It’s nearly Easter but last week already felt like Christmas had come early. Not because we are already deciding on the look and range of this year’s Christmas baking, but because, after much anticipation, I was sent the first printed copy of my forthcoming book: Konditor & Cook: Deservedly Legendary Baking.
As I opened the envelope I could smell the freshness of the printing, just like opening the door of an oven filled with hot buns.
Then I had a moment of hesitation: how could that thick wad of colour proofs and recipes be suddenly so condensed? Had something been forgotten? But on closer inspection, it was all there: a striking, hotly debated cover design, the mouth-watering endpapers (that’s the inside pages of the front and back cover to you and me), a fabulous foreword by Sir Terence Conran, including his drawing of the 80th Birthday cake I baked for him, and, of course, seven chapters tightly packed with recipes and amazing photography completed last autumn.
It was quite a learning curve to get this far. My first book was published in 1999 - another era as far as book publishing goes - as different as silent movies was to talking pictures. Then, the photos were taken on film and the day’s photography started with a long wait for the previous day’s contact sheets to be biked back from the developers, all the while noshing pain au chocolat and sipping bucket-loads of cappuccino. We probably managed five photos per day.
Moving on 15 years, it was an altogether different experience. There was not time for flat whites or muesli muffins as we only had eight days spread over a two-week window in which to shoot more than 70 photos. But thanks to digital technology and a camera fitted with lenses that cost as much as a medium-sized family car and capable of creating files with zillions of gigabytes, it’s almost child’s play. Well, not quite.
It was probably the hardest thing I have done in my professional career. Over the two weeks I had to juggle baking and prepping for the photo shoots in my domestic kitchen with having to travel to the studio in West London, then setting up, adding finishing touches or sometimes baking from scratch. Of course I had to bring every ingredient and any specialist equipment along, as the tiny galley kitchen was better equipped to pander to the photographer’s caffeine needs, than making a glossy looking Drunken Chocolate Cake.
Once in Notting Hill, it was a case of setting up shoot after shoot. This meant choosing backgrounds and china, then styling cakes, tarts, brownies, slices, buns, mini bakes, cupcakes and some fun and festive frivolities too, all in a fabulously stylish manner of course, making every image a page-turner.
At the beginning it was easy. All the hired props were like a set of new toys and each camera angle seemed a first. As the shoot went on, it became harder; we had used the best props or the eyes grew weary after days of full immersion into the creative process. But good planning and that bit of German Rottweiler in me made us drive on. It was only afterwards that photographer Jean Cazals told me that most books only manage pictures for 75% of the content. Had he not worked with many pastry chefs before? I find, in our profession, it’s not good being late - who wants a wedding cake delivered the day after the wedding?
And as the official publishing date moves closer (1 May), it really does feel as if Christmas will be early.