Natalie Griggs, 27, is the bakery buyer at Fortnum & Mason. She lives in Essex with her husband Ciaran, an investment banker
Growing up, I was a real bookworm, so it’s fairly surprising that I’ve ended up working in the food industry. However, my degree in anthropology at the London School of Economics was really intense, so after graduating I wanted to work somewhere fun while I saved to go travelling. I got a role at chocolatiers Godiva – as ‘chocolate strawberry dipper’ – and loved it. That led to me landing a job at Fortnum & Mason in 2007 and I’ve never looked back
I get up at about 6am after hitting snooze on my 5.30am alarm. My clothes get covered in chocolate at work, so I wear machine-wash pieces from Gap with jewellery I’ve collected on my travels, such as my turquoise necklace from a Navajo Indian reservation. I have Bran Flakes for breakfast and then my husband Ciaran and I walk to the station – that’s my exercise for the day before my 90-minute commute to our offices above the store on Piccadilly.
Our in-store bakery makes traditional English products like scones, from scratch, daily, but we use external suppliers for cupcakes, brownies and decorative biscuits. My mornings are spent checking sales figures, stock levels and wastage – we have lots of fresh products so I monitor this very closely. We’re not allowed to take anything out of the store, even if it’s damaged – which disappoints my friends as when I started here they all hoped for free cake. I have lunch at 12.30pm – usually leftovers from home from the night before or a sandwich from our canteen – and eat it with my friend Louise in Green Park.
As part of my job, I often have to eat a whole cake in one sitting. I never get sick of it
A huge part of my job is development. It’s fun creating new products such as our celebration range (including seven wedding cakes) which is set to launch this month. I get ideas for food from travelling – last year I went to Cologne, New York and Washington, but the best place to find inspiration is always Paris. I love Pierre Hermé – he’s the rock star of patisserie. His Parisian shop is tiny but I spend ages scrutinising every single cake before deciding which to try. I don’t copy products, though – it’s about spotting new trends.
Most things we sell are exclusive to Fortnum & Mason and it can take a year to create products to our requirements. For Valentine’s Day, we wanted to sell two limited edition cakes so I sent a brief to our suppliers last June with ideas for shapes, colours and flavours such as rose water and orange blossom. The suppliers delivered huge boxes of cakes for us to sample in our test kitchen. We decided to produce a new layered cake with a sponge base, berry mousse and fresh raspberries, so we tasted each component separately then tasted them together to make sure they married well. We then provided feedback to the supplier, such as reducing the amount of fruit, to improve the recipe.
I developed my palate for tasting on the job and I’ve learned there’s a difference between liking something personally and it being technically good. I don’t like liquorice, for example, but I’ve learnt to distinguish between good and bad liquorice. As part of the sampling process, I often have to eat a whole cake in one sitting but I never get sick of it. It does mean that I rarely eat any sweet things outside of work, though.
I usually finish work at 6pm, unless I’m staying for one of our customer events in the evening, such as a cake-decorating demonstration. I make a healthy dinner like baked fish and vegetables – I eat so much sugar during that day that I avoid carbs in the evening. Ciaran and I bought our house last summer, so my hobby during the week is researching decorating trends then dragging Ciaran around B&Q on the weekend. We’ve chosen pastel ice-cream colours for each of the rooms – our bedroom is pistachio, appropriately enough for someone in my industry!
For bespoke celebration cakes call020-7292 4631; fortnumandmason.com