Celebrated chef Raymond Blanc’s two Michelin-starred Oxfordshire restaurant is renowned the world over for its inventive cuisine.
Undoubtedly, gourmands will be flocking to take their places at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons’ elegant tables on June 13 for a luxurious £185-a-head Queen’s Diamond Jubilee luncheon.
Laurent-Perrier champagne will flow and Blanc and his team will be labouring over every last, exacting detail to present three dishes created from the finest of ingredients.
Wealthy guests will be engaged by the Godfather of royal reporting, best-selling author Robert Jobson as he looks back on the past 60 years of the Queen’s reign.
But the centre-piece of this chic and elegant patriotic affair - the icing on the cake -will be a towering, hand-crafted work of confectionary art.
The four-tier iced cake, a glorious triumph in white and gold, studded with petal-fine sugared replicas of our national flowers, will not have been made by one of Blanc’s master confectioners, though...
It’s coming all the way from the humble Nether Edge kitchen of cake-maker extraordinaire Victoria Watkin-Jones.
The 40-year-old only set up her cake business a year ago. For the former youth hostel chef and fitness club manager to be presenting her work at such an illustrious venue is an remarkable achievement.
How did she manage to get her foot in such an illustrious door?
“I asked,” she says simply. “I drew up a wish-list of the best restaurants and hotels in the country and approached them. I thought I’d start at the top.”
Examples of her cakes are now in display cases at some of Britain’s highest ranking establishments, London’s Dorchester, Knightsbridge boutique hotel The Blake and Le Manoir included.
“I am one of their recommended suppliers, someone they would happily suggest a customer came to for a bespoke order,” she says.
Victoria’s diamond jubilee cake is her way of saying thank you to Blanc’s team for having faith in her skills.
“It’s my gift to them for their event,” she says. “They are delighted; though when I offered to create it, I really didn’t expect them to say yes; such venues have amazing chefs. I assumed they would be making their own.”
Victoria has already made the four rich, brandy-infused fruitcake bases so they have time to mature and will soon be starting to hand-make the delicate sugar paste blooms. She knows exactly how she wants it to look - which is unusual for her.
“I often create as I go,” she says, pulling two huge vanilla-scented sponges from the oven just as they turn to golden. One of these will be a birthday cake, the other is for a Weston Park charity auction; I’ve not decided exactly what I’m going to do with them yet.”
Victoria Made clients - who hail from all over the country, including Cheshire’s WAGs belt - are happy to let her imagination run wild. After all, they have come to her having seen her highly individual, contemporary style on her website.
Her wedding and special occasion cakes aren’t so much sugar crafted as edible works of modern art. She’s turned her back on dainty traditional styles; a fragile form, almost lace-edged, cascades down tiers of snow-white stepping; huge, spiked star-lily icing petals give high drama to a chic extravaganza of a wedding cake. Even a chocolate gateau is turned into something worthy of a place in the Tate Gallery.
And amazingly, she is self-taught - “with the help of some video tutorials on the internet and lots of trial and error,” she says modestly.
The sponge and fruit cakes themselves, though, are down to cookery lessons she learned some 33 years ago at her grandmother’s knee. “My nan instilled in me a love of baking. I was making scones and buns with her from the age of seven,” recalls the woman who came to Sheffield in her teens when a friend arrived to start university studies.
“I fell into a cheffing job first at the Lescar pub, then at a youth hostel in Castleton. I worked my way up to catering manager, then become a fitness instructor and finally gym manager at Sheffield Hallam University. Baking was just a hobby at the time, but then when the craze for cupcakes started four years ago, I fancied having a go.”
She baked around her full-time job, but when the cupcake craze became top-heavy with kitchen table producers, she decided to have a slice of the wedding cake scene and put a stunning dummy cake in the window of a bridal shop on Ecclesall Road. Orders came in, she perfected her craft and packed in her jab to launch Victoria Made a year ago.
Her cakes are a real labour of love and can take a week to decorate, hence the minimum price tag of £500 for a wedding cake.
Though they can cost double that amount; a bride and groom happily paid £900 for five-tier version of White Summer, her favourite style, covered top to bottom with hundreds of tiny, hand-made hydrangea flowers.
Victoria wants her business to remain low-key and bespoke; she hopes to eventually be making a maximum of six cakes a month. So the search goes on for clients who like her style.
She regularly stages photo-shoots in which her cakes are the stars. The locations are as unusual as her designs... everywhere from an art gallery at the exclusive London designer hotel The Hempel to a derelict warehouse in Kelham Island.
“I loved the warehouse shoot,” she says. “I did it with a few Sheffield wedding specialists; the setting was this decaying place with bare brick walls and old beams.”
Dresses, tiaras, bouquets and Victoria’s cakes were strategically placed; “I had to stand my cakes on floors absolutely covered with pigeon poo,” she reveals.
The effect was very Miss Havisham, though not a crumb of cake got left to the birds; the towering pieces were just artfully iced polystyrene fakes.
Undoubtedly, Victoria has come along way from her days of making fairy buns with her nan. She does still turn her hand to cupcakes, mind; Made In Chelsea star Rosie Fortescue ordered dozens and dozens from her to give to her guests at the launch of her new fashion blog.
Victoria and her friends even got invited to the celebrity-studded London party.
Though she did notice that a fair few of her rosebud and logo-topped fancies didn’t get eaten. “Most women there were slender fashionistas, not the type to eat cakes,” she grins.