We are pleased to welcome Fiona Cairns as the latest featured guest in our Taste Maker series.
Like the Nyetimber vines, Fiona’s roots are firmly established dating back over 30 years and were planted with a passion that stands true in her work to this day. For Fiona, baking is more than just an art; it is the opportunity to transform commonplace ingredients into extraordinary creations. With this exceptional creativity mixed in with dedication and a long-term vision, Fiona has found a recipe for success that has warranted the attention of Royals, several of whom have developed a sweet spot for her delicious and beautiful creations.
After leaving school, I went to art college where I specialised in graphic design. Little did I know that it would eventually play a crucial role in my cake business. I decided to take a cookery course in London run by Anton Mosimann and Lynn Hall, which exposed me to the world of patisserie. Newly married, I moved to the Midlands where I worked at Hambleton Hall for three years, gaining valuable experience in a Michelin-starred kitchen. Meanwhile, on my kitchen table, I started experimenting with baking by making cakes for friends.
My husband, Kishore, saw the potential. He had a vision and ambition to create a premium cake brand. This was in the mid-80s when there wasn’t much competition. We took a bold step, and our first significant order came from The Conran Shop for 72 miniature cakes. This went so well that Kishore urged me to approach Harrods – the ultimate luxury. The team at Harrods also saw the potential and gave us an opportunity by placing a regular monthly order for their exclusive and famous Food Hall. This led to a regular order, and slowly, the business gained traction. We converted a building in our back garden into a small artisan bakery production area and we started selling to Waitrose in 1994, marking a significant leap for us.
From a small beginning with just 12 employees, we have grown organically to fill five buildings where we continue to create cakes for every celebration with our larger and very talented team.
I feel there are many similarities between us; most notably that our creations are enjoyed when celebrating special moments and marking milestones. Nyetimber’s dedication to producing exceptional quality wines on your Estate compares nicely to our work in transforming ingredients into extraordinary creations. A baker’s key currency is time and for us, the shortcut has little appeal – I imagine that your Head Winemaker and her team at your vineyard share a similar sentiment.
I feel we are very aligned in our celebration of creativity, craft, and the quality of what we produce, as well as the joy we find in the pleasures of life. My team and I are excited about the possibilities that lie ahead and the delightful experiences we can create together.
We have always been passionate about enjoying our sparkling wines with food, and the balanced sweetness of the Cuvee Chérie Demi-Sec sparkling wine means that it complements a dessert course very well. This wine is becoming increasingly popular for weddings as an accompaniment to the wedding cake – an area you know a lot about.
Following the announcement of their engagement the previous year, the process commenced with a meeting at Clarence House, where the royal couple shared their ideas, and the cake design was discussed.
The collaboration involved creating mood boards, drawings, and experimenting with different flavoured fruit cakes as there were many elements to consider; from the flowers of the Four Nations to inspiration taken from the Picture Gallery interiors at Buckingham Palace. The cake was to include 17 flowers and leaves with specific meanings from the Language of Flowers such as Lily of the Valley, meaning sweetness and humility.
The brief perfectly aligned with our style – floral, feminine, modern, and classic with a twist. The process was a unique and emotional journey, marked by the challenge of living up to the symbolism of this extra-special wedding cake. The result was a cake with over 900 delicate sugar-paste flowers that took over five weeks to create. My team, in addition to the Head Chef at The Royal Household, Mark Flanagan and Pastry Chef Catherine Boyden, played crucial roles in ensuring perfection, considering the global spotlight on the occasion.
The responsibility felt daunting at times; however, the experience was an unforgettable and rewarding journey for the entire team.
Just like a glass of Nyetimber, our fairy cakes, are classically British. These small, flat-topped cakes feature fondant icing and are iconic to us. Cupcakes, influenced by American trends, are larger, sweeter, and often topped with buttercream. Both pair superbly with the Nyetimber Cuvee Chérie due to its slightly sweet style – I love it!
When pursuing personal creations, avoid overwhelming yourself with ambition. Know your limits, keep it simple, and savour the process. Whether baking or cooking, the love for what you create shines through, making it truly special. I’m quite sentimental myself, keeping ribbons and mementoes in keepsake boxes to cherish the memories crafted through these creations.