We caught up with TV’s The Bakeking, Ben Cullen to talk tattoos, sculpting and his own show… maybe
Forget the tweeness of GBBO, the Bakeking’s creations are edgy and graphic – much like him – think Mary Berry meets Banksy via Yardley. The tattooed baker/artist makes hyper-realistic pieces that mess with your mind like raw chicken breasts, a lifelike forearm or tasty looking Sunday roast. Thanks to Channel 4’s Extreme Cake Makers, he’s becoming more recognisable although he says that’s mostly confined to the baking section of the supermarket. He says: “If I need to feed the ego, I lurk in the baking aisle! People are so supportive and positive.” Ben has won a gold award at Cake International every year since 2015 and was named one of the UK’s top 10 cake artists at Cakemasters in 2019 as well as being nominated for the Rising Star award at the Cake Masters Magazine awards.
GAP IN THE MARKET
More into drawing than baking, Ben left Brum to study fine art and graphic design at the University of Chester. He says: “Tattooing was what I was really into. I had no idea cake making was an art form. Initially it was just a joke. I thought it would be fun. It was just a hobby that got out of control.” Ben started visiting the big international cake shows and saw a gap in the market. “There were no young lads from my background. There was a gap in the market for something a bit more edgy. I tried to do a few things that broke the mould.”
When he had a go at sculpting with fondant icing Ben realised it was the medium for him. Initially, he started making cakes for family and friends while working as a graphic designer, but eventually, the cake making took over and the hobby became a business in 2016 which was ‘scary’. Having had zero interest in baking a few years before and keen to make the cakes taste as good as they looked, Ben learnt quickly.
He started to create exhibition pieces to hone his craft and get to grips with the baking as well as the finish. He explains: “Sometimes there’s an acceptance in the industry that you sacrifice taste for art, but I didn’t want that. I wanted to make great tasting cakes too.” Ben’s a grafter and while building the brand has been hard, he works tirelessly to be the best he can be and ‘hasn’t looked back’.
Each cake can take anything from three days to a week. Ben says: “Time is limited in order to keep the cake fresh. It’s the delivery that’s the hairy bit!” Ben ducked out of weddings early on saying it just wasn’t for him and the vibe of his cakes doesn’t scream bridal. Making cakes for some high-profile names such as Rita Ora is fun, but Ben’s dream customer would be Sylvester Stallone. “As a massive Rocky fan that would be great. Any excuse to meet him!”
Extreme Cake Makers came about because someone saw Ben at Cake International and thought he’d fit the bill. The producers didn’t have anyone like him. “I love the video side of my cake sculpting, so the programme is a great fit for me although I do sometimes wonder what I’ve said and done when I sit down to watch it back!” Ben’s You Tube following has grown to 30,000 subscribers and he prioritises his videos. Most of the cakes that make it to You Tube are actual bakes for real clients, but even if he doesn’t have a paying client, he sets a day aside each week to create something and video it. Eventually Ben would like his own TV show which seems a natural next step.
We’ll forgive Ben for leaving Brum as he’s back in the city regularly to see parents and friends. He particularly loves a grubby old man’s pub and the edgy vibe of Digbeth. He says: “Birmingham’s home, i.e. I would never spend Christmas anywhere ese. I’m always back home with my family in Brum.”