Q&A with Fiona Cairns: my career
How did you get into the baking industry?
I did graphic design at college, spent a few years as a freelance illustrator and then took a cookery course when nouvelle cuisine was very popular. I got a job at Hambleton Hall in Rutland, where I specialised in cakes and patisseries, but started making cakes in my kitchen at home for friends' birthdays and weddings. My cakes were quite experimental and I got my first commercial order for miniature Christmas cakes from the Conran Shop.
How has the business grown?
It has changed out of all recognition. I started off with one part-time lady helping me and staff numbers increased when I moved to a converted building in our garden. I used to ring people up I had a lot of audacity then and got contracts with The Ritz and Fortnum & Mason among others, while we also got lots of orders for bespoke cakes. In the early days I'd often work seven days a week and did everything including the paperwork. I'm a creative person, not business-minded, but my husband, Kishore, saw the potential of the company and joined us full-time 11 years ago to run the business side. We've got 76 staff now and are based at a bakery in Fleckney, Leicestershire.
Has your role evolved?
I used to find it difficult to delegate as I didn't think anyone else had the same passion, but now that doesn't worry me as much, because we've got such a good team. I also used to do all the NPD but now there's someone who does a lot of that. I love my job and can concentrate on being creative. But if it weren't for my husband's involvement I would still be making cakes at the kitchen table!
What impact has making the Royal Wedding cake had on the business?
Our name has become much more well-known. We've had thousands of emails since the Royal Wedding from all over the world and from very unlikely places huge interest from Brazil, for example. We won't be doing anything overseas, though, apart from possibly selling cakes in Japan for Christmas. I've also had lots of offers to do talks, demonstrations and teaching but I can't do everything. I plan to keep moving the business forward which is challenging, but I like to think I have grasped opportunities, made the right decisions and always been a perfectionist I don't compromise.
* Interview originally published in British Baker, 15 July, 2011