When I was at university, I realised that I spent more time in the kitchen than at the library, so I decided that cooking was something I needed to look into. I came to the Cordon Bleu in London from Washington DC 18 years ago and I loved it so much, I moved after George Bush got re-elected and began working in restaurants. I worked at Nobu and did a stint at Ottolenghi, and then opened my first bakery, Bea’s of Bloomsbury, in 2007. There are a few branches around London now but I left the company about four years ago to work on restaurants.
Butterscotch Bakery is my foray into back into baking since Bea’s—I liked the idea of taking a break and doing something different. It’s a return to baking as it’s been ten years since I did the first Bea’s, which won lots of accolades, so it’s quite nice to get back on those lists and still feel like what I’m doing is relevant.
At Butterscotch, everyone has been a bit more intelligent about how they bake and we’re a lot more open to flavour. When I first opened Bea, it was before Great British Bake Off and before everyone was looking into interesting types of cuisine. I remember one time, we had a yuzu pistachio macaron and everyone was like, “Where’s the sponge cake?” That was all they wanted whereas nowadays, if I put out a rose pistachio cupcake, it’s received much more warmly. If I do a pandan cupcake and coconut butter cake, they’re like, “Oh that’s amazing.” People are a lot more open to new flavours and new ideas, which definitely was not the case ten years ago.
My baking is really influenced by my time at Nobu, I definitely have a lot of Japanese flavours. Clean flavours should be the primary point of the dessert. It’s clarity of flavour, if you want to make something that’s raspberry, it should take first of raspberry, not of sugar.
So, with A$AP Rocky’s birthday cake, it’s a red velvet cake but we don’t have the cream cheese frosting that’s so sugary it makes your teeth hurt. Most red velvets are also shockingly red because it’s essentially just flavouring with food colouring, but we use a Dutch processed cocoa powder to really get a nice chocolatey flavour with the red colouring. It comes out quite dark, almost burgundy. It tastes so good.
The A$AP Rocky cake came about because his people got in touch. I’d done some cakes before for a couple of prominent bloggers for their birthdays and they happen to be in the music industry, like Mark Ngui. He doesn’t have a big following in the foodie world but he’s an agent at Creative Artists Agency and he reps some big names. We’d done a couple of cakes for him, so he reached out to me and asked if I would do a cake. He was like, “It’s for A$AP Rocky.” I was like, “Cool, I love him! When do you need the cake for?” It was tomorrow. I was like, “OK, sure, it’s tomorrow. OK let’s make it happen.”
With A$AP Rocky, blue is his favourite colour and he has a favourite butterfly. Who knew that he loves butterflies? We were like, “How do we make a blue cake that has butterflies but doesn’t look like a wedding cake or too girly?” We went for a chocolate and gold glaze which has a very masculine feel to it and it’s celebratory, which fits. One of the other ways that we made it not look like a girly tiered wedding cake was to make one of the tiers extraordinarily tall, so it was out of proportion.
There was no time. We literally did this cake in less than 24 hours. We had 18 ours, so there was no time to do a test cake. The cake we were making was the cake for the birthday.
At the same time, we did a cake for A$AP Lou, which was a pair of slippers on a cotton cloud. A$AP Lou has a clothing line called Cozyboy and they’re all about comfort. We wanted it to feel like comfort, so thought, “What about a pair of slippers?” We did slippers on a cloud and got a tonne of cotton candy and filled the cake and put cotton candy around it, so it looks like it’s floating on a cloud. We went for a stripy theme and we put the Cozyboy brand logo on top of each slipper to look like it was a branded. The cake was a chocolate chocolate cake, with ganache. That one was very, very rich.
It was actually a team of two who knocked it out. My guys are amazing, we’re used to doing high volume and really knocking things out.
We delivered the cake but didn’t see the reaction of A$AP Rocky and A$AP Lou. I wish I had! Unfortunately, as with many hospitality gigs, you tend to deliver stuff in the afternoon and then they get to party at 2 AM but I did get to see videos afterwards. I saw videos of people singing “Happy Birthday” and I was on Instagram the next morning, like “Oh my god, the cake!”
Before the A$AP Mob cake, I did a cake for Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith for The One Show a couple of years ago, and before that we had quite a few high profile customers come in, like Keira Knightly and Hugh Grant. There was also an order for Tom Cruise for Brooklyn’s birthday—one of the Beckham kids.
I did do a birthday cake once that was in the shape of R2-D2 and it was almost life size, complete with LED lights.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
American born chef and baker Bea Vo founded Bea’s of Bloomsbury in 2007, a London bakery chain specialising in American-style desserts, pastries, and cake. She moved away from the business in 2013 to focus on other restaurant ventures, but this year returned to baking with a new bakery, Butterscotch. Last month, Vo was asked to provide cake for rapper A$AP Rocky’s birthday party, held at a hotel in Shoreditch.