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WESTMINSTER PEOPLE: Berwick Street cake baker Elizabeth Draper

26 November, 2016 — By Alina Polianskaya

Elizabeth Draper at her Soho market stall

ELIZABETH D Bakes is a bit of a Berwick Street success story.

Three years ago, she decided to give up a stellar career in the film industry to follow her “childhood passion” of baking. After setting up a stall at Berwick Street Market last September, Elizabeth Draper was spotted by a WholeFoods rep who couldn’t resist her dulce de leche brownies.

Now her homemade gluten-free cakes and bakes from Elizabeth D Bakes are sold in all nine branches of the popular health food store. But even now, she admits: “I learn more from a day at Berwick Street than I do anywhere else.”

Originally from Alabama in America, with family from Tennessee, she picked up her passion for baking as a child from her mother and grandmother. They were both “avid bakers”, who specialised in traditional Southern cakes and pies.

“At every family occasion, home-baking was part of our lifestyle, going back into the 1960s,” Elizabeth says. “If you fast-forward, a lot of the cakes I do now have a strong Southern influence. It just makes what I do slightly different from what you might see elsewhere.”

But despite her love for baked goods, Elizabeth instead fell into a “glamorous job” in the film industry, which she worked in for 30 years. After finishing a degree in philosophy in Paris, she began working for a government agency that promotes French cinema, before moving to London “for love”.

A string of film jobs followed, including head of Searchlight UK for Fox, deputy managing director for Pathé and general manager for Icon. She found herself working in the Soho area for many of these years, where the offices were based.

“I was very lucky. My real passion was finding unusual films, films that may have been considered to be quite small, and then trying to get them out to a wider public.

“I had quite a few successes… the ones that really gave me a lot of pleasure were films like Delicatessen, Little Miss Sunshine, Whale Rider… I loved being able to make a difference with some of the films that didn’t necessarily have a big machine behind them,” she says. She worked with some big names over the years, such as actor Mel Gibson, who founded Icon.

“He was fascinating, and actually gave us quite a lot of freedom to do some very interesting things,” Elizabeth says.

“It was at Icon that I did things like 21 Grams, Whale Rider… some of my most interesting projects were actually from Icon.”

But over the years, she found herself yearning to follow her childhood passion, run her own business and embrace the creative outlet she found in baking, and so she left the film industry and began baking professionally.

“Now I see many of my ex-colleagues walking by me on Berwick Street Market and some of them buy cakes,” she says.

The brand Elizabeth D Bakes specialises in Free From products – gluten-free, vegan, sugar-free, which she loves to develop.

“You can’t follow the old rule book so let’s make some new rules and make some things that are not a compromise,” she says. “Let’s make something that is new and just as delicious as your favourite classic cake.”

Vegan pistachio brownies, gluten-free plum cake and carrot cake are just some of the things in her repertoire. But despite the health factor, she says: “Ultimately it is about people’s enjoyment.

“My cakes are not for show. I hope they look great, but they are a more a rustic, artisanal type of baking, which is very much about eating.”

Elizabeth, who lives in Greenwich with her husband and daughter, recalls how she was spotted by the assistant manager at WholeFoods.

“He walked by the stall and came back and said ‘I’m sorry, I can’t walk past a dulce de leche brownie’.’’

He introduced her to his bakery team and by summer her products were on the shelves of WholeFoods in Piccadilly.

“It’s lovely when something like that happens organically,” she says. “You can’t really replace that experience of somebody getting excited about one of your products and being introduced to a shop because of somebody’s passion about what you do.”

She develops all the recipes herself, and started off doing all the baking herself but now has two people in her team to help. But the face-to-face contact she gets at her Berwick Street stall is still one of the best bits of the job for her.

“I think I learn more from a day at Berwick Street than I do anywhere else as I get real feedback from people about the products, what they like, what’s working, what they would like to see.

“I love taking requests. I always say to my team, I want you to come and do a few days at the market because it will change the way you think about what you do.”

She also has an online shop, and a food and lifestyle blog.

“One day I would like to be spending as much time on my blog writing about food as I am baking. It is a real passion, I’ve always been a book person,” she says, adding that she is an “absolute cookery book fiend”.

When she’s not busy baking, it’s her passion for cinema that fills her spare time.

“It is such a pleasure now going to the cinema and knowing I am not responsible for what is on the screen.”

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