This week we spoke to founder of Skullduggery Dessert Illusions, Steph Parker, about how she learnt the art of “dessert illusions,” what the future holds for the business post Covid-19, and what she loves most about the street food industry.
You have a very unique concept for a food offering. What inspired you to create dessert illusions?
I studied and used to work as an art director/conceptual creative in a past life. Along with my grandmother being a cake decorator, my mother was also a food technology teacher, so I always had a grasp of the foodie world from a young age; whether that was making creative moulds at Easter or watching my mum make my birthday cakes. When I left london to move back to the Midlands I decided to try my hand at cakes. My brain told me to do something different to what others were doing, so at the time I made giant mechanical cakes, but people aren’t prepared to fork out a load of cash for cakes as they underestimate the amount of time and effort that goes into it. Instead, I started working in exchange for beer in the local pub and started to learn to learn a trade and worked my way up in the kitchen.
I knew that traditional desserts were always a firm favourite in the restaurant but I wanted to invoke memories and create a bit of theatre in their desserts, so I suppose I was inspired to do food illusions desserts from the people around me. My boss was incredible in letting me try what I wanted; I created little scenes the desserts would be served on like old sweet shops and wooden planters. But there were many people that served as an inspiration – my parents especially and my awesome friend Karen Portaleo that I’d watch on TV at the time. I always strived to get people interacting with desserts; food should always be a talking point and either bring back memories or create new ones.
Give us a background to when, why & how you started out in street food?
I always had a vibe that I loved from living in Birmingham and visiting Digbeth Dining Club and the atmosphere of places like Borough Market and KERB, they were the places I’d always wanted to be. I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to create some great cake showpieces over my time, a 7ft mechanical dragon and the worlds first interactive showpiece at Cake International with the cake side of the moon feature, along with some incredible artists across the globe.
My old mukka Matty at Nom Nom set up his own festival catering unit and I was fortunate to do the last 7/8 years on and off with him, and Daz and Ste at Chunky Chips Wicked Dips have been my lifelong friends, so I was travelling around the country learning a lot of background work, setup, orders, builds, fryer mishaps and how to overcome a tonne of issues that always arise. It was always something I’d wanted to do, I love challenges, deadlines and being constantly busy. It wasn’t until I was on a class that I had a number of people from out of town that were truly overwhelmed by their desserts; they not only gave me the confidence to push further but they’ve supported me along the way. to0 which I’m so grateful for. I was and am still working in the restaurants grafting to earn some cash to fund it when Covid-19 allows, which is now currently just weekend takeaways.
In February some of the best cake pals a gal could ask for raised 2k without my knowledge to setup – I was given equipment to borrow so I set about building my own unit on the marquee. I’d already got my 5* food hygiene rating, so I spoke to an EHO on a number of occasions, created new in depth HACCP’s with the help of NCASS, and we found out how I could push further. Although I set up prior to covid and have spent years developing, I only really started trading at the end of the first lockdown.
What’s next for the business?
I’m hoping to get a number of pitches lined up for next year, whether that be markets, events like DDC that bring in massive foodies, or more permanent pitches. I’m quite a determined person so I’d like to fill the diary and although I love being in the restaurant, I’m hoping that I’ll then be able to have a number of pitches across a number of locations providing theatrical desserts to people. I want to be a trader that people are excited to see coming back to places, but I also want to just achieve a dream that I’ve had for so long. A lot of years of trial and error and blood and tears have gone into making the brand the best it can be and hopefully that just keeps growing. I’ll also look into a premises and wholesale in the years to come. My aim is to keep reinventing myself and the products so it has longevity. If anyone wants to book me in for events then feel free to give me a holler!
What’s the best thing about working in street food?
The best thing about working in this industry is the people. I’ve heard so many beautiful stories from customers, people gifting friends that are struggling and it pulls on my little heart strings, but generally the help from other traders and NCASS has been truly incredible.
So many have helped me to set up, find things that work on the menus and some that definitely don’t for delivery purposes; and most importantly, they’ve given me constructive criticism and praise and that alone gives me some hope for the future and hopefully lifelong friends from it. Every bit of advice is valued from so many traders and I’m so truly grateful for all the support the traders and NCASS have given me over the last few months. I hope I get to work alongside them all soon.
Follow Skull Duggery’s journey