The YBF Awards : an epic adventure

Photo c/o Felicity Spector

Photo c/o Felicity Spector

Last month I received the tremendously exciting news that I was a finalist in the baking category of The Young British Foodie Awards (The YBFs), which ‘seeks out and celebrates new, visionary talent in food & drink across the UK… looking for innovation, creativity & craftsmanship that stands out in its field.’
I was invited over to London to present my work in front of a panel of judges made up of Lily Jones (Lily Vanilli Bakery), Claire Ptak (Violet’s Bakery), Felicity Spector (Channel 4 food critic) and Tom Baker (Loaf).  As one of the five finalists in the baking category, I would have fifteen minutes with the judges. The competition was stiff and impressive, being made up of two other cake makers and two bread bakers (here is an article on the contestants in the baking category).

As an English woman I was thrilled to get the opportunity to compete in such a prestigious competition in the city I was born and raised in, but as I have been living in Ireland for fifteen years and my entire career in cake has been here in Dublin, the nomination raised for me some interesting questions as to what it means to me to be an English cake maker working with Irish ingredients. It is always central to the cakes I create to start with a foundation of locally sourced ingredients, while adding pops of excitement from far-flung places (such is my passion for tonka beans or matcha).

After much consideration as to what would best reflect both Wildflour Bakery and me as a cake maker, I decided upon the following cakes to present to the judging panel:

Roasted White Chocolate & Toasted Nuts with a pipette of Teeling Whiskey
Rhubarb, Rose & Hendrick’s Gin
Dark Chocolate, Fig and Tonka Ganache
Whiskey-soaked Cranberry, Whipped St. Tola Goats’ Cheese and Wild Nettle Syrup
Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt Caramel Triangles
“Manhattans”: Cherry, 80% Dark Chocolate and Coffee
Raspberry, Pistachio & Rose

My next issue was a logistical one – how best to get the cakes to London? Should I bake them over there? If so, where do I find a kitchen, how do I bring *all* of the ingredients I would need for so many kinds of cakes? Do I make the cakes here in my bakery where my ovens and equipment are familiar and all my ingredients are at my fingertips? Preferable, but then how to transport them? Courier, take my van on the ferry or fly? All these options had a million opportunities for things to go horribly wrong, at a time when I was under the most pressure for them to go right.

After much deliberation and a kitchen found five minutes away from the competition I decided to make the cakes in my bakery in Dublin and decorate them in the London kitchen.  I packed my cakes as though they were Fabergé eggs for their journey in my carry-on luggage on the flight and I packed all the ingredients and equipment for decorating them in a second case.

Photo c/o Rincy Koshy

Photo c/o Rincy Koshy

Of course, the best laid plans rarely play out as one would hope, and the next hurdle involved losing the use of the London kitchen a few days before I was due to fly out. After a Facebook campaign, a frantic (and unsuccessful) AirBnb search and a lot of help from my friends, I eventually secured another kitchen to use. It was a day-saver, but it wasn’t going to be easy. It was the furthest point in London from both Heathrow (where I was flying in to) and Ezra Street where the judging panel was taking place.  But I am well able for a challenge. It took me two and a half hours, five trains and much struggling on my own with two very heavy suitcases to get from Heathrow to the kitchen, but get there I did and spent the next few hours dressing the cakes to perfection. The next morning I was up with the dawn and got a taxi (my dressed cakes were too precious for any more gallivanting around on public transport) for the long hour and fifty minute journey out to East London.

It may have felt like an epic journey, but I eventually reached the brilliant Lily Vanilli’s bakery, and got my fifteen minutes with the judges.

Photo c/o Felicity Spector

Photo c/o Felicity Spector

A couple of weeks later I went to the awards ceremony at the Tate Britain where the winners would be announced. While I didn’t win, I had one of the most brilliant nights imaginable, meeting some of the most astonishingly talented people in the food industry as well as getting to taste some amazing food and cocktails laid on in lavish style in the awe-inspiring setting of the gallery. (Photos of the night here.)

Photo c/c onEdition

Photo c/c onEdition

The whole experience was the most amazing adventure; empowering, inspiring and truly fantastic, and I am so proud I got to compete in it.

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* * *

The Irish Times did a piece on my participation which can be read here.

 As one of the finalists I was also invited to do a dessert course as part of the YBF take-over at the prestigious Rex Whistler Restaurant at the Tate Britain earlier this month. I made ‘Olive oil cake, preserved plum, hazelnut, ancient grain, star anise, long pepper; paired with Redbreast 12’.

Special thanks to some excellent people who helped make it possible for me to compete: my magical unicorn of an assistant Nadia, who is the finest wing-woman I could ask for; Caitriona Dixon and Angela & George Loggie for lending me their kitchen; Vlad Rainis from Arun Bakery; Ellen, Matt & Bob Try, Rincy Koshy, Louise Kenny, Niamh Shields, Sarah Floyd and all my superb friends who completely overwhelmed me with their messages of support and good wishes.
 2015_shortlisted b
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