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August 31, 2012 7:35 pm
Lily Vanilli (aka Lily Jones) runs a bakery off Columbia Road, east London, open on Sundays, and creates made-to-order cakes. She also co-founded the Young British Foodie Awards.
. . .
What were your school dinners like?
I grew up in Saudi Arabia, so we had packed lunches – sandwiches, a yoghurt, Capri sun, and a block of ice to keep everything cool. Expats lived on segregated compounds, but they were really multinational; we had lots of food from around the world. Everything was alien back in England.
Do you have your own Proust’s Madeleine – a food that instantly brings back memories?
My grandmother had a garden filled with English berries and currants, and I loved that stuff. Perfect pastry with mountains of berries has a very strong memory connection with her.
What got you into baking as a profession?
It happened unexpectedly, about three years ago when the recession felt like the end of the world. I didn’t have a job and thought “what can I do?”, and I started selling cakes – it had been a hobby for years but I never had any ambitions to do it as a business. I set up a market stall, got a website and it developed through word of mouth.
Who are your food heroes?
People from history like Alexis Soyer and Rosa Lewis, but in terms of modern day it was really Bompas & Parr [the food/art experimenters] who captured my imagination – they’re so clever, but the important thing is that they always make their recipes taste great too.
What’s the weirdest thing you have made to order?
A woman once ordered a life-size replica of her boyfriend’s head in a cardboard box. It was a Valentine’s Day gift, it was meant to be a joke.
What led you to create the Young British Foodie Awards?
It started as a small idea when we noticed that most of the food and drink awards celebrated well-recognised people. There’s a place for that, but there’s also this movement at the grass roots that needs recognition.
Will you open a permanent shop?
I’m considering it, but now that it seems like a realistic opportunity, I think it’s not really my dream. My passion is baking and I like to stay in the kitchen as much as possible.
What are your favourite cakes?
I like earthy flavours such as parsnip and beetroot; vegetables that have natural sweetness and spice, and they have beautiful colours. Fresh berries, buttery vanilla sponge and light buttercream is also along the lines of my favourites.
Lily Vanilli’s ‘Sweet Tooth: Recipes and Tips from a Modern Artisan Bakery’ is published by Canongate (£20) on September 6. www.lilyvanilli.com
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