Close-up: Claire Ptak

Chez Panisse couldn't hold on to this pastry chef. Can east London do better?

Claire Ptak was an odd child. Barely out of nappies, she developed an obsession with cakes, and has photos of herself, aged four, diligently baking muffins. As soon as she was old enough to read, she began devouring cookbooks. By the time she was eight, her favourite pastime was a game she invented called "Chez Panisse", after the legendary restaurant in her native California.

In her twenties, with no formal training and just a lifetime's obsession to go on, Claire walked into Chez Panisse and asked for a job. "They made me cook some desserts for Alice Waters herself," she says. Her huckleberry tarts clearly hit the spot; she was offered a job there and then.

After three years honing her skills as a pastry chef, Claire relocated to England and now shifts hundreds of cakes every Saturday from her stall in east London's Broadway Market. The stall is stacked with a gorgeous array of colourful cupcakes made using only organic, seasonal ingredients the Chez Panisse way. In the summer they'll be topped with strawberry fruit pure, in the autumn she uses figs and grapes; around now, it's cranberry, quince, clementines and lemon.

The response has been overwhelming and Claire, now known as Claire Cakes to her friends, has three helpers and plans to expand by selling through quality delis.

She is also doing a one-off stall at the luxury food market in Covent Garden selling Christmas cakes, pudding, mince pies and handmade candied peel.

"I find it very satisfying to start with just a few really good ingredients, and create something so beautiful," she says. "I love it because cakes just seem to make people really happy."

Claire's cakes will be on sale at the Covent Garden luxury market until 23 December. For more information, visit www.violetcakes.com

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