NICHE FOOD: JESSICA CHENG & VANESSA CUVELIER
It’s not very often that dim sum steamers are opened to reveal a selection of cupcakes, but it is a great representation of Niche Food’s founders. Jessica Cheng and Vanessa Cuvelier, both 25, are the faces behind Niche Food, a company that specialises in cupcakes, cookies and other treats, as well as custom-made cakes. Friends since high school (Cheng went to Hong Kong International School, while Cuvelier attended Chinese International School) they are both half-Chinese and half-European, and draw upon their East meets West background for inspiration.
In 2013, they both felt the tedium of their nine-to-five jobs, and wanted to do something more. “To be honest, we had never baked together at that point, we just knew we enjoyed baking and that it was a scalable business. We developed our recipes and told our friends, who spread the word!” says Cheng.
Two years later, cupcakes aren’t a new trend but they are still immensely popular; the Niche girls get at least one order a day, and three or four on the weekends. Brands like HSBC are fans and ordered 1,000 red velvet cupcakes on Valentine’s Day this year. Niche Food cupcakes include classics such as red velvet, carrot, and lemon meringue, indulgent flavours like Oreo and ‘Teaser’, a banana cupcake with dulce de leche Maltesers cream cheese frosting and Asian-inspired flavours, such as green tea or pandan. “It’s always important to have a sense of place,” notes Cuvelier. “The cupcakes are kind of like us – they represent our background,” adds Cheng. “I like the pandan and Vanessa likes the S’mores cupcake – see, we’re like East meets West!” The pandan is a bestseller, as is the red velvet.
Niche Food’s menu has just expanded to offer flapjacks and cookies, and the pair would like to add naked cakes (layered cakes with no icing on the sides; icing is visible between the layers and elaborately decorated with flowers and fruits on the top) to their repertoire. “They haven’t taken off here yet, so I’d like to see that,” says Cheng. They also do custom cakes, which has challenged them: “Someone once requested a cake with a grand piano and a ballerina figurine with her leg up on a bar, playing a violin on the top,” exclaims Cuvelier. “We made the figurine with fondant. Fondant hates me,” says Cheng soberly, and the two laugh. “We try and make our cakes as fully edible as possible.” The two recently made a five-tier cake for The9thMuse owner Charlotte Hwang’s tea ceremony, which was based on the bride’s red lace dress. Cuvelier hand traced the lace onto fondant, resulting in a towering cake that appeared embroidered.
“Sometimes we do have to turn people down, which we hate doing but it’s necessary,” explains Cheng. They bake in their own kitchens and do deliveries, while also working full-time jobs – Cheng is an interior designer and Cuvelier teaches at the Chinese International School. Baking happens after work or on the weekends. “In the beginning, we started selling at the Island East Markets – it was exhausting. After every market we’d ask each other why we did this,” laughs Cheng. “Right now we’re busy doing a lot of work behind the scenes, but we’d like to get a kitchen so we can hire some people and develop a more all-encompassing menu.”
See niche-food.com; follow @nichefood