The latest in our series of creative profiles focusses on pastry chef Charlotte O’Toole aka Bakeorama.
We talk gumball machines, branching out on your own and keeping it in the family.
Imagery & baking by Charlotte O’Toole
Interview by Emily Beard
Portrait by Elle Brotherhood
Hi Charlotte! Tell us a little about yourself for those who aren’t familiar.
Hi! I’m a pastry chef specialising in cake-making and decorating, better known as ‘Bakeorama’, based in Manchester. I’m known for my over-the-top, eccentric and highly stylised cake designs. I create bespoke cake designs as well as editorial work and creative commissions.
You initially began working at Home Sweet Home, how did that come about?
I had just finished at a previous baking job and they were looking for someone to bake for a few hours per week. I was initially planning on launching straight into my own business, having my own brand ready to go, and thought it would help out with the bills. I got the job on the spot and started the same week. At that time there were only a few set options on a couple of cake stands and I started to build up the counter in my own style. I was given free rein as it was successful and within a year we had one of the busiest cake counters in Manchester, mentions in national magazines, a Manchester Food and Drink Festival award, a Yelp! award, and a working bakery producing lots of innovative treats and cakes under my direction. I am really proud of what I achieved alongside the company and am lucky to be able to take that creativity and high standard of work with me into the new phase of my career.
And now you’re branching out onto your own! What do you have planned in your new venture, ‘Bakeorama’?
I am yes! I decided to stop directing the bakery at Home Sweet Home to keep full creative control of what I have built up as they expanded into set mass production, which wasn’t what I wanted for my brand. As soon as I announced I was a free agent the work offers came in thick and fast so I’ve not had a chance to catch my breath really! Harvey Nichols offered me their cake counter in Manchester, which is amazing, and so you’ll be able to get my products there in 2016. I was also approached by the legendary creative director Miss Cakehead who was working with Cadbury on their Christmas Cadvent truck campaign and asked me to be involved in the design of truck number 1 with Juliet Sear (Cakeology) and a set design company called Halo in London. This was a massive national campaign and a chance for me to channel Willy Wonka and go nuts. It was hard work but worth the end result of a grotto completely made of Cadbury’s chocolate and some of the biggest display cakes I’ve ever made! It looked stunning after an overnight fit with the team. It pushed me creatively plus I ate about 1,000 Freddos in the process. I love product development and have a few jobs in the pipeline designing menus and training staff for others so I’m looking
forward to getting stuck into that. The business seems to be naturally expanding and taking its new shape so it’s exciting for me to see it getting bigger. The type of jobs I’m offered are quite eclectic so it’s just happening organically really, which I like.
It goes without saying that your cakes are AMAZING! How did you come to your signature style that you’re so well known for?
Thank you! It’s been something that’s progressed over time really. I keep photos of all of my creations and like to look back over them for a kick of inspiration and also to see how I’ve changed and developed. It’s not accidental they look the way they do even though they appear chaotic. I like to use both edible and non-edible items to decorate with. My current obsession is gumball machines – they look ridiculously good overspilling their contents onto a cake!
It’s a real family affair with your mum helping you out with all the amazing toppers you use on the cakes. How is it collaborating with her?
It’s great actually. She obviously knows what I like and she designs things she knows I’ll find amusing and perfect for adding touches of individuality to the cakes. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I get my creative touch from her; she can make anything and helped with the Cadbury build, spending hours working on 30 feet of chocolate garlands to adorn the truck. Being able to offer clients something unique on their cakes is important to me as it helps sets Bakeorama apart.
Whereabouts do you like to look for inspiration?
I think Instagram and Pinterest is fantastic for inspirational pictures and I lose hours looking through them. They’re a good way of keeping up with trends to keep things current. Clients come to me with ideas they want to include in their cake design and I develop them from there with my take on it. I love anything from 50s kitsch and 60s Pop Art to 70s glitter and 80s vaporwave. Anything tacky and plastic speaks to me.
As we’re guessing you spend a LOT of time in the kitchen, do you have anything you like to listen to when baking?
I do indeed! Having some good music to listen to is inspiring and keeps me upbeat on busy days. I load up playlists of my favourites to get varied stuff on there! I love Horsemeat Disco to make me feel glittery and like I should be rolling around the kitchen in rainbow roller boots.
We really loved your cake for Charli XCX, who would you love to make a cake for?
Aw thank you! I’ve done a couple for Charli and Boohoo now and they are always insanely popular on Instagram. That’s a hard question actually! Maybe a private commission from Lady Gaga would be a good one design-wise! Anything totally outrageous would be perfect so maybe one of my cake heroes Charles Phoenix would like a Bakeorama creation? Closer to home I would love to see one of my cakes on Coronation Street!
Hard question- but do you have a favourite cake you’ve created?
My answer changes constantly on that! My Cadbury cakes were the biggest I’ve made so they would be my recent choices – the anti-gravity cake with two metres of cascading Roses and the chocolate gumball cake were special!
Is there a cake concept you’d love to try but haven’t had the chance to yet?
I’d like to get more moving parts into them. A chocolate fountain inside and pumping out of a cake would be amazing. I’d like to work on the insides of the cakes having more colour and pattern so that’s one of my many projects for 2016.
And finally, do you have any advice you live by?
As clichéd as it sounds it really is nice to be nice. I’ve made lots of lovely friends in the hospitality trade that help each other out and support each other’s businesses and it’s really important to us all prospering.