Bleeding hearts, worms and eyeballs, broken glass, tombstones and KKK spooky ghosts are not exactly the usual icing and sprinkles one finds on cupcakes. Lily Vanilli’s beautiful and delicious creations have been wowing everyone that’s seen or tasted them.
Last year, she topped the Guardian’s Courvoisier 500 list of young entrepreneurs, with an application consisting entirely of a link to her Facebook page. Celebrity clients have included Elton John, Downing Street (back in Gordon’s days), and Henry Holland, while most recently Ms. Vanilli’s cupcakes have been bought up by Harrods for their food hall. Did I mention she’s modeled for Levi’s, and is a down-right hustler when it comes to the EFES pool tables?
After already being reprinted twice, Lily Vanilli’s ghoulishly themed recipe book A Zombie Ate My Cupcake was launched at Harrods on Friday with a special Halloween themed high-tea installation. Whilst fleeing the zombie waiters, Don’t Panic asked Lily about baking outfits, the Experimental Food Society and Cupcake Wars.
Why are you known as ‘the rock n’ roll baker’?
I don’t know. I think ‘cause Dazed and Confused wrote that. They said it because I made like kind of dark cakes, and I said in an interview I baked at nighttime. So that’s why they said it.
It suggests that when you’re baking you’re wearing a leather jacket, ripped Ramones t-shirt and some cut off jeans shorts.
Yeah, my apron’s held together with safety pins. I do listen to rock n’ roll when I’m baking, some Metallica.
You don’t listen to the Zombies when you’re baking?
Not yet. Maybe I’ll put it on my playlist.
How did you get into doing it in the first place? Did you always bake when you were younger?
Not really. I liked it but I didn’t really. We had quite a shit oven at home and my family didn’t ever really bake. I just was really into cooking and experimenting with techniques and flavors. That’s where baking is really interesting, because it’s a scientific process and it’s very calculated.
You’re involved in the Experimental Food Society. Do you see other people and seeing the mad ideas that they’re bringing to what they’re doing?
Definitely. I’m a member. We had our first spectacular where we showcased our foods and it was really inspiring. I don’t know why at the moment but in England there’s a lot of interesting things happening with food, it’s quite fun and definitely experimental.
Have you guys got more events coming up?
Yeah we’ve got loads of stuff coming up. We just did a zombie in-store event at Harrods for the official launch of my book. It was with a theater group called Heritage Arts Company. They were interactive zombie waiters in coats and tails, very sophisticated zombies with a dining table and a great set Mark Connell built, who I worked on the Ash video with. He built this great gnarly old dining table and we had a cake stand with a skull staked through the middle. We had all the cakes from the book and the illustrator of the book had drawn this amazing backdrop with a haunted house.
What’s the weirdest cake that you’ve made?
They’re all quite weird. I always try and do something neat. But this one chick asked me to do an exact replica of her boyfriend’s head, on a plate. Because I had it in a cake box, it was like that scene from Seven. It was so big that the lid wouldn’t fit on. That was weird because I’d starred at this guys face for 17 hours on his Facebook profile. When I saw him in real life it felt really weird ‘cause he didn’t know me and I knew him.
Did you prefer the real face or the cake face?
I like the cake face, it’s more delicious.
There was one project where you were producing 5,000 cupcakes each with a different pantone color on it?
Yeah, each cupcake made up a pixel in an image. It was for this TV show called Cupcake Wars, on The Food Network.
How does that TV show work?
I don’t really know but I think it’s huge in America. I’ve read about it but I’ve never seen it. We were commissioned to make these 5,000 cakes. It was a really big job. We didn’t sleep for three days and three nights.
Do you think, in some small way, you’re trying to change the world one cupcake at a time?
No, but, I think for whatever reason, I ended up being caught up in that whirlwind of cupcakes and there’s a lot of bullshit there. I’d like to think that I’m bringing some sort of quality and dignity back to baking in Britain, because there’s just a whole world of shit that came out of that, and really bad quality. People paying a lot of money for it too and there wasn’t really a good option. So yeah, I don’t know about the world, maybe Harrods’ food hall.
What inspires the particular recipes that you do? For example, the really iconic one which always stays in my head, is the heart, how did you have the idea first to have a cake with a bleeding heart on top of it, and then actually make it?
I don’t know. I had to do 25 recipes for the book, and I just experimented with stuff the night before the photo shoot; we had 3 shoots. Some things worked and some things didn’t, and I just thought of anything that would. What’s weird now is that I pretty much wrote most of those recipes or did the designs just once for that photo shoot, and when I make them now I have to use the book to remember how to do it. I’m like, “where did I put that recipe again? Oh yeah.”
Lily Vanilli in A Zombie Ate My Cupcake
can be ordered here
. For more information on Lily see her blog