Harrie Kivell provides a bespoke chef service like no other. From designer wedding cakes to luxury private dining, we catch up with the woman who does it all…
“I’ve always had an obsession with cookery books,” laughs Harrie Kivell, “All I ever wanted for Christmas and birthdays has been cookery books for as long as I can remember.”
As I conduct our interview, we sit cradling cups of tea at the dinner table of Moorland View Cottage. The luxury self-catering retreat is located in the pretty thatched village of North Bovey. Perched on the edge of Dartmoor and surrounded by rugged moorland, the cottage offers its guests a little slice of luxury away from the stresses of everyday life. It is through dreamlike destinations such as this that 25-year-old Harrie Kivell runs her private chef company ‘Boo to a Goose’.
“I suppose I’m quite proud of the fact that I’m running two businesses at my age,” Harrie shrugs nonchalantly, “I never planned to have my own business, but one thing led to another”.
Harrie is absurdly modest about her success to date. In 2011, she attended Le Cordon Bleu in London, studying both cuisine and pastry. This was followed by a stint as Pastry Chef at the beautiful Hotel Endsleigh and now she offers a bespoke chef service like no other. Specialising in cakes and catering for elope weddings, Harrie also offers unique private dining services and juggles it all with the day-to-day running of her food styling business: Cook & Capture. So how did this exciting career begin?
A Piece of Cake
“I was working at Endsleigh when my friend approached me about making her wedding cake,” Harrie tells me, “I’d never made a wedding cake before but I decided to try it anyway. After her wedding I found myself getting booking after booking. It allowed me to quit my job and develop my own career path”.
During peak wedding season a cake maker can expect to bake and design at least two cakes a weekend, sometimes even three. It’s a reality that is complicated by the fact that many brides know precisely what they’re after. In the age of social media, a myriad of show stopping cakes are just a click away. So I was intrigued to find out how Harrie deals with the avalanche of bespoke requests.
“Instagram is where the vast majority of my requests come from” she explains, “A lot of brides-to-be send me links to their Pinterest boards. I like it when brides have a specific colour scheme or style in mind, as it lets me have an understanding of what they’re after and it gives me enough free reign to do it my way. What I don’t like is someone saying ‘I’m getting married on the 15th do whatever’. Or worse still, ‘I’ve seen this cake on Instagram and I want a copy of it’”.
Harrie maintains that cake making is an art form and if you come to her expecting a carbon copy of a cake you’ve seen online, you’ll be disappointed. “When someone asks me to replicate an existing cake they’re asking me to copy someone else’s imagination. I don’t want to do that. It happens all the time and I say to people ‘I will follow the general idea but it will look different’. Your wedding is your one chance to be totally unique and have something that is yours forever”.
Some couples have rather peculiar cake designs in mind. “I once had a request to put the EDF characters on the top of a wedding cake” Harrie laughed, “I thought it meant the initials ‘E.D.F’. So I said ‘what font would you like the characters in?’ The couple responded saying ‘what do you mean, we want the little flame blobs from the EDF Energy advert. They wanted Mr & Mrs Flames! It was my second ever wedding cake and I remember saying to my friend on the way to the venue ‘Imagine if I’ve got this wrong and this isn’t what they wanted!”
Learning as you go
In the business of freelance catering,
challenges can be a daily occurrence. Sometimes, you find yourself working on
the most bizarre of locations and wondering how you got there.
“I once turned up to cook someone a roast dinner, only to be told they didn’t have an oven,” Harrie recalls, “I ended up having to fry a joint of beef in the pan and they thankfully didn’t notice.”
“Another time, I catered for a Spanish night and they wanted paella for about 100 people. All they had was a camping stove and this rubbish paella pan. Patches of rice were burning and some weren’t cooking at all. We had to frantically move the paella around the pan and just hope for the best!”
It’s during times like these that Harrie appreciates the training she received at Le Cordon Bleu. “Until I started out on my own, I wasn’t aware of the skills I learned there. I now know how to fix things that are starting to go wrong and I’m able to think on my feet”.
“My mum also used to run a foodie business,” Harrie continued, “She would do corporate catering in all sorts of unusual places. She tells me stories about taking food up ten flights of stairs while trying to keep it hot. You wouldn’t believe the challenges she has overcome in the name of cooking”.
“I watch cookery shows about as obsessively as I collect cookery books,” Harrie confesses, “The rise of the television chef over the past decade has been a huge influence on me. I love watching cooks like Loraine Pascal and Ann Marie Drummond because their shows are so therapeutic. Thanks to personalities like theirs, my goal is to one day be a television chef”.
Harrie also admits to having something of an addictive personality. “I find myself obsessively scrolling through styled photos of food online,” she laughs, mimicking the action of scrolling with her finger, “That’s why I started Cook & Capture with Claire Hutchings. We want to help West Country brands develop their food styling. So far, we’ve been lucky enough to work with big names like Clarence Court Eggs, Mr Filberts and Stokes Sauces!”
As we finish up our tea and Harrie gets her apron on, I can’t help but wonder how she manages to juggle so many aspirations and work commitments at once. “I wouldn’t want to be doing one thing,” she responds, “What’s so exciting about my career is that I have no idea what direction it’s ultimately going to take. Will it be food styling or will it be cooking? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter when you love doing it all!”