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Q&A with Bernadette McGee, author of Magnolia Kitchen

Posted by Lucy H on 30th Jul 2019

Q&A with Bernadette McGee, author of Magnolia Kitchen

A Great Read recently spoke to Bernadette Gee from Magnolia Kitchen, a New Zealand bakery which has a world-wide following thanks to her gorgeous cake designs and the delicious bakes sold in her shop and showcased on her social media.

Bernadette has written a cookbook, also called Magnolia Kitchen, which is full of beautiful baking ideas and recipes, as well as top tips to create show-stopping bakes of all sizes and shapes. (We can vouch for the fact that the recipes work. The vanilla bean cake is a particular favourite.)

Magnolia Kitchen

You talk about your early years as single mum making cakes for your daughter – is she still a fan?

Define fan? If you mean she cringes when one of my online community comes into the cafe and states "they are fangirling that they are meeting me IRL" and then she treats me to one of her epic eye rolls, then yes she is a fan, haha!

But in all seriousness, I think my family as a whole enjoy eating cake, including Charlotte.

What made you choose cakes as a business venture?

I decided cakes and sweets as I knew I was good at it (looking back I most definitely wasn't, haha!) I had huge confidence in my recipes which obviously paid off as there are many of those same recipes from back then in the book now.

I knew I had a passion for baking and creating and that I would be able to hustle hard to create an empire.

Tell us about the design process – from drawing board to cake plate.

Coming up with the design concept is such a journey. For example, creating a wedding cake - it is a huge privilege to be part of someone’s special day. I find myself getting invested in their entire day, not just the cake.

I love hearing what they are planning, who their vendors are, and I go on to use aspects of this info in my design and inspiration for their cake.

It is my goal to create a work of art that feels completely ingrained in their wedding but still stays true to my personal aesthetics and art.

I like to build a mood board of textures, colours and words, then describe a design; from there I will sometimes even sketch the design, then create the cake and deliver it to the venue where, if part of the design, I will add fresh florals on site.

Final step for all creations is always photography. LOTS OF PHOTOGRAPHY

Have you ever had a terrible baking disaster? How did you get past it?

OH MY YES!! I recently had the worst of my career!! I was out on delivery with a three-tier wedding cake; I travel with the cakes secured in a large box without a lid and sitting on a non-stick mat on the flat seat in my van. I usually strap the cake box in with a seat belt. I say usually because for whatever reason I had not put the seatbelt on the cake, and it was sitting in the middle of the seat.

I came around a blind corner with backed up traffic and was forced to slam on my brakes, everything moved in slow motion - I knew by attempting to not crash I had sealed the fate of the cake in the back which flew forward and the top tier hit the cross bar that separates the front and back of my van.

As I came to a stop having avoided a dangerously close car accident I looked over my shoulder to see the cake which was back in its original position and still a 3 tiered cake due to my internal dowel and supports that I strictly have inside my cakes for structural integrity. Then I saw the horrendous mess the cross bar had made to the top tier of the cake.

I promptly called my husband and screeched down the phone how f*cked I was - the cake was f*cked, I was f*cked and everything was f*cked! Typical reaction from me to be honest.

I got off the phone with him and sat in traffic with a completely ruined cake in the back taunting me while I sobbed about how absolutely screwed I was.

Then I pulled my shit together and told myself there was nothing to be done except get to the venue and turn the situation around.

Early on in my wedding cake career I learnt to carry a "fix it kit" with me, tools and spare icing along with scissors, florist wire and florist tape etc. So thankfully on my 40 min drive to the venue I devised a plan to fix the cake onsite and turn it into an epic successful story.

I managed to fix the cake so well that it was impossible to tell there was any damage at all!

I was so proud of myself and will never forget so many aspects of that day. I learnt to always use seatbelts on cakes (and humans obvs); I learnt that it’s okay to have a short melt down then suck it up; I learnt that I am the master at fixing my own f*ck ups; I learnt a huge amount of trust in my processes.

I shared the entire process on my social media and I felt others learned so much for learning that even me, a seasoned cake decorator, has epic cake wrecks too and it’s not the wreck people remember - it’s how you handle the situation and deal with it.

Who buys your cakes? Do you still have time to chat to your regular customers?

I don't have as much time to be instore catching up with regulars as I’d like but I know this is a sign of my success and I know that my regulars see it this way too. If I’m not around they know it’s because I’m busy hustling, working on my business behind the scenes. I try to keep an eye on all orders that we take so I can ensure regular customers and all customers are being well looked after.

I love it when I get to create a wedding cake then some time later I am contacted to create the same couples’ baby shower cake and anniversary cake etc.

People who buy my cakes are usually people that have an appreciation for good quality products and the art involved in the creating. They have trust in my brand and know that what they are getting is the best of the best.

When did you find the time to write the book? Your Instagram shows how busy you are!

Well ummmmm I don't know that I really found the time, haha! I guess I forced the time!!

I am not one to sit still and always have a very full plate...I have learnt that I just get shit done no matter what and mostly people trust this and respect it.

The previews we have seen of your cookbook are absolutely beautiful – how much input did you have to the design/creative process for that?

Thank you!! I am so so proud and happy with the finished product of the book. It was hugely important for me that I have creative input at every point. The fonts, colours, design, photography, everything.

My publisher was incredible at running things by me and also allowing me the ability to be my true authentic self, right from the front cover image to the extensive written content and personality throughout the book.

I am proud to say that there is a split on positive feedback for the recipes AND the writing!

Your Instagram is hugely popular – is it your shop window now?

My Instagram has always been my virtual shop window on some level; that will never change because it means my international community can feel included in the joy of the physical store.

Do you have any plans for a book tour to the UK?

YES I would absolutely love to do a UK book tour; I am in talks with a local Cake School in London to potentially be hosted there for workshops.

I am very keen to thank my community in person across the world!

They have all had a part in making this book the crazy success that I am told it is and it feels so right to travel and meet everyone and sign their books!

What’s next for you? Do you have plans for expansion?

I am working very hard behind the scenes filming new online courses to add to the 6 already available. I am constantly adding new products to my retail range, including merchandised tools, all of which ship world-wide. Travel and workshops plus a healthy dose of world domination for my brand.

That said while I had huge plans for my brand I won’t be expanding the café. This will always be my only site and I love that I have created a destination that people travel to from all around the globe.

Are there any more books in the pipeline? (we hope so!)

Now that would be telling wouldn’t it, haha! I enjoyed writing so much I dare say "just try and stop me."

Thanks very much indeed to Bernadette Gee of Magnolia Kitchen for her time.

Her book Magnolia Kitchen is out now, and available here: