Eric Lanlard: Cake Boy

Master Patissier, TV show host and owner of Cake Boy, Eric Lanlard is in Cape Town this week for the Good Food and Wine Show. We sat down with the Frenchman before a private breakfast of omelettes and eggs Benedict with pork belly whipped up by Garth Almazan of Catharina’s and Brad Ball of Bistro Sixteen82, plus Eric’s own chocolate hazelnut muffins with chocolate chips, at Steenberg Estate.

How it all started

Given Eric’s career path, you might be surprised to learn he prefers savoury foods to sweet. “I don’t have a sweet tooth. Give me cheese, give me charcuterie, give me steak and chips!”

Rather, it was the French tradition of the patisserie that captured Eric’s imagination at the age of five. “It’s almost religious,” jokes Eric, speaking of the ritual of visiting the local patisserie on a Sunday.

“Even the smallest village will have three or four patisseries, each with their own speciality. You’d go to one for the best éclairs, then jump to the other one for the best mille-feuille. And the beautiful packaging! After leaving the patisserie with your cakes, you walk in the street feeling like a million dollars.”

At age 10 he dragged his mom to the patisserie where he wanted to do his apprenticeship. After being encouraged by the chef to finish all his exams at college, Eric started there at age 18. “The whole team took me under their wings – well, in a headlock – and they really shared their passion.”

From there, he moved to England, and began to be noticed while working at a bakery that supplied Harrods. At that stage, the concept of celebrity chefs didn’t really exist, but his profile began to grow because of VIP customers, including the royal family and the other royal family, The Beckhams.

“Being on TV gives me the opportunity to share my passion for baking. I guess the French accent always helps to sell cake! But I think it’s also down to my relaxed approach. My TV shows and cookbooks are not designed for professionals. We do give a taste of what we do in the shop (Cake Boy) – glamorous cakes and glamorous events – but we also do Eric at home, cooking like anyone else does.”

The baking trend 

Eric’s story is also the story of the reinvigoration of baking in the UK. When he first started out, TV show producers and publishing companies weren’t convinced that anyone would be interested in the seemingly complicated, time-consuming practice. But a few years later, baking is the biggest food craze in the UK, with phenomena like baking clubs and themed parties.

Many competitive cooking shows have also been a big driver in generating interest. The second season of his series, Baking Mad, which premiers on BBC Lifestyle in June, sees Eric running bake-offs with contestants. “But I’m not going to be mister nasty, with swearing. That’s not me!”

So what advice would Eric give to aspiring bakers? “In France we like to say baking is science. It is chemistry. You can’t approach baking like you do making an omelette or a stew, where you can put a little of everything in, use your leftovers, or swop your ingredients.

I always say, ‘Take the recipe word by word; weigh all your ingredients first. And just enjoy it. That’s when it will work.’ ”

But, says Eric, baking is also very rewarding. “You will rarely bake a cake or order a cake from a patisserie when you’re having a bad time or a bad day. It’s usually for a happy occasion; friends coming, family coming, birthday or a wedding.”

The UK and SA

“When I arrived in the UK, I was horrified,” says Eric. “Even Michelin-starred chefs’ standards were so old-fashioned. I realised that if I was going to stay I would have to change things. Which I did.”

So what does he think of South African food? “The food is much lighter and chefs are really working harder than some of the European chefs,” says Eric, who has visited the country many times on holiday.

So far this trip he has dined at Steenberg, where Garth made ‘stunning food’, including a starter of clear tomato soup with a vegetable terrine. “I said to Garth it was like eating spring on the plate. Light and fresh! You don’t get food like that in UK.”

He also had a great meal at Cuvée, where the chef did a whole lunch with chocolate, including carrot risotto with white chocolate and blue cheese, served with chardonnay.

“I am very inspired by the food here. Luke Dale-Roberts, I love his cooking. Last time he was still at La Colombe, but this time I would love to go to The Test Kitchen – I have to! Even if I have to eat in the kitchen on the floor!” Eric enthuses.

“I always tell my French chefs: we need to go down and have a look at what this guy is doing. That’s the future of cooking.”

By Linda Scarborough with Katharine Jacobs

Photographs by Kate Whitaker

Eric’s book, Chocolat, published by Mitchell Beazley, with photography by Kate Whitaker, features 90 new recipes including both rustic and sophisticated desserts; sweets like truffles and caramels; and drinks like hot chocolate and even a chocolate martini.

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