JLife’s Laura Sefton chats to Lisa Gair, the cake creator behind The Yummy Yank, about working hard and staying true to her roots.
Having moved to the UK from Maryland 19 years ago, Lisa Gair has spent most of the last two decades making Yorkshire her home. She has built successful businesses here in Leeds and become a well-known face in the community, thanks to her online art and Judaica giftware shop, Gallery Gair.
However, although she is happily settled here, Lisa’s American heritage is never far away. It is evident in the work she does, particularly her baking venture, The Yummy Yank, named after her father and his twin brother: “Dad was Yummy, my uncle was Yankee. I can’t think of a better tribute to their memories than to have a business named after them,” explains Lisa.
Describing The Yummy Yank as being ‘authentic American baking with a contemporary twist’, Lisa has successfully brought the baking she grew up with to the UK. “I’ve funked up old recipes up for the 21st century,” she says.
Lisa first started to add some funk eight years ago as a means of taking her baking hobby to the people of Leeds. It began with her setting up a stall at Bramhope Farmers’ Market as she thought it would be fun. After a while, she decided to sell her collection of blueberry loaves and New York cheesecakes at another market that was so in demand that there was a waiting list that she completely bypassed, setting up shop immediately.
Since then, Lisa has expanded her offering, creating several hundred cakes at a time for corporate functions and crafting cakes for weddings, each sweet treat made by hand.
Now, 2016 is shaping up to be the year of The Yummy Yank. Lisa is in talks with a major sandwich chain and also with a contractor to help lighten the workload. “I can bake enough for a two-day food festival on my own, but I can’t bake for more days than that,” she says.
“On a typical day I have to start early. Depending on the day of the month, for example if it’s market week or food festival time, I’ll get up at 7am and I can be baking until 8pm. I’ve been known to work through to 1am, when it’s been particularly busy.” Despite the busy workdays, the payoff is big for Lisa, who says that baking is still something she loves.
This love of baking is largely because of the flexibility her baking offers. The selection on offer at The Yummy Yank is constantly expanding and evolving and customers will approach Lisa with suggestions. Her signature layered cheesecake came about after a customer returned from the US with a request. “They had visited [restaurant chain] The Cheesecake Factory while over there and tried this pudding that had two layers of cheesecake on a New York cheesecake base and they asked me to try it. From there, it became the cake I’m known for – as well as my brownies!”
The decadent creations must be the product of perfecting each recipe? “I’m not a scientific baker,” replies Lisa. “I bake on instinct. There’s no rhyme or reason, it’s all down to taste – this is one reason why I couldn’t go on the Great British Bake Off. People ask if I’ll enter all the time and, apart from not being allowed because I already make a living from baking, I’d drive them crazy because I couldn’t follow their precise measurements!”
Lisa will try her hand at different combinations that she believes will be tasty, but she remains true to who she is and believes that this is why her business has been such a big hit: “I’ll never make British desserts as that’s not me, it’s not who I am,” she says. “I go home at least twice a year with an empty suitcase that I fill with ingredients bought over there to make sure my bakes are truly authentic. My secret recipe is being truly American.”
Visit Theyummyyank.co.uk to see some of Lisa’s creations.
What are your top tips?
Do it right. Make sure you are food hygiene-accredited and get liability insurance as they do check you out.
What is the secret of your success?
Social media has helped to make my business. I’m on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and have people coming from Scotland and London looking for me at markets because of being followed on social media. Quite astonishing.
Where can we next buy your cakes?
I’m usually at Baildon Farmers’ Market on the fourth Saturday of the month and regularly can be found at Kirkstall Deli Market at the abbey the last weekend of the month.