Tutor Naomi Yamamoto.
The history of Squires Kitchen International School began in Beverley Dutton’s kitchen, in 1984, with the investment of one week’s housekeeping money. At the time she was making cakes from home to sell to restaurants and delicatessens as well as taking private novelty cake commissions but soon realised that it was the business side of the venture that appealed to her so she opened a shop to sell equipment and edibles. After 30 years the school is one of the most important and well recognised in Europe.
We have the pleasure to visit the school and the shop and the honour to interview Beverley.
It is not easy to start a business: how did you manage this on a week’s housekeeping?
Yes, if you start on a shoestring as I did, you have to be creative to get your business noticed. The first thing I did was to walk around my hometown of Farnham one evening to find the most boring and uninspiring shop window. This happened to be an insurance broker in the main high street and the best position in town. The next day I suggested to the manager that I could make his window look much more appealing by displaying my cakes and attracting attention to his business too. Thankfully he loved the idea and he gave me the free run of his window space to promote my cakes and classes; needless to say I paid him back in cake! And it worked, many more students booked on our courses and I hadn’t had to pay for advertising.
Why did you decide to open a school?
As more and more people started to come to the shop I realised that they were looking for the skills and knowledge to be able to create professional-looking cakes and saw a great opportunity to do something I had a passion for. At the time, there were not many places in the UK offering courses to learn more about this art form and in fact very few manufacturers or suppliers, so we began to create products of our own.
Can you give us a brief history of the school?
As the classes in my home kitchen became more and more popular, I needed to look for new premises to enable us to employ more staff for the shop and tutors to take on the teaching role. By 1991 my husband Robert and I decided to look for suitable premises that offered us potential for growth and room for both our school and shop under one roof. These are the shop premises we are still in today and at that time the school was in a room at the rear of the shop. Fast forward more than 20 years and we have moved the school into its own building along with our publishing offices on the first floor. Over the years we have been privileged to meet many talented sugar artists who have the skills to teach, and others who were already teaching cake decorating and wanted to become a tutor. Long-standing friends from this time include Alan Dunn, Eddie Spence MBE, Paddi Clark and Ann Skipp whose knowledge, teaching and artistic skills are legendary around the world. The school now accommodates 24 students each day, 12 in our specialist sugarcraft room where we teach all forms of sugar art and 12 in our equipped baking and chocolate room. We can also accommodate up to 40 visitors for demos.
What is your philosophy?
Giving students the ‘Confidence to Create’ in an inspiring and friendly environment and is at the heart of everything we do. We believe anyone can bake beautifully and master the art of cake decorating and sugarcraft– all you need is confidence. It is our mission to help students achieve their goals and enjoy their time with us.
When did you start to develop your own brand?
The first product I developed was SK Petal Powder, a powder mix flower paste which was a truly new recipe and was so novel that it secured the company’s first British Patent in 1991. We made the first batches in 1 kilo bags and dispensed into tubs for sale through our shop. As demand grew we made up batches in 5 kilo buckets, at this point other shops were asking us to supply them and through this our distribution network grew. Today we manufacture the majority of our 2,000 own-brand products in our own modern factory in Hampshire and employ talented full-time food scientists and creative designers.
Why is Squires Kitchen’s School so well recognised around the world?
Here we have a dedicated in-house team who work to keep the curriculum current and to promote a fun learning atmosphere. Our team is always looking for new trends and techniques and also new tutors who can bring their unique expertise. We get many requests from schools outside of the UK to bring our tutors and school curriculum to them, so they can access our tutors’ specialist knowledge and years of expertise and also gain a prestigious certificate. We have taught bespoke courses in many countries over the years such as Russia, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Sweden and Malaysia, with 2014 seeing plans to teach the SK curriculum at venues in several other countries.
What classes do you offer?
We have a huge range of trendsetting courses to choose from, but our key focus is on traditional sugarcraft such as royal icing, pastillage, modelling and sugar flowers as these form the basis of all cake decoration skills. These are skills that go back hundreds of years and we are proud to have the knowledge of the history of sugar and its different uses to share with our students. This history is also supported by our wide ranging museum collection of sugarcraft, baking and confectionery items spanning over 300 years. Students can also choose from our extensive range of baking, cake decorating and chocolate courses at all levels including how to make cakes, cookies, pastries and breads from scratch. Professional intensive cake decoration courses are popular, as are our French patisserie and specialist chocolate wedding cake classes.
Which are the most popular?
Our Professional Intensive Week of Cake Decorating: is a fast-track, intensive and professional six-day course designed to cover the key skills in sugarcraft. The course covers a different skill each day with a tutor who is an expert in that field. It’s perfect for beginners who want to gain the foundation skills they need to become a well-rounded cake decorator. Our Foundation courses offering essential sugarcraft skills are also very popular, as are the chocolate classes with our resident Master Chocolatier, Mark Tilling who is the UK Chocolate Master 2006-2010. We’ve also seen an increase in interest for our baking classes which cover everything from artisan breads to French pâtisserie. Students are always eager to attend masterclasses with world-leading experts such as Eddie Spence MBE, Carlos Lischetti and Alan Dunn.
Your tutors are well known in all Europe: how do you select them?
Many people have artistic talents that can be transferred to sugarcraft, but to be able to teach these skills in a way that gives students the confidence to be creative themselves is an art form in its own right. When new tutors join our team it is, of course, very important to us that they are highly motivated and the very best sugar artists with their own unique style. We look for lovely people who are professional and have a passion for what they do. We are always searching for new talent to keep our courses contemporary and we work with expert tutors from all over the world who share their expertise with our students. Every tutor and ambassador has one thing in common that unites them: their love of sugarcraft and the years of practice and dedication that it has taken to become an expert in their particular subject.
Squires Kitchen Exhibition is the longest running show of its kind in Europe: what are its main features?
Squires Kitchen’s Annual Exhibition is one of the most anticipated events in the cake lover’s calendar – it is a boutique show, celebrating everything to do with the amazing art of cake decorating and sugarcraft. The three-day event attracts thousands of enthusiasts from all over the world who come to see displays, watch demonstrations, buy the latest products and learn more about their favourite pastime or profession.
What are your strengths?
As well as the International School, the wider Squires Group has an online shop – www.squires-shop.com, a magazine publishing division – Squires Kitchen Magazine Publishing – and a book publishing division – B. Dutton Publishing Ltd. The company also has a design facility, manufacturing, distribution and warehousing for over 6,000 products, many of which are own brand. All these things add to our specialist knowledge give us our unique heritage. We have developed a worldwide reputation for excellence, with 25% of students coming from overseas. After each course you will leave with a Squires Kitchen Certificate to show your achievements. More importantly, you will leave with plenty of new knowledge and skills to continue practising as well as the confidence to create your own cakes. With a fully-stocked shop on site and 10% off in store when you attend a course with us, we offer all of the sugarcraft, baking and chocolate equipment and accessories that you could need to further your learning at home or in your business.
In the last four to five years the art of cake design has taken Italy by storm, as demonstrated by the large number of courses throughout the country, the trade shows, the themed magazines and books.
What is the situation in England and in your school?
We have seen all aspects of baking and cake making growing in popularity over the last 30 years but the last 5 years have seen the same growth in the UK that Italy has seen and we are delighted to have taught many Italian students during this time. We are finding that people have returned to baking from scratch and now want to know how to present their cakes perfectly iced, like the professionals. It has been very interesting for us to see how Italians are particularly talented at sugar modelling and novelty work. As in Italy, there has also been an increase in baking related television programmes, exhibitions and magazines which Squires Kitchen has been part of. B. Dutton Publishing Ltd. has published many exciting cake decorating books in the past five years including Squires Kitchen’s Guide to Making Iced Flowers by Ceri DD Griffiths, Animation in Sugar by Carlos Lischetti (also available in Italian) and The Art of Royal Icing by Eddie Spence MBE. The next release will be The Art of Sugarcraft, the long-awaited cake decorator’s companion, offering something for creative cake makers of all abilities – from basic recipes to masterclasses in sugarcraft. This definitive collection of sugarcraft, cake decorating, baking and chocolate techniques features over 40 illustrated projects presented by our leading tutors.
How has the art of sugarcraft changed over the last 30 years and how do you see its future?
Sugarcraft has seen an amazing array of fashions and new skills in the past 30 years – innovation has been unstoppable with cake makers not just icing their cakes, but creating edible works of art. However this is not new and as the history of sugar shows us, impressive works in sugar have been made for hundreds of years and therefore it makes sense that this art form will continue in some way, popular or specialised, for hundreds of years to come. The exciting thing about sugarcraft is that it is always changing, with new trends and techniques emerging all the time. As a family business, we continue to look forward to being at the very forefront of this movement with future generations.