We spent some time with Helen Bakunowicz from the Bakemonger. She takes cakes and makes them her own with her unique style, getting her inspiration from her love of art, textiles, design and culture.
Your background is in fashion and textiles, how did you get into decorating cakes?
Baking was very much a hobby, something I did at home to both relax as well as entertain friends and family. Over time I became really geeky about working my way through my baking bibles. I wanted to try to bake just about everything. Friends started requesting celebration cakes and so I started pushing the boundaries.
At the time, I was working full-time as a trend & colour forecaster. Slowly but surely my worlds started merging. My seasonal trend boards were being taken over by beautiful experimental culinary delights and I was really excited by the prospect that food could be a creative art form and so 'flour, sugar, eggs and magic' very naturally became my medium.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Far and wide – I am inspired by so many things. My love of colour, textiles, art, design and culture culminate in my baked creations so I am always gathering ideas. I have a huge library of inspiring images; photographers, artists and designer’s work I have discovered, colour combinations I am obsessing about, trends in materials, shapes and textures. It really is endless. I am of course also inspired by seasonality and, living in Somerset, I feel really in touch with the seasons more than ever before when I was based in London/New York.
How would you sum up your style and why?
Imaginative, creative and experimental. My designs are always unique, I love to push the boundaries and use my imagination, it keeps me motivated. Most often I work bespoke to order and I love interpreting a theme or brief and turning it on its head. You will never find me creating literal figures, that's just not what I'm about, I love to really interpret a theme my way and make it my own. Working abstractly and dissecting details means the cake becomes
a design piece in its own right. People come to me for something different, for something fresh and personal to them. I am forever experimenting with new techniques and pushing forward, I really don't like to stand still. Today it's all about cake, but tomorrow... well we'll see.
What’s your design process and how long does it take you to create a cake from start to finish?
I will always start my design process with a consultation – in person, if possible. I gather as much information about the celebrator and event as possible before I sketch and create. Often I fuse details a customer loves from a previous design with new techniques to create their ultimate showstopper. Once the design is agreed I work in processes. Creating my edible palette I dehydrate any fruits, temper chocolate and make edible origami details. I bake as close to the day of the event as possible before then putting everything together. This is my favourite part, all the elements suddenly come together and then the magic really begins. Sometimes the design is exactly as I sketched it, other times there are elements I remove or add for balance. Usually a consultation will happen months before an event, but the actual creation from design through to the final product takes the best part of a working week.
Do you make all the decorative elements on your cakes?
I always make all my decorations. This is really important to me, I like to push myself to create delicious and intriguing textures that both compliment and add extra flavour dimension to the cake itself. I think the handmade quality is really key for my design as they have a handcrafted feel about them that I could never achieve with shop-bought decorations.
What is it that most appeals to you about using dried fruit?
I started drying and tinting fruits well over two and a half years ago now. I love how dehydration brings out and intensifies the flavour of the fruits – such a natural and delicious decorative material. 'Fruit petals', as I call them, also resemble natural flora and are super versatile.
Do you have a particular design or achievement you’re most proud of?
I am proud to have created a business outside London that has been recognised for its creative originality. British Vogue proclaimed my Instagram feed as one of 15 top Instagram accounts that all food lovers should follow. 'More like modern art installations than social media snaps, The Bakemonger's artisan bakes are real showstoppers to fill your feed with.' Harrod's also discovered me on Instagram and offered me a 3-month branded pop-up in store, despite the business not being London-based – Proving the power of social media regardless of geographic location.
What advice do you have to give to novice cake decorators?
Think outside the box, don't follow trends, try to be unique and have your own style. There are so many businesses out there doing the same thing and following each other's lead. Be brave and be different. Innovate don't imitate.
What do you think will be the next big trend in
I think we will see a backlash to all the clean-cut, slick modern sculptural cakes and a resurgence of OTT design in offbeat colour combinations, piping and all. A design Marie Antoinette would approve of. In contrast, I also think botanical wild and blooming floral cakes will also be important.
To see more of Helen’s creative bakes, go to www.thebakemonger.com or follow her on Instagram @the_bakemonger.