Who is Penelope d'Arcy Graham?

I started my career in cakes purely by accident, in fact, I think it would be fair to say that my arm initially had to be twisted!

I originally trained at Art College in Textile design where I met my best friend Natt. Having spent many hours together in the studio we found that after graduation we no longer got to see one another. So we decided to go to night school, and we decided to choose the ‘glamourous’ location of Penge in south east London. Flicking through the prospectus together I was pretty keen that we were going to go and learn all about Astronomy. Natt though wasn’t really up for the idea of stargazing in the cold on Penge high street and signed us both up for a course in Sugarcraft instead. She is clearly much wiser than me!

Now cake decoration was definitely quite different when I began nearly 15 years ago, and one thing is for sure, it certainly didn’t carry the same kudos that it does now. But the class was brilliant and cliched though it is, I was hooked from the first night, when we made a teddy bear out of modelling paste, with mine looking slightly demonic.

I soon started to sell cakes to friends and family and I will never forget my first cake order, it was absolutely covered in decorations just to hide all the cracks! And I think I had had to bake three cakes just to get to that point!

Soon with practice and the investment of some better tools I improved, and word soon spread so I set up my own business from home where I supplied cakes to Harrods, London Zoo, St Paul's Cathedral and appeared in Editorials such as BRIDES and You and Your Wedding. I loved running my own business, but I got quite lonely by myself and felt I needed a bit more structure in my life so I started to teach and work part time in the kitchens at ‘Cakes 4 Fun’ in Putney, London.

Now there are three things that I learned quite quickly when I started working in a commercial kitchen;

  1. How much washing up there is.
  2. To always stir the eggs into the cake mix before turning on the mixer (55 eggs over you and the ceiling will usually happen only once).
  3. How your whole body hurts after standing on your feet all day.

But I loved it, and it was so inspiring to work in a kitchen with other artists seeing how they approached things. That is why I think that social media is so great now for us bakers and decorators, it is like being in everyone's kitchens all inspiring and learning from each other!

However, it was teaching that I loved and I went on to become Courses’ Manager at Cakes 4 Fun. I am proud to say that we had taught over 6000 students by the time I left to join Peggy Porschen Cakes as their Academy Manager. I genuinely had the best time at both places (even though sometimes it was very hard indeed), both businesses taught me invaluable lessons in different strengths and different skills.

I now work independently and really get to do a little bit of everything that I love; training, recipe development, writing, product development… not to mention eating lots of cake (even though sometimes the cake is not that appealing when I have had a slightly dodgy recipe experiment!). It is nice to say that I still get a buzz every time I make something myself, or even better when my students do. And I always try to have a little photo shoot of everyone's work after class.

One of the other big perks about my job is that I get to work all over the world teaching everyone from large scale bakeries to smaller groups and individuals. I have worked with some incredible people and businesses and it has been so satisfying to see some of my students become some of the best in the industry now!

Throughout my work and travels Wilton and the Wilton Method has always featured heavily and been a huge support. Wilton will always come up with an ingenious product that will make something easy, achievable and fun. For example, don’t tell anyone, but piping is not my most favourite thing to do, but give me the Wilton Duo Tip and I love it!  I also really like the brand’s ethos, cakes are for everyone, no matter what age or what ability. I often find that the Wilton method will have just the right way of teaching something so that no matter how experienced you are, you can achieve it like a pro!

Now, I often get asked for some interesting cake facts, so to finish I thought I would share a few with you:

  • The biggest cake I have worked on was taller than me, and I am 6 ft tall!
  • The most expensive cake I’ve been a part of making cost over £200,000!!!!!!!!!
  • The worst cake catastrophe was a giant 1 m sq Rubix cube collapsing on the way to the Rubix cube party at Hamleys. Everyone knows there is no party without a cake!
  • I can’t tell you the rudest cake in writing, but if you meet me I’ll happily spill the beans.

Thanks so much for reading! I look forward to all of us learning, inspiring and having fun together!

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