An Edible Canvas: Interview with Jen Lo from Bakedown Cakery

by Jen Lo

Do you come from a family of good cooks?
My mum is a fantastic cook! My heritage is Chinese Malaysian, so you can imagine all of the amazing things that get put on the table when we have family get togethers. I think without her influence I probably wouldn't have gotten into baking at such a young age. I remember when I was growing up in England I would always get so excited about mixing cookie dough with my hands!! Messy business for a 5 year old! Mostly though, I think I come from a family of good eaters—people who love to try different things and that are more adventurous with their tastes!
Oh you're originally from England, what brought you to Australia?
I was born there and moved over to Australia when I was about 6? So technically, I suppose I didn't 'grow up' in England. My dad used to be a satellite engineer for British Aerospace, so from a young age I got accustomed to moving around a lot—needless to say we ended up settling down in Australia for Dad's work, but also to be close to extended family!
So you’ve been at this baking business a while! Can you remember the first thing you made, with no help from Mum?
I loved baking from (in hindsight) this ridiculous DK children's cook book, and I used to think I was such a pro in the kitchen whenever what I was making looked exactly like the terrible photos in it! Haha! In saying that, I feel like the first thing that I baked on my own was probably the chocolate chip cookie recipe from that book, though I can't really remember with 100% clarity what it was.
Haha cute! Any other cookbooks that have been particularly important to you?
The Australian Womens Weekly Cooking School book played a huge part in my love of trying out new recipes. The recipes were always so straight forward and more often than not accompanied by big delicious looking photos on the adjacent page. It was probably a big step forward for me in terms of progressing from cookies to cakes, tarts, macarons and all manner of other delicious sweet things! More recently though, the discovery of the dedication in Meringue Girls first book has been a catalyst for all things wonderful—"This book is dedicated to everyone who dreams about leaving their 9-5. Just go for it."
You originally have a design/illustration background right? Can you describe how you got from there to Bakedown Cakery?
That's right! In some ways, the process of graduating from a 4-year design degree to switching to opening my own bakery with no actual food education wasn't such a big surprise for people who know me well. When I left high school, I was very clearly sitting on the fence about whether I wanted to pursue a career in design or whether I wanted to go Le Cordon Bleu to study culinary arts. I left it a bit to chance and told myself that if I got high enough marks to study Visual Communications that's what I would do—otherwise I would take path B. Needless to say, I've done an entire full circle and at the end of a contract in late 2014, I dropped everything to pursue my other passion.
What part of the process do you enjoy most at Bakedown?
I have to say that the most enjoyable part of the process is when the cake is baked, the apartment smells amazing, and you can finally turn your edible canvas into something that looks like a piece of art! I know that everything that I've learned in the past comes into play—colour wheels, textures, shapes—all of those aesthetic choices that I make on a day to day basis that have in some way been influenced by my past experience. I also really enjoy eating the off cuts from cakes (haha) and I always love experimenting with new flavours!
Any valuable lessons you learned from your background in design that perhaps aren’t to do with aesthetics?
While a lot of the stuff I learned was very much to do with aesthetics, I think learning to be methodical and organised in tackling multiple projects at once has really helped with me being able to juggle four or five big cake orders over the span of a couple of days. I think in some ways my experience as a freelancer has helped me to manage expectations, guide clients through creative ideas and really help me to dig for what people are after!!
You have an incredible selection of cakes. Do you have a personal favourite?
Oh...that's a really hard question! As if they were children, I'd like to say that I feel the same about all of them. But I think if I really had to choose, I love Bakedown's signature 'Pigs in the Mud' chocolate cake with Lapsang Souchong infused ganache (recipe below)...Pandan Coconut...and I can never not eat the leftover Oreo buttercream.
When you're not making delicious cakes, what's your favourite thing to cook?
To be honest, Mr Bakedown is the better cook when it comes to savoury foods, though one of our personal favourites to cook and eat is my mum's delicious fried tom yum bee hoon. It's like an amped up version of instant noodles but with so much more flavour and spice! Yum, yum, yum!
I think we need the recipe!
Absolutely! I'll get onto it!
Do you consume much food related media? TV shows, blogs etc. Any favourites?
Probably a little bit too much! Anything Jamie Oliver, Destination Flavour with Adam Liaw (very much looking forward to the Scandinavian one), River Cottage, The Incredible Spice Men and Netflix Chefs Table (which is actually my all time favourite EVER in the whole wide world food series). Weirdly they're mostly about savouries than sweets, but they're still incredibly inspiring.
Do you have any tips for home cooks wanting to turn their passion for food into a business?
The best piece of advice that someone gave me when I started is that opening your own business is hard, and that perseverance along with passion is the absolute key to making it work. You can be 100% passionate about something but you've got to be just as ridiculously headstrong and stubborn about constantly working to learn and do more. Let your fear drive you (not paralyse you), and don't be afraid to try new things. If I look back at the journey so far, I think I've come a long way from the scared, self-doubting woman that I used to be—don't give up at the first hurdle. Don't punish yourself when you fail, because failure is awesome—it means that you've learned something new.

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Try Jen's "Pig's In The Mud" cupcake recipe:
Bakedown 'Pigs in the Mud'

About the Author

Jen Lo

Home baker living in Sydney, and oh, how I do love to eat!

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