Gerhard Jenne remembers how he started gaining attention as a well-known baker, by cleverly targeting a rather famous celebrity, who will shortly be doing her own baking star turn
Before I started Konditor & Cook, I used to work for society grocer, baker, wholesaler, butcher, florist and restaurateurs Justin de Blank and Robert Troop. Rather a long list of professions, you might think, yet in all those disciplines they had independent businesses that formed a small empire and a hotbed for future talent.
Food writers like Nigel Slater and Sibyl Kapoor, did stints in Justin’s kitchens long before they were famous and food gained celebrity status. Others went on to start their own events-catering businesses, restaurants and cookery schools.
I had decided I wasn’t going to be left behind. While at Justin’s I had made myself a bit of a name as a celebrity cake-maker, creating party pieces for the likes of Tina Turner, the Rolling Stones, Ringo Starr, and even royalty. And opening a niche business doing just that, or something similar, was what I was secretly already working on.
Setting up a business is one thing, but how do you get new customers, or those who know you, to follow you?
One of the recipes I used to bake was a sable biscuit, featuring stem ginger. A sweet pastry made with icing sugar for a finer texture was seasoned with dried ginger as well as chopped pieces of stem ginger. The dough was then rolled into long cylindrical strands and coated in soft brown sugar. After setting them in the fridge they were cut into small disks and baked to a golden colour: perfect for afternoon tea.
I still remember one celebrity used to be in love with them, but I was about to leave and I wanted her to know that I was about to jump ship and set up on my own – on what was then a very unfashionable South Bank. Come on now, I thought, how could I get her to follow me and switch allegiances?
At this point the story took a welcome twist. A friend of mine was working for a Munich radio station and was about to conduct an interview with this very fan of my baking. It was going to be an afternoon tea at the Hilton, so I suggested a little stunt by surprising her with her favourite biscuits, and, sure enough, she was totally flabbergasted that an unknown journalist in Munich knew of her craving for these cookies: “Oh come now,” she said. “How did you know? Shout it out.”
Meanwhile, I had made sure that my new business card was in the bottom of the box and, indeed, the stunt worked, for not only did I get a signed copy of her album, but her desire for those ginger cookies soon led her to the wilderness of Waterloo for a visit to Konditor & Cook and follow-up orders.
‘So why are you telling us this story?’ I can hear you say. Well, I hope that some of my magic baking dust has rubbed off on her, for this year she is one of the participants in the BBC’s Great Comic Relief Bake Off. Oh yes, surely someone will have seen enough clues by now to know whom I am referring to.
As you might have guessed, my fingers will be crossed for the lovely “ginger” Lulu, who called me her favourite baker long before she met a certain Mr Hollywood. Now, where is that recipe for ‘Ginger Lulus’? Time to bake them for old times’ sake.
Watch the Great Comic Relief Bake Off live on BBC1 on Wednesday, 11 February, at 8pm or on the BBC’s iPlayer.