TASTES LIKE HOME
from The X Press Edition N°2
Plain Vanilla’s Vanessa Kenchington on the family members and personal experiences that have, and continue to shape the bakery’s menu.
Family can sometimes be our harshest critics. Just ask Vanessa, who, despite being the founder of Plain Vanilla Bakery, says only half-jokingly that her family sometimes prefers not to eat her bakes at family events because they’re “homemade”. But if our conversation was anything to go by, then it’s clear that despite their teasing, Vanessa’s family has had quite the influence on her current relationship with, and appreciation for food. Till today, she counts a good meal as the one thing that keeps her fulfilled during busy periods—a practice rooted in her family’s habit of always eating well.
Having meals together is something else Vanessa’s family always upheld while she was growing up. They don’t eat together as much as she’d like anymore, though it’s a tradition she tries to keep with her husband Phil. She recalls fondly the early days of Plain Vanilla, when she would leave the store close to midnight: the two always made it a point to eat dinner together, even if they did have 酸甜鸡球饭(sweet and sour chicken rice) from Crystal Jade five times a week. “It wasn’t posh, but it makes you feel like life is not so bad because you’re eating something shiok and you really enjoy it,” she offers.
Photo by Jovian Lim.
Instead of trends, which she tends not to
follow, she introduces flavours she comes
across on family trips, or dishes they prepared
during quieter moments at home.
Sharing meals with her husband, in fact, has made Vanessa realise belatedly just how instrumental her family has been in defining the way she eats. Having grown up in England and lived in Hong Kong for a while, she explains, Phil didn’t have as many opportunities to sample the different cuisines as she did—though he did always have the luxury of eating home-cooked food, which tended to be British fare. Her mother and herself, on the other hand, both have the same problem, which is we always order a lot. Even at home, there’s always a lot of variety.” With her family shaping so much of her encounters with food, it’s no wonder Vanessa draws substantially from their shared experiences in her recipes. Instead of trends, which she tends not to follow, she introduces flavours she comes across on family trips, or dishes they prepare during quieter moments at home. As Vanessa recounts the events that have inspired part of Plain Vanilla’s menu (and even its name), it becomes apparent that her success hasn’t come by chance. The rich tapestry of stories behind each recipe has infused the bakery’s offerings with a kind of comforting familiarity—the kind only family can provide.
Loaf Cake | Lemon Chia Seed $41 - Brushed thrice with lemon syrup, Plain Vanilla’s Lemon
Chia Seed Loaf is a moist and tangy, chia-seed studded lemon cake drizzled with lemon icing
and sprinkle of chia seeds on top. A good choice of treat for any cheat day.
Her son Josh’s growing appetite for her
bakes means that she’s had to put a lot
more thought into the
recipes and ingredients she uses.
His first birthday cake—a banana
smash cake with honey—came about
because she wanted to make
him something healthy.
These days, Vanessa’s bakes are becoming increasingly motivated by a different member of the family. Her son Josh’s growing appetite for her bakes means that she’s had to put a lot more thought into the recipes and ingredients she uses. His first birthday cake—a banana smash cake with honey— came about because she wanted to make him something healthy. And while it served its purpose, she admits it wasn’t the best tasting, and has begun experimenting with other ingredients to develop a kid-friendly range.
In an instance of things coming full circle, Vanessa has gradually become aware of how her interactions with Josh, like her family’s and hers, have cultivated certain interests of his. At home, they try to involve him when they cook, and back when she used to bring him to work, she would give him bowls of flour to play with while she baked. “Exactly what kind of impact it’s having I don’t know,” she says while breaking into laughter, “but there’s definitely that touchpoint. I don’t think we can stop that kind of permeation of what we do into his day-to-day influences.”
Already, Vanessa is beginning to pick up on incidents that attest to this: at a recent birthday celebration of another kid at school, Josh had refused to eat the chiffon cake that was being given out. “I was so surprised because you have no idea how much he eats off our cakes—literally the whole thing, for his birthday that just passed. I don’t know what it is he didn’t like about the cake [at school], but he obviously has decided that that is not the kind of cake he likes and he obviously prefers what we do here,” she says with a mixture of pride and bemusement. Between running Plain Vanilla and spending time with the very people who inspire its menu, it’s almost a mystery how Vanessa finds the time to continually reinvent and experiment with new flavours and recipes. The joy she derives from baking for others, though, is no doubt a major incentive. “Baking for yourself is not necessarily the most fulfilling thing, it’s really about baking so that other people can enjoy it,” she muses. “Learning to be attuned to what other people like and don’t like makes the process become a bit more selfless.”
Box of 9 Donuts | 3 Flavours $58 - Treat yourself to a Box of 9 freshly made custard-filled brioche doughnuts in a trio
assortment of Plain Vanilla’s sought-after doughnut flavours. Each of these doughnuts is made in a limited quantity only thrice a
week - Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays - and are now available for pre-order for collection or delivery to your home.
Vanessa’s experiments with her recipes
have resulted in a constant stream of varying and new bakes.
Amidst her most recent ones are
a fresh palette of brownie and cookie flavours
that play around with fruity, nutty
and sometimes even spicy infusions.
Brownies | Sets of 5 $48 - For the chocolate lovers.
5 decadent brownies – all tinged in slightly different combinations of flavour.
There’s also even a selection for the lovers of richer toppings like peanut butter or milk chocolate bits.
A perfect choice for gifting to your loved ones.
Cookies | Sets of 6 $30 - Chewy goodness of cookies.
Just the right size to fulfil all the sweet cravings you have.
Each cookie is packed with an abundance of bursting flavour and textures – fresh out of the oven.
Plain Vanilla's famous bakes and deli selections now available here for islandwide delivery.