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Saturday, 12 February 2011
From the catwalk to TV's Queen of Cakes: Lorraine Pascale tells her inspiring story.MISS FB LYIMO SAY: HAPA DUNIANI NI LAZIMA KUYAPITIA MAMBO MENGI!!
From the catwalk to TV's Queen of Cakes: Lorraine Pascale tells her inspiring story
By Polly Dunbar
Last updated at 10:43 PM on 12th February 2011
Comments (0) Add to My Stories She was eating lunch last week at Heston Blumenthal’s new restaurant, Dinner. And as Lorraine Pascale enjoyed her historically inspired meal, she watched the molecular gastronomist who created it saunter through the dining room, greeting several high-profile guests including a former newspaper editor and a famous actor.
Then, to her surprise, he headed in the direction of her table.
‘He said hello and we had a chat, which was lovely,’ Lorraine says. ‘Heston Blumenthal is a genius. I wasn’t expecting him to know who I was, but he did.’
Sweet success: Lorraine poses with one of the creations from her hit BBC2 show Baking Made Easy
She may be modest, but the 38-year-old top model-turned-baker must be growing accustomed to the attention.
Lorraine’s BBC2 programme, Baking Made Easy, has been a triumph, making her a serious contender to take over from Nigella as the new queen of television cooking.
Where Nigella’s knowing looks and double entendres can be intimidating to other women, Lorraine’s appeal comes from her natural, uncontrived style.
She smiles and delivers her mouthwatering recipes in a simple, direct and enthusiastic fashion, making her creations look as though anyone could whip them up.
And although her flawless figure suggests otherwise, it’s somehow believable when she says she actually eats the food she makes.
Her viewing figures prove her popularity. The series’ penultimate episode, in which Lorraine baked a three-tier red velvet cake, was watched by 2.8 million people last Monday.
That’s a highly impressive figure for a cookery programme and twice the number who tuned into the final episode of Sophie Dahl’s The Delicious Miss Dahl show last April. Sales of the accompanying book are also soaring.
That she is glamorous is indisputable. In her 20s she became the first British black woman to adorn the cover of American Elle, starred in advertising campaigns for Versace and Donna Karan, and hung out with Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell at fashion parties in some of the world’s most luxurious locations.
But photoshoots and catwalks form only part of her life story. She has also had more than her fair share of difficult times, which have given her a substance which adds to her appeal.
Lorraine was adopted by a white family as a baby and later spent time in foster homes. Her turbulent early years could have had a negative impact on the rest of her life but, instead, made her more determined to make her mark.
Mouth-watering: Blackberry, quince and apple spice pavlova is one of the many treats Lorraine has whipped up
Unlike many other television cooks, she is highly qualified and prides herself on knowing exactly what she’s talking about. She trained at Pru Leith’s renowned cooking school in London and has worked in some of the capital’s top restaurants, including the Mandarin Oriental.
As well as her TV work, Lorraine is also completing a culinary arts degree in patisserie.
She is working hard on her final dissertation – which must be 10,000 words – and admits that mastering her degree subject is every bit as important to her as becoming a television star.
‘I’ve always wanted to do something creative, something I could put everything into,’ she says. ‘I fell into modelling and it was a job where I was the product. It was all about my appearance rather than anything I’d produced or made myself.
‘Now I love what I do so much and I’m really proud that I’ve built it up from scratch. If people are enjoying the TV programme and finding me accessible, it’s brilliant. I’m just being myself and I hope people can see
Lorraine is just as enthusiastic in the flesh as she appears on television. Her positive approach to everything means she prefers to play down the difficult aspects of her childhood – although she acknowledges that it was unusual.
Early career: Lorraine was a successful model in her 20s, starring in campaigns for some top designers
She was born to Caribbean parents but adopted by a white couple in Oxfordshire at 18 months old.
They already had a natural son, Jason, who was three years older. Growing up as the only black member of the family could have been confusing but she says her parents’ sensitivity prevented any feeling that she didn’t belong.
‘Being a different colour wasn’t something I ever even realised when I was little,’ she says. ‘I always knew I was adopted because my mum told me before I was old enough to know what it meant. I accepted it because it was all so open, which I think is the best way to be.
‘Realising I’m black and my family’s white was a really gradual thing for me. I remember seeing Michael Jackson in the Thriller video and thinking, 'Look, we’re the same colour.' Seeing him made me wonder what was going on, and when I asked my mum she told me, 'You didn’t come from my tummy, you came from another mummy’s tummy.'
‘My parents had lived in Jamaica before they adopted me so they were very aware of Caribbean culture. They tried to help me stay connected to my heritage. They’d take me to cultural events and we’d go to the Baptist church so I could meet other Caribbean people.
‘My mum would ask the women for advice on my hair because dealing with an afro is a challenge when you have no experience of it. They didn’t want to ignore my colour but, at the same time, they didn’t want to make a big deal out of it – so it never seemed a big deal to me.
‘I do know who my biological parents are but I’ve never had the urge to track them down. I feel no need – there’s nothing missing for me. I’m close to my adoptive parents and my brother, who works in the media. One family’s enough.’
But her happy memories mask a set-up which, for a time, was seriously unstable.
When Lorraine was three, her adoptive parents divorced. She then lived with her adoptive mother, who became ill when Lorraine was seven.
As a result, she went into care, first being fostered by the family of a school friend and then living with a deeply religious family who insisted she attend church every day.
It must have been a profoundly unsettling time, but she shrugs, unwilling to feel sorry for herself.
‘It probably was traumatic but I’ve always had a real British stiff upper lip and thought you just have to get on with it,’ she says. ‘There’s always someone with a worse story and some with better ones. In a way I think it’s been good for me. It’s taught me to have drive.’
She says one of her foster families has recently been in touch via Facebook. ‘I haven’t seen them since I was nine although we did become close, but they wanted to say hello. They’re really proud of me, which is lovely.’
When her adoptive mother recovered, she was able to move back home and the highlight of her childhood came at 11 when her excellent exam results won her a full scholarship to a boarding school in Devon.
There, she found a stable environment with many close friends. She was good at most subjects but says: ‘I always loved home economics and would have taken it for A-level if things hadn’t changed.’
Dedicated: Lorraine - who was adopted as a baby - poses proudly in her Girls' Brigade Uniform aged five
What changed was that Lorraine, then 16, took a day trip with a friend to the Clothes Show Liveiin Plymouth, where she entered a modelling competition. Despite being tall, slender and strikingly attractive, she was told she didn’t have the right look.
But an agent thrust a card into her hand and asked her to visit her office in London that summer after her GCSEs. When she turned up in London, the agency turned her down but gave her a list of other agents in London.
‘Being told “no” made me more determined. I traipsed round every single one, even one which turned out to be a topless modelling agency – I saw a picture of Samantha Fox on the wall and quietly slipped out,’ she laughs. The final agency she tried, Profile, agreed to take her on, so she left school and entered the fashion world.
Her big break came during the grunge era in the early Nineties when she shaved most of her hair off and was chosen by photographer Corinne Day for several shoots with a young Kate Moss for trendy magazine The Face.
Lorraine spent seven years living in New York and modelling for many of the world’s top designers. ‘It was exciting but there were also lots of times when I wasn’t doing anything, just sitting around waiting for the phone to ring,’ she says.
‘I’d jet off on a fabulous trip somewhere exotic, then come back and sit in front of the TV in the flat I was sharing with other models. It’s a stop-start life and if you enjoy being busy, which I do, it can be frustrating.’
In 1995, aged 23, she married Polish musician Count Kaz Balinski-Jundzill, and the following year gave birth to their daughter Ella, who is now 14. The marriage fell apart four years later but Ella has continued to live with Lorraine – although she frequently visits her father in Ireland.
Ella has inherited her mother’s culinary flair and is about to go on her first cookery course. Lorraine says the pair are more like sisters than mother and daughter and that she is ‘strict but fun’ as a mother.
Having a daughter made her realise she wanted more from life than modelling could offer – so she began to look around for a change in direction. ‘I always felt that by not going to university I’d missed out,’ she says. ‘Not just on an education but also on a chance to find out more about myself and figure out what really makes me tick.
‘I wanted to do something different, so I made a list of everything I enjoyed, even if they seemed silly things, and tried to figure out a way to make them into a career.’
The list of occupations she tried is long and varied. ‘I did a photography course and was an assistant to a photographer. I did interior design, I trained as a hypnotherapist. I even had a stint as a car mechanic and did a secretarial course.’
Nothing clicked, until she did a ten-week Leith’s cookery course. She immediately enrolled on the year-long diploma before finding work as a chef in several London restaurants.
Guest star: Lorraine recently discussed her baking skills when she appeared on Loose Women
The 18-hour days were incompatible with looking after her daughter so she decided to start her own cake-making business, producing beautifully decorated confectionery for weddings and parties.
‘The cupcake trend started to take off in Britain and I just thought I could do them better,’ she says.
Initially, she was selling her wares in markets and, when her client base grew, in Selfridges. At the same time, she began her degree at Thames Valley University. In 2009, after a year of working flat-out, baking, ordering ingredients, taking orders and managing her business, she hired a team of staff to help her and moved production from her own kitchen in West London to a workshop in Battersea, South-West London.
Since then, she has opened her first shop, the fashionable Ella’s Bakehouse in Covent Garden, and plans to open a second branch soon. One day, she hopes they will spread all over the country.
Last year a friend suggested that, having so much experience in front of cameras, Lorraine might be a natural on television. She found an agent, had meetings with a production company and filmed a pilot, which led to the BBC commissioning her six-part show. A second series is being planned.
She believes that the current boom in baking’s popularity has been fuelled by the recession. ‘There’s something so comforting about cakes – the smell, the making of them,’ she says. ‘Home baking is booming because it’s a simple way we can cheer ourselves up.
‘Eating at home has become really fashionable because people want to spend less. They’ve realised how lovely it is to have a group of friends round and present them with something they’ve made themselves – and it’s cheaper than going to a restaurant. Plus everyone says “Wow” when you bring a cake to the table. It’s a good time for cake.’
Over the next few months, she intends to complete her degree, which she had to put on hold when her business took off. She also hopes to do some teaching at Thames Valley University in the autumn.
It sounds an arduous schedule but Lorraine says: ‘I’ve always worked hard and I like getting up early in the morning so I can squeeze a bit more into the day. I’m a bit more careful nowadays than I used to be because I realised I wouldn’t be around very long with the pace I was setting. I sleep and spend time with Ella.
‘But I do spend most of my time thinking about food. I focus on a particular food and want to learn everything about it – so I’ll cook it a hundred times, trying different flavour combinations until I find the best.
‘At the moment it’s lamb – we’ve had lamb every day for a fortnight. I’ll lie in bed thinking about food and suddenly think, 'I’ll try it with orange.' I have to get up and write
it on my phone so I don’t forget.
I guess you could call me a perfectionist – but there’s just so much I want to do.’
* Baking Made Easy is on Monday, BBC2, at 8.30pm
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