Spotlight: Lily Vanilli

If you’re a fan of experimental and artisan patisserie, it’s highly likely you’ll have come across the mouthwatering work of master baker, Lily Vanilli aka Lily Jones. A fellow Eastender, Lily’s skills don’t stop at creating eye-catching bakes – she’s put her entrepreneurial spirit into admirable and ambitious projects. We had to catch up the cake maker extraordinaire to find out what she’s got planned next…

Hi Lily! You’ve been the creative Queen of the East End baking scene for some time now – how did it all start?

In 2008, around this time of year, in a makeshift market on Swanfield Street. It was Sundays only and almost no-one came, but I was desperately broke at the time and every few pounds I could make made a difference. I started very slowly building up a customer base and then a journalist from The Times wrote an article on how baking was going to be the next big thing and included me as an example. The piece came out just before Valentine’s Day 2009 and I was suddenly swamped with offers and orders. I got myself a website and Lily Vanilli was born. Within six months I had a concession in Harrods, a book deal and was baking for Elton John, and it really grew organically from there.

The Lily Vanilli bakery has gone global with a store in Tbilsi!

Tell us about the Lily Vanilli bakery. When did it open its doors?

I opened the bakery on Columbia Road in 2011, seven years ago. We only open Sundays and the space is my bakery during the week, where we produce bespoke cakes, canapes and wedding cakes to order. On Sundays we have a seasonal menu of cakes, pastries and rolls, with weekly specials. It’s a really creative approach and we change it up all the time. The bakery is located in a cute spot tucked away just off the flower market.

You’re a very busy person! You’ve co-founded a number of interesting projects including The YBF’s, Bake for Syria and we’ve heard you’ve recently opened a bakery in Tbilisi, Georgia. Can you tell us about that?

It’s very exciting! I’m travelling to Tbilisi again this week to work in the kitchen for a while. It’s been a huge challenge as I have almost none of the ingredients I like using (sugar, flour, butter, milk, cream and chocolate have all been a huge challenge) but it’s been an amazing journey so far. We opened a month ago and it’s going well. I’m completely in love with the city and its food. It’s a very exciting time to be in Tbilisi – a lot is happening.

Lily was a pioneer of using flowers creatively in her designs

We love the use of fresh flowers in your designs. What do you like about working with them?

I started using fresh flowers on cakes back in 2009 when I made my first layer cakes for sale. It’s hard to imagine, as it’s so ubiquitous now, but it was super weird at the time. It suits my approach to baking as I’m all about using fresh and delicious ingredients even in my most creative designs.         I almost never use food colouring, sugar paste or anything artificial and I think the fresh flowers add to the fresh feel of the cake overall. No one ever eats the sugar flowers anyway (they set as hard as porcelain), so it seems a waste.

Lily, the woman behind the brand.

You’re famous for your artisan bakes and experimental flavours. What are your predictions for any new flavour trends?

I think we will continue to see more experimentation with alternative grains – buckwheat, rye, spelt – they give such a rich and complex level to the flavours in a cake or pastry.      I think the addition of ingredients that look and taste good but also have a health benefit is on the rise too, for example, I use a lot of turmeric and matcha.

What has been your all-time favourite creation or project?

It’s impossible to choose but the recent collaboration I did with my friend Emma from Palais Flowers for the bakery launch in Tbilisi was a stand out. It was fun to push the boundaries between the flowers and the cake. I have often designed cakes that spill over into a table design of flowers and foliage, but this was taking it to the next level. We went to the night flower market in Tbilisi which was an amazing experience; lots of home grown flowers and a totally different world to the flowers markets here.

What’s next for you?

After Tbilisi, I’m travelling to Nanjing to work on the second round of an afternoon tea project there. Then I’m looking forward to focusing on London in the new year!

Be sure to follow Lily and her baking adventures here.