From one girl boss to another, meet Serena Whitefield, founder of Pearl & Groove – the imaginative Notting Hill bakery that produces super bright and totally delicious gluten-free cake creations. I recently teamed up with Serena for our Taste The Rainbow supper club at the Social Pantry Café in April where we created a 4-course culinary journey of savoury and sweet treats. I couldn’t wait to catch up with Serena to talk inspiration, business and good food, of course.
What was your initial inspiration to start Pearl & Groove?
Pearl and Groove started in 2013 because I wanted to be creative in the kitchen. I was a fine art student at university and a private chef afterwards. So the artist flare and the flavour creations were something that always interested me. So Pearl and Groove (named after my parents) allowed me to embrace something playful, creative, full of flavour and mine!
What are the core values of Pearl & Groove?
Always eat cake at a party! The free from world doesn’t have to be beige and sensible. Gluten free doesn’t taste gross. Use the best quality ingredients and not too many. Let the flavours do the talking. No nasties. Cool not cute.
Your cakes are famous for being super creative, where do you find design and decoration inspiration?
The inspiration I suppose comes from my love of colour and flavours. I like to be able to see what’s in a cake from looking at it – so I think the decoration needs to play a big part in that without complicating anything.
We all inspire each other when decorating cakes, we’ve all got slightly different styles, so no cake is ever the same but I think that’s a really nice creative charm that keeps us going.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced since starting your business?
I think challenges crop up through each stage. The beginning was one challenge, which was a slight ‘going in blind experience’ – it was totally exhausting and a much more lonely experience but an experience that even the tiniest progress seemed to go a long way, so each step was acknowledged. But now having a team of people who rely on the business to be a success creates bigger responsibilities, more planning ahead and the challenge of managing a team rather than just start a business. So there are probably many more challenges to come.
What has been the most rewarding thing about starting your own business?
I think hearing peoples feedback, knowing I was doing something a bit different but also knowing that it was very much a part of my character and felt very personal. It was reward and exciting that everyone liked what I was doing, so therefore felt it was the right decision and obviously a gap in the market.
From one girl boss to another, what advice would you give you other women wanting to start their own business?
I started Pearl & Groove for a number of reasons but one of them was, I was a single 28 year old girl who wasn’t too excited about her job and had a lot of friends getting married and settling down. Starting Pearl & Groove was something that I could put my absolute all in to, I had no responsibilities to worry about so I could cherish it, think about it, nurture it like a baby. It was a process that inspired me, allowed me to be exactly who I wanted to be and allowed me to fall in love with the brand I had created. It was an empowering decision and a path that I wouldn’t change. But I think the advice would be to make sure that it’s real and you love it.
What is your favourite part of working for yourself?
Making the little silly decisions, e.g having bright pink loo paper wallpaper in the bathroom or playing funny Christmas games at the staff party. But also picking a team that allows you enjoy the everyday jobs.
If you travel a lot with your job, how do you balance work/home life?
Because we have the shop on Portobello Road and are open 7 days a week – there isn’t much time for travel but right from the beginning we decided we all have two days off a week (however busy) and generally as a team we stick to this and that helps us balance work and home. The shop has it’s opening hours, we take it in turns to do the early baking shift but the rest of the day we stick within those hours so generally we’ve got the balance right.
What are your future goals for Pearl & Groove?
Well there’s a question! Not 100% sure yet, there are so many different directions and so many ideas but we’d love to open more shops (and have a cook book) – so we’re planning.
What do you enjoy doing to relax after a stressful day?
Most probably seeing friends and going out for dinner or doing something totally unrelated to work and not talking about work – allowing myself to start the new days fresh. My boyfriend and I are about to get a dog (who will be our resident shop dog) so she will probably be the perfect treat to see after a long stressful day.
Talk us through your day in food: do you have time for breakfast in the morning? What is your favourite meal?
Although I’m in a cake shop, we don’t generally eat too much cake. We all eat quite randomly, never really breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner (we wish) more like…
A bit of buttercream for breakfast
Some left over mushrooms on toast for 11’s
Some raw cake mix for 11.30’s
Then probably a few rainbow lattes
Ends of rocky road
Scone crumbs for lunch
Roasted almond flake leftovers for after lunch
Tasting from energy ball creations
Mid afternoon treats, generally some granola fresh from the oven (to check the flavours are ok)
Green tea to cleanse
Some raw chocolate samples that someone has dropped by for us to sell in the shop
A corner of cake that is about to be thrown away
Whilst clearing away the end of the banana bread!
Get home: healthy pure virtuous salad!
When being good (and when I’m out of the kitchen) I generally don’t do breakfast have chilli avocado on toast and dinner is becoming more and more veggie but it totally depends where I am. I try and keep my diet varied and in moderation. I don’t like to restrict myself too much.
Where are your favourite places to eat out?
In all honesty my favourite place is someone else’s house for a small dinner party. I love the relaxed feel, seeing friends and making it a cosy experience. However – I recently went to Chiswick Fire Station for lunch and thought that was really great. I love Farm Girl Cafe and think going out to Princi on Wardour Street for a late night pudding is always a good option!
If we came over for dinner, what sort of food would you serve?
It would probably depend on the season and depend on where I’d recently been. I seem to think I’m the best chef from the last country I’ve visited, so that would be the over riding theme. If it was the season themed it would be flavours, colours, decorations and drinks. Love a theme!
Are there any specific ingredients/foods you couldn’t live without?
Almonds all ways. Chocolate – my dad’s a chocolate maker, it’s in my blood. Tahini is my favourite thing. Without sounding so 2016 – avocados and kale.