Lily Vanilli Sprinkling Some Sugar on Georgia

Exclusive Interview

Last Friday, guests were invited to Stamba Hotel to celebrate the opening of the Tbilisi branch of the famous and much-loved Lily Vanilli café. Surrounded by the sweet fruity and chocolaty creations of founder Lily Jones and her team, and a sumptuous flower display by Emma Weaver from Palais Flowers, GEORGIA TODAY got the chance to meet London's Best-Loved Baker and find out how she does it.

Lily, how did you get into your craft? What inspired you and how did you come to reach the level you are at today?

I’m a self-taught baker, so I learned through years of experimenting, reading and practice and have owned my bakery in London since 2008. It was an unconventional education, but I think if you’re really passionate about something, this can be a really good thing, as you develop a style that’s unique and your own. I’m still always learning and taking inspiration from everywhere - that’s one of the things I’ve loved about discovering Tbilisi and working here - adapting to local tastes and ingredients and ways of doing things, it's inspiring for me and helps me grow as a baker.

You've been named London's Best-Loved Baker, though you once said you had no plan to have a business in baking. How does the title make you feel and what responsibilities has it put on your shoulders?

I was one of the very first of the new wave of bakers who broke the mold and took a modern approach to food and baking. The bakery grew very organically and by word of mouth, so it has always felt very natural. I only feel happy about it and excited to still be able to do what I love. I’m also grateful that I’ve got to a point where I’m able to give time to projects like this one in Tbilisi.

How did you come to establish a branch in Tbilisi- why here and why now?

I was invited to visit by the British Georgian Chamber of Commerce (BGCC) and met and became friends with my current business partners. We shared a vision for a modern bakery in Tbilisi. Right now, it feels like a very exciting time to be in Tbilisi, all my friends who work in food all around the world are starting to visit, and everyone loves the wine, the city and the food.

Have you been to Georgia before? What are your impressions?

I first came to Georgia in April 2017, having been invited by the BGCC, and visited Tbilisi and Kazbegi. I knew about Georgian wine and had heard that the food was really good, but nothing prepared me for how much I would fall in love with it. The restaurants, the buildings and the beautiful countryside are all magnificent, but above all the grace, generosity and attitude of the people I have met made a huge impression. There’s an incredible spirit in Georgia.

Have you tried any Georgian sweets?

Yes! I love Georgian apple pie, Medoc and sour cherry pie and we have versions of them on our menu at the bakery. I’ve had some good churchkhelas too!

You mentioned "adapting to tastes." In what way have you had to adapt for the Georgian taste?

Lots of custard! And adapting our recipes to use local ingredients, sulguni, tarragon, lobiani. We also developed a menu of the most delicious imaginable dairy free treats for fast days when they come around.

What else have you been working on recently other than the Tbilisi cafe?

I’ve been working on an afternoon tea concept in China, and I released a book this year #BakeForSyria, part of an initiative that raises money for children displaced by the war in Syria by making and sharing food. We’ve raised over £600,000 since 2017. I'm also working on a cake product range for the UK.

Other than the work you've published, do you actively seek to educate others in the craft of baking and confectionery?

It has been one of the things I thought about a lot when working on this project, I love teaching and working with new people - discovering their strengths and learning from them too in the process. I would love to look at ways to teach on a larger scale perhaps in the future, perhaps even in Tbilisi.

Do you train young people/up-and-coming bakers in your London bakery?

Just those that work for me - lots of people over the years, many of whom go on directly to open their own bakeries. I occasionally run classes too, although I prefer to train with people for longer periods.

Which is your favorite cake?

I love my vanilla sponge the best - we make it in Tbilisi with custard and local berries and it's delicious.

I once made a cake that was exhibited as a sculpture at the V&A Museum in London, then cut up and eaten, that was probably the most exciting, with Elton John’s cakes and the recent wedding cake I made for fashion label Shrimps coming close second.

Visit Lily Vanilli’s Tbilisi cafe at 20 Irakli Abashidze Street.


By Katie Ruth Davies

Main image source: Canongate

24 September 2018 19:34