Originally from Paris, 29-year-old Fifi left London on her narrowboat when the pandemic struck in 2020 and went on to start a business selling vegan pâtisseries and cakes on the Kennet and Avon Canal. She tells us how the Floating Baker came to be and why she loves living and baking on a boat.
How did you come to move from France to the UK?
I moved to study at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design when I was 19 years old. I sort of fell into theatre and performance there and became a theatre director after studying with Clown Master Philippe Gaulier. I was very much heading towards having a theatre career in London before the pandemic. I had a show which I toured at the Edinburgh Fringe festival. I was teaching acting in various venues such as Sadler’s Well and I was loving my job.
Where did the idea for the Floating Baker come from?
When the pandemic started, my partner and I lost all of our work. He’s an actor too and we just had had a baby and didn’t know really what to do. So we sailed away from London on our narrowboat and cruised up the Grand Union, South Oxford and Thames and Severn Canals, and almost didn’t turn onto the Kennet and Avon Canal which is where we are now. We were basically shopping for a new place to be. Part of it was us drifting around and trying to find a quiet place to hide away from the pandemic. On our journey I started posting cakes to friends for their birthdays. I stocked up on packaging and was experimenting with how to post a cake and make sure it arrives in one piece. I didn’t have a car or a bicycle for most of that time, so walking for miles and miles for fresh ingredients was very difficult. I didn’t want to bake with poor quality ingredients so I was sourcing eggs and milk from local farms, but because we were moving every two weeks it was a huge amount of work. I also didn’t agree with having a business that relied on cows for milk and cream and chickens being caged for eggs. It just didn’t sit right with me. I was baking with a camping oven from the 90s which was taking a huge amount of time, so I crowdfunded for a new gas oven. Six months later and a year of vegan experimentations with recipes down the line I finally opened in Bradford-on-Avon.
Why did you want to create vegan versions of your favourite French pâtisseries?
I am a pâtisserie lover. My favourite thing to do in Paris was to go from one boulangerie to the next and eat cakes. I still do it when I go home. I found that vegan pâtisseries were so amazing in France but I couldn’t find them anywhere here. I didn’t know how incredible vegan baking could be, the possibilities are pretty much endless. But it did take me quite a long time to work out my recipes and I feel like I am still very much learning.
Was it difficult to make plant-based versions?
Yes, it was and I still make bizarre cakes sometimes when I am trying something new. I had to learn to use a whole different range of ingredients. It took me about a year and a half to perfect the few recipes I have now. I am still learning and experimenting but it’s so much fun to create new recipes.
Do you have a favourite cake that you make?
I made my own version of a fraisier which I called an ‘almond and berry mess’. It is a vanilla sponge filled with homemade berry jam, cream and marzipan. A women’s group of wild swimmers called it ’The Boobs’ and it’s been called that ever since. That is one of the best things about running a business from my boat. My customers are incredible, they’re curious, adventurous, free-spirited people who are usually very connected to nature and with a sweet tooth. I have made some beautiful friendships as a result of running this business.
What do you enjoy most about running your business from – and living on – a narrowboat?
Running a business from home is always challenging, especially with a little one. I have had to redesign my whole kitchen to accommodate all my equipment but it means that I only have the things I need on board. I have to be very pragmatic with my recipes and the cakes I bake as I can’t have too many trays, cake moulds, and even ingredients. That has also pushed me to work with the seasons and I barely have any waste doing so. Having a limited amount of space has really encouraged me to be resourceful and sustainable. Living on a narrowboat was one of the best decisions of my life, I’m surrounded by nature and postcard-perfect scenery and I also get to travel. For me that is heaven.
Cakes and pâtisseries including bespoke orders are available for collection or delivery, and the boat is open for takeaway on Saturdays and Sundays. The boat cruises on the Kennet and Avon Canal between Bath and Devizes and you can find out where it will be on the Floating Baker website or on Instagram and Facebook.