Annabel De Vetten, founder of Conjurer’s Kitchen and creator of unusual edibles in the form of cakes, chocolates and more, is here to redefine cake making.
On arrival at Anna’s Kings Heath based kitchen, it’s clear that her interest in the unusual expands beyond the realm of cake making. Set out on a counter in her purple and black and white tiled kitchen were numerous chocolate animal skulls and a large tiered cake based on the sin of gluttony, adorned with icing teeth, tongues and intestines.
Anna’s work challenges the preconception that cake decoration is a craft rather than an art form.
“Some cakes are a definite art form, it’s just the media happens to be edible… I like to think that’s how I approach it.”
Her first venture into culinary design came in the form of her own wedding cake, which was “the least interesting but the most important.” The design drew inspiration from Anna and her husband’s (A professional magician) shared love of magic.
“I had no idea what you could do with cake.”
Soon, her close friends starting asking for more unusual cakes and the venture grew from there.
The Conjurer’s Kitchen customer base grew organically after taking some of her designs to a few smaller, non-commercial events. “If you show people what is available and what can be done with cake, that’s when they start thinking ‘well I could have that’, ‘I want this’ and ‘I have a strange idea that maybe could be turned into cake’.”
Anna says that the requests she receives for cakes are strange “in a good way “. On her website, she explains that she prefers to receive phone calls about cakes that begin with “This may sound strange, but…”
“I don’t do normal, and if I have to, I charge extra.”
It’s not just the outside of the cakes that have that unusual quality; Anna is open to taking bizarre requests when it comes to flavours too. “Red velvet is always a favourite”, and other concoctions include red wine and chocolate, Dr Pepper and rum, ginger, and Guinness.
Annabel creates cakes for weddings, promotions and private parties, all of which cater to strange tastes. She also makes chocolates and non-dessert edibles from ingredients such as bread and meat.
Although her cakes are carefully designed, and can take months in the planning, “Sometimes when I’m working, things kind of happen organically.” Typically it takes from three days to a week to turn the concepts into a reality.
Over her five years in cake making, she identifies the Hannibal premiere events for TV channel Sky Living as her most notable and memorable commission to date. After being hired to create edibles for the season premiere of TV series ‘Hannibal’ at The Electric in London, she also held a similarly themed event in Birmingham.
“I made a cannibal banquet…This dinner table which was really really lavish with chandeliers and flowers and books and skulls, and it all looked really dramatic.”
Anna incorporated features from the TV series into the banquet, such as cakes that looked like lungs presented on butchers slabs, chocolate grapes and figs, bones made from cookies and pannacotta hearts. She described the banquet as stylish yet disturbing: “It was just the right level of attractive and repulsive…It was something that I’d planned and pictured in my head, and when it came out it was even better.”
Though cake making is a more recent interest, her fascination in all things macabre has been present since her childhood. She recalls visiting the Natural History Museum to look at the taxidermy animals and displaying the skeletons of her deceased pet hamsters in glass cases.
Anna believes that her general love of art and creativity have led her to where she is today. She moved to Britain from Germany at around 17 and started Art College, dabbling in everything from fashion to photography before identifying 3D and sculpture as her strong point. Whilst studying Sculpture she took time out to venture into taxidermy, where she worked on a farm and learnt the art whilst stuffing birds.
“Everything I’ve ever done was always creative.”
Although she never planned on being a cake decorator, there is a clear connection in how her past endeavours have influenced her current venture.
Talking about her inspirations, she said there were too many to mention. They range from everything from cake decorators to ceramicists to taxidermists.
Her taste and lifestyle also have a definitive influence on the designs she produces:
“I think if I made ‘normal cakes’, everybody I know would get terribly worried about me… It just wouldn’t make any sense.”
Photography by Will Pace