Lily Vanilli: 'The Celts used cake as a means of selecting sacrificial victims'
Sunday 24 July 2011
My earliest food memory... Deciding that I wouldn't like chocolate or ketchup when I was four years old. It's also my first memory of being wilfully independent: I was trying to be different in a really obnoxious way, because they were the foods that everyone else seemed to make such a fuss over.
My store-cupboard essentials... As well as really good-quality butter, flour and eggs and chocolate, I also always have a selection of bitter fruits such as passion fruit and pomegranate and redcurrants or blackcurrants: that tartness is great to counteract the sweetness in a cake or pie. I have a variety of salts which I use in different recipes as well: for example, a Hawaiian black lava salt which I use to make salted chocolate-chip cookies. It ends up being as strong an ingredient as if you'd used nuts, in terms of its texture and colour and flavour.
My favourite cookbook... When it comes to recipe books, I really like Bourke Street Bakery. It's from a really beautiful and versatile bakery in Sydney, with a nice story behind it – the owners are two young Australian lads who travelled together and found they had a shared passion for baking – and the book starts with the basics then gets experimental with flavours and techniques. Many of my favourite food books are food history books, though. One I really like is Nectar and Ambrosia by Tamra Andrews: it goes through the religious and mythological importance of various different foods and ingredients. Cake seems to have a macabre history in almost all cultures: the Celts used it as a means of selecting victims for sacrifice, for example.
The kitchen gadget I can't live without... Until recently it was my Kenwood mixer, but one of my bakers broke it, sadly. I'm quite obsessive about having the right tools for the job, so I've got lots of different bits of equipment for decorating, from silicone mats to scalpels and bone-modelling tools for shaping.
My favourite food shop... Party Party, which is a party shop in Dalston, east London. It's one of the best places to get cakeware in England: if you needed an edible metallic spray paint, say, then it has four different shades. I found it by luck a few years ago, and I don't think I'd have the business I do now without it. Other shops? I get my coffee from Coleman Coffee (colemancoffee.com): the person who runs it is actually the son of the people who run Monmouth Coffee, but he makes his own beautiful blends in an old 1950s roaster.
My top table... Brawn, on Columbia Road, London E2: the food is quite simple but really fresh and seasonal, with lots of meat and offal on the menu. Also, the St John Hotel in Leicester Square – I love going there for late-night dinners – and Viajante at the Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green. The chef, Nuno Mendes, is a friend and I've always been a big admirer of his food. It's expensive but a unique experience, and he's just opened The Corner Room in the same building, which is a more affordable offshoot.
My guilty pleasure... I love really salty, cheap snacks to offset all the sweet things I'm tasting all day: I'll suddenly get a craving for a packet of Thai chilli rice crackers or some fish bites from the local chippie, which are the crunchy, leftover bits of batter.
My comfort food... I have just bought an ice-cream maker, so I'm going through a huge ice-cream phase at the moment. My favourite flavour I've come up with so far is absinthe with dark mint choc-chip: it's quite heavy, and there are a good few glugs of absinthe in each batch.
My tipple of choice... Margaritas: Dean Street Townhouse in Soho does a really good one, but most of the time I make them myself. They have to be really, really sour with lots of lime.
Lily Vanilli is a baker and cake designer. The Lily Vanilli Bakery is open Sundays, 8.30am to 4pm at 6 The Courtyard, Ezra Street, London E2
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