Eric Lanlard is arguably the most renowned Master Pâtissier in Britain. Having won the prestigious Continental Pâtissier of the Year Award at the British Baking Awards twice, he’s credited with changing the face of British pâtisserie. Lanlard originally trained in France before moving to London and working for the Roux brothers. After five years he decided to launch his own business, initially a whole sale cake supply company, Laboratoire, which he then transformed into a Battersea-based pâtisserie shop, cafe and school, Cake Boy, in 2005. Lanlard’s had no less than four television series and published four books, the latest of which, Tart It Up! was released in June 2012 (£18.99). I caught up with Lanlard to find out how this self-confessed lover of all things savoury started working in the pâtisserie industry, why the cupcake craze isn’t going away any time soon, and what makes his latest collaboration with the Jumeirah Carlton Tower in London’s Knightsbridge so special.
I was born in Brittany but I’ve been in Britain for 23 years. I came over over here to work for Albert and Michel Roux following training in France. I always wanted to be a pastry chef. When I was 18 I moved to the UK to improve my English but I ended up staying five years to work with the Roux brothers. They promoted me and I gradually fell in love with London.
Yet you’re known for not having a sweet tooth, so why choose baking?
Although I’ve never had a sweet tooth I do love a good dessert. A good dessert for me is one that is not full of sugar. I try to put in as little sugar as possible. Every Sunday we used to go to one of the pâtisserie shops in our village like most French people, and we’d get a large box of cakes. I was fascinated by the whole concept of the shop and the glamour. The French pack it so beautifully. That’s why the packaging we use at Cake Boy is sourced from France. I describe the experience as the food equivalent of going to Louis Vuitton or Prada and buying a handbag. They always spend time wrapping it and creating something beautiful. The whole concept of decoration of a beautiful cake, the service, the packaging from a beautiful shop. We get a lot of positive comments. It makes the experience glamorous and people are willing to pay that bit extra for that experience.
Your wholesale business has transformed into a cake shop and school, how did that come about?
I opened the first business 15 years ago. We supplied shops with our pastries, the likes of Fortnum & Mason. Then I decided to take the plunge and really achieve my dream which was to have my own shop. We found location in Battersea on the river. It had always been my plan to have this sort of concept business. The shop is in Battersea so its very sophisticated but quite casual in comparison to the equivalent type of places in Paris. It’s a bit like a hotel bar with a cake shop and school. The classes are something I’d always wanted to do. Customers come in and smell the baking and hear what’s going on, it intrigues them. The baking craze is big in the UK and even the world. One very popular class is the cupcake decorating every Saturday. People come with their families or friends and spend two-and-a-half hours learning how to decorate cupcakes, you can make them really glamorous, then we serve a Champagne afternoon tea. There’s always a mixture of keen bakers and novices. Everyone goes home with the cakes they’ve made, an apron and recipes.
You’re right, the UK is in the midst of a baking craze, what kind of people are coming to your classes?
A lot of people come with their kids. we can’t believe how many young people are interested in baking. I think we’re finally getting away from kids wanting to go to the shops and buy a can of Coke and packet of crisps. They are beginning to get a sophisticated palette and understanding of good ingredients, as well as the pleasure of cooking at home. It’s great.
Is the cupcake set to be toppled from its throne as the ultimate indulgent treat any time soon?
Everybody is on a mission to try and kill the cupcake and I’m surprised by that. People like them because you can please anyone with them. You can decorate it for girls or boys, and adults. We get all sorts of orders, everything from designer handbags to shoes for women, and football club logos, rugby balls, even cricket bats for men. The thing about cupcakes is they don’t cost that much andt hey are beautiful. A box of 12 cupcakes looks impressive and it’s a great sharing gift. What really makes me laugh is that people, especially women, don’t seem to feel guilty about eating them because they are small. Instead of picking a slice of lemon tart, they’ll say they are on a diet and opt for a cupcake instead. We know perfectly well a cupcake is double the calories but people are there to be indulged and we are there to give them a pleasurable experience.
How has the British baking scene changed since you first moved to the UK?
When I came to the UK I was actually quite shocked. People didn’t really care about the way cakes tasted. Everyone wanted novelty cakes in the shape of cars or the latest Disney character. If you asked anyone to name a famous cake maker they’d say Jane Asher. No one even cared what their wedding cake tasted like, they just assumed no one would eat it, they’d be too busy dancing or drunk. If you’re going to spend a lot of money on cake it’s important that the inside is good so people want to eat it, it should be served as the dessert. It needs to look good and taste good.
Do you ever get particularly eccentric requests?
We do a lot for weddings. People get overexcited and can go a bit overboard. Sometimes we have to remind them it’s a wedding, not a party, and they are going to have to look at those pictures for the rest of their lives, maybe an elephant or Austin Powers isn’t a good idea. We get the odd phonecall from people asking for dirty cakes but we turn them down, that kind of sex and what we do doesn’t go well together. We had a top supermodel make the worst request I’d ever heard. Luckily I was sitting at my desk! I thought it was so cruel asking for something so disgusting, I had to turn it down. Those requests are for someone else.
Do you have a most memorable meal of all time?
When I worked for the Roux brothers I ate at Le Gavroche in Mayfair. It was the first Michelin-starred restaurant I’d ever eaten in.It blew me away. I’d grown up in Brittany and there was some good food but it was always rustic. The service at Le Gavroche was exceptional, I was blwon away by how many waiters, knifes, forks and plates there were. It was like a ballet.The food was phenomenal. Working for them I was treated to many great surprises and I often thought I may explode! Now every year I go back once to have that great experience.
Your latest venture is with Jumeirah Carlton Tower Hotel in Knightsbridge. How did that collaboration come about?
They approached me after we did some work for their 50-year anniversary. They’d been involved in one of our television shows for Channel 4 and they were impressed with what we did. They decided they wanted to launch an afternoon tea series and wanted me to be involved. Everyone in London is doing afternoon tea right now, even Nobu. I love afternoon tea, it’s like having a really long lunch, so I was really happy to design their afternoon tea. I did not want to go completely extreme because there’s a lot of choice and you expect to see your scone, clotted cream, preserve, and there’s nothing worse than being gimmicky! Some hotels are just taking it too far. They’ve almost gone back to the day with biscuits in all sorts of shapes and colours but when it comes to eating it, it’s just a biscuit covered in sugar. You’ve got to have sandwiches, beautiful, fresh scones, preserve, clotted cream. We’ve kicked out finger sandwiches. They are thin so dry quickly. We’ve used some beautiful breads and brioche and created mini sandwiches. We’ve had an Olympics and Jubilee themed menu so far. We offer a little Eton Mess and it comes with a syringe of coulis so the meringue doesn’t get soggy while you’re eating the sandwiches. There’s a strawberry tart with pistachio filling too. We used lots of British lavender. I also created an edible perfume so it really puts you int he mood. The next tea will be inspired by autumn in Paris. It’s going to be very French.
You also offer afternoon tea at Cake Boy, how does the experience vary to that at the Jumeirah?
We call afternoon tea at Cake Boy French afternoon tea. There’s no scones. It’s a French pâtisserie. Usually people don’t finish it so we pack it up in beautiful packaging. That way people aren’t forced to eat anything they can’t really manage but they aren’t embarrassed because they don’t have to ask. There isn’t a culture of that in the UK.
What else are you working on right now? Anything else coming up?
I’m writing another book at the moment and I’ve just signed with P&O Cruises to do gastronomic cruises with some chefs like Marco Pierre White and the wine guru Ollie Smith. We’ll go tot he Caribbean and the Med. We’ll do dinner on board but also take some guests to the local markets when we dock. We’ll give them masterclasses using local ingredients and inspiration. I love doing things like that, it’s where I get the most excited because my brain goes into overtime and I get really inspired. We’ve also got another television project in the pipeline.
Want to meet some of the UK’s best chefs, restaurateurs and bakers?
Read the rest of the An Interview With series now.
Book in for afternoon tea at Jumeirah Carlton Tower, Cadogan Place, London SW1X 9PY; Tel: 020 7235 1234; www.jumeirahcarltontower.com
And don’t forget to visit Cake Boy, Unit 2, Kingfisher House, Battersea Reach, Juniper Drive, York Road, London SW18 1TX; Tel: 020 7978 5555; www.cake-boy.co.uk