Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Interview with Lily Grey

Creator of the Castle Cake at Cake International

Tell us a little bit about yourself:
I was brought up in Mumbai - India, although born in UK. I have lived here since 1976.  I am blessed with three wonderful loving and caring children, a very supportive mother and my sister and my dear friend Claire. I am also grateful to my tutors Geraldine Dahlke and Jane Hatton.

When did you start cake decorating?
I first started making cakes for my children’s birthdays. My oldest son, Adrian is now 26 years old. My very first novelty cake was Postman Pat which was my second son, Ross favourite TV character.  With practice, experience and attending cake decorating courses over the years, I have gone on to win few awards at various cake decorating competitions. Having said that, Adrian thinks my Doll cake made for my daughter, Chloe’s birthday by was the best cake ever made. It was her 1st birthday cake made by sticking lots of sweets all over her skirt. Lol.

Do you have a business?
Yes, I work mainly from home –
Cake orders can be quite erratic at times. With the current recession, not everyone wants to pay a decent price for their cakes. I find it hard to compete against supermarket cakes.

What inspired you to do the castle cake, why this design in particular?
The Medieval wedding castle cake was done as part of my ABC advanced cake decoration course at Brooklands College. Part of the coursework was making a model of a couple.
The inspiration for this design came from a brilliant illustrator - Trina Schart Hyman, done in a book titled ‘St George and the dragon’ retold by Margaret Hodges. I absolutely adore the drawing of the medieval couple. Looking through the pages, she had also drawn a castle in the distance. My tutor, Jane Hatton suggested that I could do something similar as the wedding cake. When the dummies arrived, I realised to my dismay that the couple would have to be very tiny as they would have to be able to get through the main entrance!

How long did it take?
This project was supposed to have been started around Christmas and finished in time for Salon Culinaire exhibition end of March. Sadly, I didn’t finish in time to enter my cake. I am going through a traumatic divorce right now. The idea of making a wedding cake was not at all appealing. I would prefer to have made a divorce cake instead. I have been going through betrayal, loneliness and sadness.  I hated the sight of my unfinished wedding cake. Eventually it took me 2 months to finish it.

What was the hardest part of the cake?
Getting it started. The castle sat on the table at the end of my bed. I slept and woke up looking at it each day. I faced a nightmare from which I would never wake up..... Unless I forced myself to finish this project.  This was helped when I stopped thinking of this cake as a wedding cake. Once I thought I was making a medieval castle cake, there was no stopping me. I wanted to add so much more, like few peasants sitting on the lawn outside the castle looking up at the couple and despite their poverty cheering them on. But I ran out of time.

How did you create the stone walls? Was it literally piece by piece?
That was my mad brainstorm. I wanted the castle to look authentic having looked at several medieval castle pictures.  I always take on these tasks, not realising the enormity of it all!
I rolled a small section of sugarpaste each time and cut it in an irregular pattern. Each cut out piece was then stuck on with damp darker shade of old gold. I had tried rolling small stones and sticking them together to see the overall effect. I also tried cutting rectangular pieces and texturing It., I realised, the stone work whatever shape or size had to be quite small. This kept all the characters and the size of the castle in proportion.
Halfway through the bottom tier, I realised the mammoth task facing me. Ultimately, I managed to finish all the stonework. I stacked the cakes together when to my horror, I realised I had used old gold on the bottom tier but for the rest two tiers, I had used chestnut brown food colouring. The tiers did not match. I scrapped off both the top tiers and started again L
The divorce, coursework, my part-time job and this back breaking task (not to forget, my bottom got very sore) was enough to shove the cake in a corner to be ignored for a few weeks. I missed my deadline. My tutor was very understanding and patient. She was happy for me to ditch the cake and start on something else or take my time and enter my cake for the Cake exhibition at Excel in April.

What did you enjoy making the most?
I think it was the characters on the cake, the king, the queen and all the jesters. I enjoyed trying to make all the characters as individuals with their own personalities.  I usually try to get my cake to tell a story, which I narrate to my daughter who always laugh at my silly stories. I would love people to stop and dream up a story themselves of what is happening in my cake world. Although, I really admire cakes with beautiful flowers and artwork, I tend to lean more towards novelty cakes showing movement, action and emotions. My tutor told me the other day, that I was the only student she had ever taught who displayed so much emotions on her cakes. 
This is a colourful cake, but I started off doing dark pieces as I am going through a very dark period right now.  The first project was a black and white collage. The next project was supposed to be a model of a fairy. I did a model of an angel of death, with tied and wing clipped angels to signify that sometimes evil can and does often triumph.  My final piece is a marzipan angry gorilla with open blood stained mouth! I have also done an African pastillage scene showing music and happiness in amidst desolation. This was inspired by a children’s book – ‘We all went on Safari’ illustrations by Julia Cairns.

How much research did you do into getting the cake just right?
I work in a library, so I have access to many books. I find children’s books most inspiring especially as they contain beautiful illustrations done by very talented artists.
I borrowed over 25 books on Medieval/Middle ages, castles and heraldry. I studied the costumes, musical instruments and entertainments during that period. The ladies wore some beautiful headdresses and gowns. I find myself fascinated by that era in our history.

What really is happening in the top window?
The top window shows a lord and a lady. The lady is sitting on the ledge trying to get a good view of the young couple at the top of the castle. There is no danger of her falling off the castle as the window is quite low with a balcony/ledge. Lol.
There are hidden innuendos to various characters if you look closely. The jesters are placed at the top of the castle to signify that some marriages can be a joke. I am sure you can guess who the prisoner is looking out of the barred window! The young groom is not exactly facing the bride and so on. Do make up the story as you look at the cake. I did try to put some positive aspects to my castle characters. There is a courting couple, kids cheering and a baby to signify life and happiness, the adoring young queen looking at her rather elderly king. Now, I wonder what happened to his previous wife or should I say wives.....

What is your top baking tip?
A firm Madeira cake is the best for making novelty cakes, but do warn your customers that it will be a firm cake not a soft spongy Genoese cake which they all expect!

What would be one of your top decorating tips?
If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. I am not naturally artistic so I often need to make several attempts to get that perfection which is required for a competition cake. It is also helpful to take breaks in between rather than struggling for too long. Stand back and look at your cake. Also, ask your children what they think. They can be refreshingly honest about what exactly is wrong with your creations. I respect positive criticism :)

Thanks Lily for being so open, it was lovely to get to know you and hear your story.

To see all the pictures of Lily's cake, please click this here

No comments:

Post a Comment