February 1, 2017
Taking the cake
Fairy castles sprinkled with sweets, pirate ships submerged in a sea of jelly, log cabins stacked with chocolate fingers and football pitches complete with plastic figurines and wafer goal posts – Zoe Clark had a pretty sweet introduction to cooking.
“My earliest memories are helping my mum with the annual birthday and Christmas cakes,” Zoe Clark says with fond recollection, “I remember reading through, and religiously following every step in those classic good-old Good Housekeeping cook books. I used to make sure my mum was making things properly and would stop her if I felt it wasn’t good enough! I was a perfectionist probably even at the age of five!”
It’s hard to believe Zoe didn’t initially choose a career in this delicious industry, instead completing a languages degree at university. But a change of heart saw her pursue patisserie.
In her mid-20s, Zoe moved from the United Kingdom to Australia, where she faced her first “cake experience”, something she hadn’t done since baking with her mum almost two decades earlier.
But making her sister-in-law’s wedding cake decorated with chocolate shards and fresh flowers gave Zoe a taste for it and she decided to further her skills with a few evening classes in Brisbane to learn how to make sugar flowers, with the aim of putting them on her own wedding cake a year later, and she did.
“It was an absolute shocker of a cake looking back on it now, but I was dead chuffed with myself at the time,” she says with a laugh.
In 2006, Zoe moved back to the UK with her husband and two young children, and was offered a full time job in a cake shop.
“As I’d only had training in patisserie, desserts, breads, patisserie-type cakes etc., there was a whole other world out there to discover when it came to making wedding and celebration cakes using icing and sugarcraft techniques,” Zoe says.
“Fortunately, my wonderful employer and her manager at the time taught me all the basics, and within a couple of weeks I was whipping up all kinds of creations from 3D Thomas the Tank Engine to five-tier floral masterpieces. I was in heaven!”
Initially Zoe says she only intended to stay in London for a few years, while her kids were little and could spend time with her family and experience living in the great city, but wonderful opportunities continued to present themselves.
Deep down, I’m a true romantic. I love how it makes me feel when creating something beautiful.”
Upon establishing her own cake business at home, Zoe was offered a book contract. She then decided to make a “real go of it” and opened The Cake Parlour in Wimbledon, where she attracted high profile clientele and supplied the world famous Fortnum & Mason store, in Piccadilly, with a bespoke wedding and celebration cake range along with seasonal cakes and confectionery.
In 2012, Fortnum & Mason invited the Queen, together with Camilla and Kate, to the store to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee.
“As their sole celebration cake supplier, they asked me to make the cake for the occasion – it was such an honour and a huge compliment,” she says.
“I made the actual cake based on the Fortnum & Mason Jubilee logos and artwork, incorporating the Queen’s beasts and the Fortnum & Mason turquoise and gold colour scheme. The entire five-tier cake was made out of my favourite fruit cake recipe.
“I was asked to speak to Camilla and tell her a bit about the cakes and biscuits they offer in the store. I was so nervous and was drilled on how to address her and nearly fell over when I had to curtsey – my legs were like jelly!
“The Queen went and spoke to the staff in the tea department, while Kate visited the honey department, so I never got to meet her in person, but I hope she liked my cake!”
From beautiful buttercream finishes to elaborate tiered floral masterpieces, whimsical children’s creations and intricate lace designs, Zoe’s repertoire is as wide as the mind can wander, and her skill level nothing short of sheer perfection.
“Deep down, I’m a true romantic. I love how it makes me feel when creating something beautiful – it makes me smile and feel satisfied and happy with life,” she says.
“It’s like living in fairyland surrounded by prettiness where everything is all butterflies and roses (that’s what my husband says about me anyway).
“For me it’s also really rewarding seeing my ideas come to life, especially when my creations are deeply appreciated by others.”
Having spent 10 years in London, on the most magnificent ride, Zoe and her family are now slowing the pace and moving back to the Sunshine Coast, where she will continue making cakes, while teaching and producing online tutorials. Zoe is also starting to work on her next book, which will be released later this year. Should be a piece of cake!
What is your favourite flavour cake?
I would say coffee and walnut; orange and marmalade; traditional fruit cake; and classic vanilla sponge and raspberry jam – very English I know!
What does love mean to you?
Caring and commitment. Respect and romance.
What do you love about being involved in people’s weddings?
I love making pretty things that taste delicious and hopefully playing a part in making the day extra special and something more to remember.