The Icing On The Cake – Ask the average person about their favourite cake and it’s likely to be a “toss-up” between grandma’s homemade chocolate sponge and Mr Kipling’s fine fruit slices. The sad fact is that most of us don’t spend the same amount of time in the kitchen that our parents used to and so the skill of cooking in general and fine baking, in particular, is fast becoming a dying art.
However, there is one lady keen to keep the flag flying in some style and that is the founder of Little Venice Cake Company, Mich Turner, who operates her multi-award-winning business out of Marylebone in West London.
Mich isn’t quite what you might expect from a cake maker and the first time I met her I was quickly forced to put aside all my preconceptions. Any images of blue-rinse hair in a Mrs Beaton bun were very much mistaken.
Fresh-faced, blue-eyed and alarmingly attractive, she is as enthusiastic about her work as she is gorgeous and I was immediately impressed by her engaging and open approach.
“My introduction to this profession really came about as a bit of an accident, to be honest. It was a key moment in my life and just like any momentous occasion, I am never likely to forget it.
“I was 17 and preparing for university where I wanted to train as a food scientist when my home economics lecturer asked me if I would like to decorate her wedding cake. I didn’t really take on the magnitude of the request but with confidence born more out of youth than appreciation of the task, I said yes. I then followed this up by hurriedly enrolling on a 4-day course to learn the basics of cake decoration and I haven’t really looked back since!”
4 years later in 1992, Mich graduated with an honours degree in food science and nutrition. “I was sponsored by United Biscuits at the time so I spent a year in the industry dressed in a white lab coat and measuring the density of cakes or the quality of baked products heading for the shelves of Marks and Spencer.
“However, this didn’t really satisfy the creative need that existed in me so after I spent some time with Harvey Nichols as a patisserie buyer I decided to take the plunge and launch my own business in 1999 by founding Little Venice Cake Company.”
Going with her instincts proved to be the right thing for Mich because her company has gone on to win numerous awards and is consistently showered with accolades and praise from customers and contemporaries alike. In what now is her 10th year, she has made Little Venice Cake Company London’s leading designer of couture wedding, birthday and celebration cakes.
“I wanted to fill a gap in the market by providing high-quality cakes for weddings and special occasions. It took a great deal of hard work but quite quickly I managed to sell my products to many of the 5-Star London Hotels as well as through premier event organisers and party planners.”
Mich’s reputation grew quickly and clients were particularly impressed by the attention to detail and service that she offered and continues to provide.
“In business, although you do get second chances, the first impression you make is always going to be the one that sticks with people. I want to introduce the “wow” factor into everything I do without becoming too gimmicky or pandering to over-excess. I’m more a fan of the clean, distinctive and classically contemporary style and most customers who contact us demonstrate a preference for the 1950s Chic or our Faberge designs.
“We recently created the wedding cake for Ashley Cole and Cheryl Tweedy and quite literally within half an hour of it being seen in a magazine, we had 3 people contacting us to order the very same cake”.
Naturally whilst all her deserved success may be born from her own hard work and creativity, she openly admits that much also depends on the assistance of her dedicated team.
“There are 9 of us altogether and we really work as one unit. Whether it is baking, designing, filming or simply getting the admin done, it’s a joint effort that doesn’t go by unappreciated.”
Not content with being a fantastic chef, Mich has also created a series of high-quality cookbooks, all of which have been best-sellers. Spectacular Cakes, Fantastic Party Cakes and Couture Wedding Cakes are all available at good bookstores and I would advise anyone looking for the definitive work on cake-making to seek them out. Not only do they offer thorough and clear instructions (a bi-product of Mich’s organised and scientific mind) they are also presented in a lavish “coffee table” style that makes you want to have them out on show rather than tucked away in a shelf.
She then outlined some of the forthcoming projects she is developing, including new and exclusive hands-on master classes at the recently refurbished Langham Hotel in London and the launch of her “celebration cakes collection” at Sainsbury’s and through the online luxury cake shop where books and cakes can be delivered throughout the UK and also internationally.
“Devon, where I grew up, seems a long way off now. I never would have dreamed this possible. I guess the pinnacle for me came when Gordon Ramsay endorsed me as the “Bentley of cake makers”. That’s the level I was aiming for and to have such a respected chef throw that label your way is really satisfying.
“I do think I owe a lot of my ability to my parents as well because as a child I was surrounded by artistic designs which no doubt had an influence upon me. My father’s ancestors were master enamellers and my mother was a qualified dress designer so it was just waiting to come out in the bloodline.
Whilst I was there Mich allowed me to sample the new Queen Elizabeth date cake she has just created which left me wanting a second and third slice!
Running a successful business Mich still manages to fit into family life with a husband and two young boys. Her advice to anyone wanting to take the plunge in their own business is not to underestimate how hard it is going to be! Determination is the key to success and a love of what you do is the driving force.