All the right ingredients have come together for Jamie and Kade Prouting, despite their son’s dislike of cake. Words Shelley Robinson
Eight-year-old Espen Prouting hates cake.
Mum Jamie Prouting makes the confession in a very small voice, eyes darting back and forth in the Cake Eating Co. shop before she bursts out laughing.
“And when people ask him in the shop what he likes, he sighs and says, ‘I know I’m not supposed to tell you this, but I hate cake and I don’t really like sweets that much either,’” she says.
Though he is quick to use cake to advance in his romantic pursuits.
“He tried to get a girl to be his girlfriend at school and told her that when she was older, she would get a cake shop if she did,” grins Jamie.
It is a quiet morning on Buchan Street, Christchurch, where Jamie and her husband Kade’s cake shop is like a delightful little eclectic treat, all wrapped up with a rustic bow. It is quite at home in a street filled with solid buildings in which automotive engineers wipe their hands on bits of cloth as trade vans whip around. Today the shop is closed and it is very quiet inside, which belies the prepping that is going on for the week ahead. Nuts are being toasted, and by the telltale streak of pink cake mix on the side of Jamie’s neck, there are some macarons in the works.
It is an odd wee street, says Jamie, surveying it from where she sits on an old wooden school chair, elbows resting on a table of equal vintage. But in the six years they have been here, it has gone from being an area where the odd tumbleweed wouldn’t have looked out of place, to becoming a thriving backstreet.
“We would open on Saturday and there would be no one. But now there is a dance school, a bunch of other shops, a beer library opening soon, a wine shop, and it is packed on a Saturday now. It’s this weird little backstreet that people come to,” she says.
Her first impression of the former lunch bar, now cake shop? “It will do,” Jamie replies, deadpan.
Jamie and Kade knew they had to buy something already consented and ready to go. The lunch bar with peach Formica tables and gaudy old-school blue fridges was it.
They had exciting plans for the space when they moved in on September 7, 2014. They would run it as a lunch bar until Christmas, when they would close down and reopen as a cake shop. However, time revealed that all the ovens and fridges needed to be replaced. Their shiny little cake shop swiftly became the last piece in a box of chocolates – it’s not what you really wanted, but you’ll have it anyway. The shop would have to continue as a lunch bar until they could afford to replace the equipment. It was the start, says Jamie, with the unflinching clarity she has about herself, of her “two-year tantrum”.
Kade would do the lunch bar, while Jamie, with her lower lip stuck out to demonstrate, “begrudgingly did cakes in my stupid lunch break”. She laughs and shakes her head at herself.
“Because our first plan had been interrupted, I was like, ‘Well this sucks and I’m gonna throw all my toys and have a two-year-long tantrum instead of moving on.’”
It took a city council food inspector to jolt her out of her that space in 2016.
“She said, ‘Why aren’t you guys just doing a cake shop?’ And I was like, ‘Well if my inspector is telling me to do this, I need to get over my feelings and do that.’”
So, Jamie and Kade scrubbed off the Backstreet Café signs and changed it to the Cake Eating Co.
Though she sometimes wished they had done so earlier, the pair have since decided they wouldn’t change anything. Though Jamie had trained as a chef and worked in restaurants, she and Kade did not have the customer service and business experience they needed. Those two years helped build that.
Jamie has a lot of energy. You imagine she would be a hoot and a half at parties. Stories are told complete with facial expressions that leave you in such stitches your coffee will teeter dangerously on the table. So, when she explains why she has started drinking coffee, she does it with such aplomb that you may quite miss the fact that she has just told you she has multiple sclerosis.
Jamie doesn’t like the taste of coffee. When she slugs it back, she uses a “chaser” such as a glass of water or coconut milk. It is done with so much hilarity in the kitchen that the employees often have a chuckle. But it is necessary, she says, because her energy flags a bit by the end of the week due to the autoimmune disease. She doesn’t know what is going to happen; either it will get “somewhat better or not”.
She is quiet for a moment before saying, “It is a bit daunting, but you live through these things.”
And she has done it before. The motivator behind her moving out of restaurants and into the cake business came after she was diagnosed with melanoma.
“My nana had just died from it, and they checked mine and said there was a 20 per cent likelihood it would spread and I would die,” she says, illustrating on her side and arm where they removed the melanoma and her lymph nodes.
“So it was like, ‘From now on, let’s do things we enjoy!’” she says, opening her arms wide with a smile. For her, that meant opening this cake shop.
Jamie’s history in baking is somewhat chequered. As a child there were two fires and a blown-up oven. The culprits included a runny batch of peanut brownie biscuits (which she made to say sorry to her babysitter for being naughty) and some dastardly sausages.
“You learn what not to do with an oven. If the biscuit mix is runny, you shouldn’t put it in the oven, because,” she says, hitting the table gently with a fist, “it’s not going to get any better – it’s just going to drop off and start a fire!”
Mistakes. Make a lot; learn a lot, she concludes.
Though you could spend at least three coffees and two slices of cake chatting to Jamie, you also know it is a busy time of year for her, with postponed Covid-19 lockdown weddings now rebooked, alongside a slew of elopements as couples take advantage of not having to make awkward decisions about guest lists.
By Saturday morning, the fridges will be full and the customers will be queuing, exclaiming over the cakes brought out for those in front of them. But that won’t happen unless Jamie gets back to her pink macarons. So, it is back into the kitchen for her, where there are messages from wife to husband written on the walls professing their fondness for each other and a small hole in the office door used to rescue Espen when he locked himself inside: all signs of a small family working hard, tucked away on a weird little backstreet in Christchurch.