It’s lockdown again and everyone already realized food has to compensate a lot. Cinemas, theaters, art-galleries, shops are closed one more time. We also miss markets, restaurants, pubs and bars. Not able to dine out or enjoying your favourite sweet treat from your go-to café asks a lot. So what options are left? Ordering food is one, click-and-collect your favourite drink from a bar another one. Alternatively, you can get curated ingredients to prepare a meal at home – delivered directly from around the corner.
Some of us even went farer than cooking for themselves, watching ‘The Great British Bake Off’ or making their own banana bread. With winter and the dark season coming new indoor hobbies like baking have a high. Times couldn’t be better to skill yourself up and get into the high art of making delicious treats.
Isabelle Boizis isn’t new to the topic. She became a Pâtisserie Chef about ten years ago to follow her wedding cake dreams.
We enjoyed an interview with her about what she does best.
Hi Isabelle, when and how did you discover the passion for baking?
I have always been obsessed with food. Always. But I didn’t always think I would work in the food industry.
I started with a bachelor degree in communication, and then went to Spain to do a masters degree in Audiovisual communication. But my heart wasn’t really in it. I couldn’t picture myself in any of the careers that I was studying for. During my masters in Spain, I came home for the Christmas break, and had a conversation about my doubts with my Dad. That’s when he asked me “Why don’t you become a pastry Chef then? You love food so much, if people like you don’t become Chefs, then who does?”. That was it, it just felt right. So I finished my degree and found one of the most prestigious french patisserie school which offered an intensive 6 months patisserie course for adults in professional reconversion. I was hooked and it was the beginning of my best adventure.
What did your path into the industry look like? How did you get the idea to focus on wedding cakes?
My sister lives in England, so when I started my Patisserie career, I would go visit her and I couldn’t help buying all the cake decorating books I could find. I was obsessed with them. I would also make sure to always buy equipment for cake decorating during my visits as I couldn’t find any in France back then, and I remember telling myself that I would eventually come to live in England to make wedding cakes. So when I graduated from patisserie school, I worked for three years in France, and then finally moved to England to pursue that dream.
I first moved to London where I worked in a French patisserie for almost a year, and then moved to Bristol to work with an amazing cake designer, Anna Tyler (Anna Cake Couture) who was about to open a lovely café/cake shop. I designed the patisserie range for the shop for over a year, and she gave me the proper wedding cake training I had always been dreaming of! And eventually it was time for me to start my own business, as that was always my end goal. This is how I started Zaza Marcelle Cake Design over three years ago now, and I still have to pinch myself every time I make a wedding cake with my stamp on it!
What does the working day of a Pâtisserie Chef (is this the right term?) look like?
When I worked as a patisserie chef, my days would start really early to prepare all the cakes and patisseries ready for the shop opening, and then move on to the daily production: refill the stocks basically, such as making big batches of macarons or eclairs, etc.
Now that I mostly make wedding cakes, my days are very different! Each cake order is very unique and we have to respect different stages of the preparation, so each wedding cake is actually planned on a weekly basis: on day 1 I will bake all the different tiers and fill them with cream, on day 2 I would then cover each tier with a layer of chocolate ganache to allow them to set hard and to then be covered in sugarpaste. On day 3 I can start decorating as I need the layer of sugar paste to set before being able to manipulate it (do some hand piping work, stick flowers, etc). This is where all the art work begins and I like to have at least a whole day – sometimes I will need two – to allow enough time for creation. I mostly work with fresh flowers which I add to all my cakes at the very last minute.
Have you ever not delivered a cake on time?
No. But during my first wedding season, in my former car, I had a delivery that took over two hours drive and upon arrival I found that the top tier had fell on the bottom one and caused the front of the cake to be completely crushed… After panicking for 5 minutes, I managed to rearrange everything and no one saw the damage. I was very lucky. Since then I always take extra precautions when delivering a cake. It is still always my least favourite part of the cake process, such a stressful experience every time. Specially in the South West on England where the countryside roads can be so narrow with no visibility!
Who or what gives you inspiration?
When it comes to ideas and inspiration, I spend the most time focusing on taste, good flavour combinations and ways to better my cakes by bringing my French patisserie background to the mix. That’s why my designs are always quite clean and simples. I am a true advocate of “less is more”. I do spend a lot of time on Pinterest! Although I find that looking at other cake designs blocks my creativity a bit as I do not want to end up copying. So for my own creations, I often put together moodboards focusing on colour palettes, textures, prints, fabric patterns, and interior design ideas. When making a wedding cake order, I always ask my customers to send me their wedding mood board (which usually includes wedding invitations, dresses, colour palette and styling ideas) and this is where I always start the designing process.
Do you have a role model / idol?
I have so many! In Pâtisserie I love Pierre Hermé, Claire Damon (who owns “Des Gateaux et du Pain” in Paris) amongst others. I am also a big fan of the korean baking scene. I particularly love Congmom Cakes. Lastly on the cake design scene, I love so many cake artists, but here are a few: Suzanne from Cove Cake Design, Jasmine Rae Cakes, the girls from Sweet Lion Heart, Natalie from Alcakemy to name a few!
You have already learned from renowned people: What was the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge was when I first started. The long hours, the waking up at 3am to go to work, the not-always-too-friendly and very masculine environment that you often find in kitchens. But I was lucky enough to always work with great Chefs. Michel Belin who owns a few shops between Toulouse and Albi in the South of France and a couple of shops in Japan, was the first one who gave me a chance by employing me when my profile did not interest anyone. I was 24 when I started my pâtisserie career. In France, by that age, most young pastry Chefs already have at least 4 to 5 years of experience. I had none, but because of my age, I had to be paid a minimum amount, which as you can imagine, made my candidacy not very attractive for any job I applied to. But Michel Belin did give me my chance, and I worked there for two years, helping to make whole pallets of luxury chocolate bonbons that were sent to his shops in Japan, amongst other amazing things we did there. At first I was a bit scared of him (as he is quite the character!), but I got to get on his good side and ever since I left Albi I have been in touch wherever the wind took me until this day.
Is there a specific brand you would love to collaborate with in future or a specific person you would love to bake a cake for?
There are a few brands I would love to work with, mostly ingredients suppliers like Montezuma which is a fairtrade and English based chocolate company, or Girls Who Grind Coffee which is the most “badass” independent coffee roasters company, ran by two awesome ladies here near Bristol. I have started a collaboration with them a while back, and I would very much like to pick up where we left off! It would generally make me very happy to collaborate more with environmentally-conscious companies!
And I would love to bake for the Queen! I mean, who wouldn’t?
There are quite some TV shows that involve baking and designing cakes. Would you ever participate such a show?
I would love to participate in a TV show! But not as a competitor though, I would most definitely love to be part of a TV show that talks about cake and/or pâtisserie. I quite enjoy those TV shows, especially when they show the public the amount of work, knowledge and craftsmanship that goes into our job.
You are offering online courses. Is that the future of cooking / baking design courses – or just an alternative during the Corona Pandemic?
I believe that online classes in general are the future of education for adults. People constantly want to learn new skills, and with a wifi connection you can learn about any type of subjects from home. Teaching platforms have never been so busy and pâtisserie and cake design are just on the same train.
I started offering online classes before the pandemic, but during the Covid crisis I have seen a huge increase of online cake classes offers, and online teaching platforms offering great deals for their content. I think that the pandemic only accelerated a process that was inevitable: people will want to learn more and more from the comfort of their own home, and in our case, the comfort of their own kitchen. I still believe that nothing can replace a real masterclass with the attention of a tutor, but for those who live really far, or who can’t afford the fees of an actual physical masterclass, online classes offer a great alternative.
Thank you for the great interview!