In our 'Patissiers of Shanghai' series, Dominic Ngai and Betty Richardson speak to some of Shanghai’s makers and bakers, digging deep into different aspects of their work. Up next is Bobo Lee of BoboLEE Cake.
In a town obsessed with frou-frou cupcakes and whipped cream birthday cakes, interior designer turned pastry chef Bobo Lee is injecting a dose of his signature minimal aesthetic into the patisserie world, specializing in large-scale celebration cakes for birthdays, weddings and corporate clients.
“I became obsessed with the idea of making cakes after stumbling upon the website of my teacher, Maggie Austin, who’s one of the most renowned wedding cake designers in America,” Lee recounts. “Though she told me to get to culinary school before I could stage with her.” Lee promptly enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu Tokyo, finishing first in his class with the prestigious Cordon Bleu medal. “Studying in Japan gave me the inspiration for simple and uncomplicated aesthetics for my designs,” explains Lee.
An internship with Maggie Austin in the US taught Lee the art of constructing ultra-delicate, life-like sugar flowers and fauna that have since become his signature decorations, scoring him one-of-a-kind cake commissions for weddings and luxury brands. “Some of the larger sugar flowers can take up to a day each to make,” Lee tells us when we ask about a towering, minimalist white wedding cake with flora and tulle-like frills tumbling down its sides.
Lee’s now tapping into China’s emerging wedding market, a lucrative industry worth approximately USD 80 billion in 2015 and is projected to grow by three percent each year. Like white wedding dresses, cake is not a traditional custom at Chinese weddings, though it’s an increasingly important fixture in a market that seamlessly blends fashionable aspects of Western weddings with local customs. Naturally, only a custom cake will do, calling for cake makers with distinctive artistic styles and decoration techniques to wow wedding guests. Working on around usually one cake a month, his wedding cakes start from RMB8,888, with salted caramel being a popular choice of flavor.
Looks are one thing, but taste is another intriguing aspect of Lee’s celebration cakes and their adaptation to the Chinese market. We’re expecting our first forkful of Lee’s most popular creation, a dark milk chocolate and rum mousse cake with a mirror-like black gloss, to be dense and sugar heavy. In reality they are surprisingly light, with multi-textural layers unlike a traditional Western celebration cake. “Cake is still a relatively new thing in China, and local customers prefer a less sweet flavor than many traditional recipes call for,” explains Andrew Liu, Lee’s partner and marketing manager. “They also prefer a lighter texture that doesn’t fill you up,” he adds.
Whatever the reason may be, we’re sure this savvy homegrown brand will keep customers coming back for an extra slice for years to come.
Bobo Lee cakes are available to order via WeChat (ID: BoboLEECake), or online at www.boboleecake.com.
Read more profiles of Shanghai Patissiers here.