts and cakes for the banquets as I had an eye for making things beautiful. Eventually he advised me to change career and develop my creative skills, I then trained for three years at Bakery and Confectionery College, I graduated in 1980 with distinctions as a Master Baker and Confectioner having won many bakery and decorating awards for the college during my schooling.
Q. How does your creative process work? What are your main sources of inspiration?
A. Over my many years of being a cake artist I have developed what I call a ‘cake eye’, everything I look at appears to be a cake design to me, on my travels I am constantly taking pictures on my camera, iPhone and iPad which I later use as inspiration for cake designs. Inspiration can be found everywhere from fabrics to wallpaper, from ceramics to nature, from iron work to art, it’s everywhere if you know how to look for it. I am very lucky that my imagination never seems to stop working, I will even wake up in the middle of the night with a cake idea and if I don’t write or draw it onto the pad I keep by my bed I can’t get back to sleep.
Q. What are the achievements you are most proud of?
A. I am proud of the fact that people think my work is good enough to merit me traveling around the world teaching a skill I absolutely love, yes I’m proud of my books and magazine articles but I’m most proud of the fact that I can and have inspired students to take their skills to the next level.
Q. Is there a cake particularly dear to your heart?
A. Many years ago I wrote an article for Cakes & Sugarcraft magazine and it was based on the northern lights (aurora borealis) which I am lucky enough to have seen many times, I worked in royal icing, however I used it in ways that had not been used before and the final cake was beautiful.
Q. Your work with Royal Icing is admired the world over: what drove you to royal icing
A. When I was in bakery college royal icing was the only medium taught for cake decorating purposes because here in the UK wedding cake was usually fruit cake coated in marzipan and then coated in royal icing. Buttercream cakes were only really used for birthday cakes. When I was training sugar paste, fondant, gum paste, moulds and cutters were not readily available therefore everything was piped, I do work in all mediums nowadays but I am always most comfortable using royal icing.
Q. You are one the most beloved artists on an international level: what drives you to teach all over the world?
A. When a student walks into a classroom for the first time they are nervous and sometimes scared as they feel vulnerable, they are doing something new and no one likes to fail. For me to take that student and introduce them to a new art form and then inspire them to take it further is such a huge reward for me, at the end of the class I usually hear students saying to each other that they never believed they could do the completed cake which is in front of them. Teaching and sharing skills is my passion and I am very lucky to be able fulfill that passion worldwide.
Q. What do you like the most in teaching?
A. No matter what medium I am teaching in I get the most joy when I can inspire a student to be creative, nothing is impossible and someone will always find a way to do something new and innovative, that’s very exciting to me.
Q. You also wrote a series of successful books: how does your approach change in teaching through a book?
A. When writing a book you have to give as much detailed instruction, supported by images, as possible because that student is not stood in front of you, so as a teacher I have no way of knowing if I have explained the process clearly enough. In a classroom full of students I can take the time to explain in many different ways until the student is happy.
Q. And what about your online classes?
A. I am often accused of killing live classes by the amount of filmed tutorials I do however I feel it is the opposite. If a student is new to cake decorating seeing a filmed tutorial is a great way for them to gauge if the tutor is someone they can learn from, also it gives them a chance to judge the quality of the tutor’s skill level. Since I started filming tutorials my live classes have been filling up and my students love the fact that they can do tutorials with me in their own time and then choose to join me for a live class whenever possible. There are those in the world who are not in a position to get to class either for financial reasons or I’m just not in their country and I feel in this day and age of technology that online learning is the only option for a lot of students.
Q. What are your projects for the future?
A. Currently I’m busy creating new classes for 2016, writing my next book and filming more skills videos for my YouTube channel. I’m working on an exciting new project at present which hopefully will see me doing TV, I’ve always wanted to be a presenter for cake related TV programs and this is one step closer for me.
Q. Where do you see cake design going from here?
A. Who knows, I always tell my students the only limititation is their imagination and the exciting part of cake artistry is if someone can think of a design, someone out there will think of a way of making that design work in real cake.
Q. Is there any advice you would like to give to our readers?
A. Never stop learning, no matter how much I already know I am always found in the classroom as a student trying to improve and take my cake artistry to the next level