Home UK Immigration How daughter of Hong Kong immigrants found success in Britain as a lawyer and a baker

How daughter of Hong Kong immigrants found success in Britain as a lawyer and a baker

by admin

Author-Andrew Sun

  • Emily Lui, co-founder of London bakery Cutter & Squidge with her younger sister Annabel, talks about finding fame with biskies and Hello Kitty afternoon teas
  • The sisters insist on using only natural fresh ingredients and colouring. No artificial colours or flavours from bottles for them

It’s been seven years! What brings you back to Hong Kong? “The last time I came was before I set up the busi­ness. I’m back for a family wedding. We come from a food background. My dad was a chef. He moved to England but he had Western restaurants, not Chinese. My mum used to bake and did fancy wedding and celeb­ration cakes. So we’ve always baked and when we purchased cakes, they didn’t taste home-made, so my sister [Annabel Lui] said, ‘We can do better than this.’”

Explain the philosophy behind Cutter & Squidge. “We wanted to be different. It was also important for us to use natural fresh ingredients. We don’t like colouring or flavouring from bottles. Everyone uses artificial colours because they are easy and stable. Our idea is that everything we sell in our bakery, we can come to your house and bake it there, too. There are no crazy specialist ingredients.”

How do you create your own food colours? “We want people to understand how easy it is to get beautiful colours from spices, vegetables and fruits, like beets and spirulina. From red cabbage I can get every­thing from Tiffany blue to pale blue to purple. But it can change because it’s natural and oxidises. Blueberries can go grey. Customers see that and think it’s gone mouldy and we have to reassure them, no it’s fine, it’s just oxygen hitting it. It’s natural kitchen chemistry.”

Annabel and yourself are famous for inventing the biskie. How did you come up with that? “We decided to make a dessert that is a mix of biscuit and cake. We ended up creating the biskie. It’s tactile. The shape is like a Japanese dora­yaki [red bean pancake]. I like the feel of a burger – something you can hold in your hands and is easy to eat. We try to make it a bit healthier so not too much butter or sugar. Our butter cream is a lighter mix and the recipe is in the book [Afternoon Tea at the Cutter & Squidge, which is in bookstores now], so we’re giving away our secret.”

How did it become such a hit? “We started selling at weekend markets. Even in winter, our biskies were selling out. Then Selfridges [a British department-store chain] wanted us to supply its food halls. We still worked in professional jobs – I’m a lawyer – so my younger sister decided to take a one-year sabbatical from corporate finance to commit to this. Next, Harrods [department store] wanted us to supply it. Then we were offered a pop-up shop in Soho. I remember the first day, the coffee machine broke so it flooded everywhere but we had a queue outside. From then, we decided this is what we should be doing. And six years later, Annabel is still on her one-year sabbatical.”

For me, baking is about creativity. You don’t get a lot of creativity in law or corporate finance, so this is our creative outlet.

You are also known for themed afternoon teas. “We have a large basement space so we thought we’d turn it into an afternoon tea room serving our signature biskies, cakes and tea. Then Sanrio – the creators of Hello Kitty – approached us and said they were fans. They likened us to Kitty and Mimmy, Hello Kitty’s sister. We came up with a Hello Kitty Secret Garden Afternoon Tea, complete with a pastoral garden and that iconic face was on every­thing. It was only supposed to be for three months but we had to extend it. Then we turned it into an Aladdin Genie’s cave and a wizard’s potion room. People love it.”

And you made your book about afternoon tea. “A lot of baking books offer the same things over and over again. We tried to add new ideas and make things as real and simple as possible. For me, baking is about creativity. You don’t get a lot of creativity in law or corporate finance, so this is our creative outlet.”

How did your parents react when you told them you were pursuing cakes and scones instead of corporate professions? “Our parents are classic Chinese immigrant entrepreneurs. They did their thing and ran a business. For my sister to give up her job and do this wasn’t scary for them because of their own background. They just wanted to make sure our product would be a success. If they believed that, then they were happy to support us. The commercial corporate world was what was alien to them.”

Will you grow the business further? “We have a plan. We have been slow and deliberate even though people think we’ve grown fast. We have three stores now plus an online shop. E-commerce is a big part of our business across England. If we do expand overseas, we have to figure out how to get the product as close as possible to what we have in

London [1]

.”

Like cooking? For Asian recipes to make at home for friends and family, visit 

SCMP Cooking [2]

.

Related Articles