During our interview with Kath Austin of BeeBee Wraps last month, we asked who we should interview next. And so, Kath excitedly introduced us to Jo Souster of Gatto Gateau.
Oh my gosh, I am now obsessed! The ‘Chocolate Gallery’ on her website is cake heaven, and the skill and beauty are unbelievable. So let’s find out a little more about Jo, her business and what it’s like to work in a kitchen.
Name: Joanna Souster
Company: Gatto Gateau
Q1 What were you doing before Gatto Gateau?
I have two boys, now 12 and 9, and worked as a childminder while they were young as I wanted to be home with them. In fact, it’s been a while since I worked in the kitchen. Following my apprenticeship at the Confiserie Schweitzer in my teens, I worked in many restaurants, hotels, and patisseries, but then took a break, got my degree, worked in an office and had kids. So Gatto Gateau is a return to the kitchen for me.
Q2 Tell us about your apprenticeship with Chef Hans Schweitzer.
When Hans first came to Cambridge, he had Confiserie Schweitzer on Magdelene Street, where I became his apprentice. Most of the things we made weren’t available elsewhere in those days. I learnt how to make chocolates, gateaux, and pastries, and always loved the more decorative work of celebration cakes and chocolate work. Hans was really inspirational, an amazing role model and his words still run through my head at times, when I’m pushing myself to get things right or do better. I’d been quite a lost teenager and the guidance and encouragement Hans gave got me on track and set me up for a fantastic career. I think the balance of high expectations combined with patience and trust he had in me was just right and brought out the best. I always wanted to do my best for him, and I suppose I still do. Towards the end of my apprenticeship, he opened Midsummer House Restaurant and sold the Confiserie. I, therefore, finished my apprenticeship there before moving on to London.
Q3 Is there a stand out memory, inspirational work colleague or dish from your time working with chefs after your apprenticeship?
Feeling the force of all the chefs’ passion for their work when I went to the Hotel InterContinental Park Lane, with its Michelin-starred Le Soufle restaurant, was massively inspirational. Chef Kromberg was at the helm but it was the brigade that made it happen – willingly, we all worked phenomenally hard. Regardless of rank, all chefs were there because they’re completely committed to turning out amazing food, and that’s a fantastic thing to be part of.
Q4 When did you decide that you wanted to set up Gatto Gateau and what was your long-term dream for the business?
Around Easter time last year I realised that, although I’d loved looking after children as a childminder, it felt the right time for me to change. In setting up Gatto Gateau, rather than working for somebody else, I was able to focus on the decorative cakes and chocolate work I’d always loved. I have been open to seeing where the business might lead and said yes to opportunities that have come up – wholesale, markets, etc. These have been incredibly valuable experiences but, ultimately, have served to reinforce my desire to focus on the decorative work I think I’m best at and enjoy most. I think you have to stay open-minded about where the business might go, but I’d love to continue along this path, I have so many ideas and hugely enjoy that creative outlet.
Q5 Have you got any tips for anyone else who may want to start a catering business?
Some people work out a huge amount for their business in advance and launch with all guns blazing, they’re probably more entrepreneurial and business minded than me, and that’s really admirable, but I don’t think it has to be that way. If you have an idea or a passion, you can start small and feel around a bit to find what works, for your business and for you. I think it’s important to make what you believe in and ‘say’ what you have to say, rather than guessing what others want and try to meet their needs. It’s as important to know yourself, know what your skills and strengths are, keep sight of what you want and why you’re doing it. Catering is unavoidably hectic and stressful at times, so you must keep your vision simple and clear, and always come back to that.
Q6 What has been your best moment to date as a business owner… and your worst?
There have been many great moments. I love what a decorative cake can add to an occasion as a whole, and people’s appreciation of that is, of course, incredibly rewarding. But, if I have to choose a single thing, it’s seeing my boys’ expressions of amazement at my finished logo, having seen its journey from a doodle I scribbled on a piece of paper to a finished design on my website and packaging. I’ve loved showing them that you can make ideas happen.
There have been a few low points too, but these are actually really valuable in the long term. There have been times that I’ve been so busy and pulled in all directions that things were overwhelming and just weren’t sustainable. I’m a lone-parent, so it’s important I’m still available to my boys, and at times I haven’t been. It’s these times that have made me reevaluate what I’m doing and highlight what I need to change.
And finally, which local business would you like us to feature next month and why?
I’d like to recommend Bridget Davidson, of Wild Rosamund. I became aware of her work in the early days of Gatto Gateau. I was feeling conflicted regarding what I thought I wanted to make, or what my ideas were, and what was popular with cakes and styling on Instagram, etc. When I saw Bridget’s floral displays, her rich, bold colours and strong but informal structures, I found it so refreshing and encouraging. It gave me the confidence not to try and emulate the current trends. I take inspiration but create what I want and let people make of it what they will. I absolutely love what she does with both flowers and styling. I’m in awe of it; she could take a scrawny bunch of handpicked weeds and make them look like a grand masterpiece!