I already knew what dishes I could teach within an hour, but I also knew I’d have to go hob-less

May 23, 2022
Cooking teacher working with young baker

In 2013, Angie Johnson realised that her seven-year-old son was more accomplished in the kitchen than the 11-year-olds she was teaching as Head of Food Technology at an Oxfordshire high school. Frustrated that the tweens were only just beginning to learn simple dishes like fruit salad and French bread pizza, she decided to set up toddler cooking classes in her area and, within a year, was able to quit her job and commit to growing her cooking school Mrs Bun the Baker full time.

Since then she’s successfully navigated the pandemic launching virtual classes, been featured in The Daily Telegraph and BBC Good Food, selected for Small Business Saturday’s Small Biz 100 campaign, and won Muddy Stilettos’ award for Best Children’s Business in 2021. Her latest book, Make Bake Celebrate, helps kids bake independently in the kitchen through a year of event- and holiday-based recipes.

Here she speaks to Jenni Muir about finding her way as a food entrepreneur and writer.


You were a busy school teacher. How did you go about setting up your own cookery school – finding premises, sourcing equipment, and so on?

My key objective was I wanted the children to learn in a real kitchen, not in a hall, and then I’d bake what they made. I wanted them to know all about safety in the kitchen, and cleaning up after the cooking. I visited around five places before finding my venue

As a trained teacher, I had the organisational skills. I already knew what dishes I could teach within an hour, but I also knew I’d have to go hob-less – with the children being aged two years and up, my insurance wouldn’t allow them to use the hob.

I based my equipment needs on what we had used in the school classroom kitchens, but went for toddler-friendly versions, so they would be able to use the knives, scissors, bowls, spoons etc. 

How did you find clients?

My first year running Mrs Bun the Baker cookery school was 2014. Social media was evolving, not as fast as today, but Facebook had local pages, so I started by posting on there and quickly people were interested. 

I started with a class on a Friday and Saturday. There was nothing out there like me, it was a newnot-seen-before toddler club. I was teaching children to cook, try foods, learning bridge and claw holds to cut ingredients, giving them life skills without realising. The feedback was amazing, and word spread fast. Soon I had classes on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays – even Sunday if I could, but that became family day. 

After a year it became my full-time occupation. I supplemented my income for the first year with supply work at local schools but increasingly had to say no that as my cook school was growing.

What do you think about the way food is/isn’t taught in schools these days? My daughter’s school doesn’t even have food technology...

I get upset that it is coming off the curriculum. It is a life skill, something we all need as we go through our lives. Food is part of your every day and learning how to prepare, cook and know about nutrition is really important. 

My local school has stopped teaching it, and those that are teaching it are starting 11 year olds with a fruit salad. When I first left my job I targeted primary schools, as it had become a compulsory part of their curriculum, but they said they hadn’t the money, or the facilities, and they had to teach science, languages, and ICT too, and they were higher on the curriculum than food.

Yes, I am biased, but food should be higher on the curriculum. Kids should be learning fruit salad and pizza at primary school, and main meals such as lasagne, curries, pies, and pastas at secondary school. My Young Buns can make, bake and cook three-course meals by the time they get to secondary school. 

Take me back to putting your first book together… Why did you approach it the way you did? Why self-publish? 

My first book came together from my classes. They loved the recipes and said, as they were really straightforward dishes for all the family, I should share them with others – so I did. I wrote the book using the photos from my classes, so the reader and buyer could see the boys and girls actually making the dishes: I wanted a ‘real’ cookbook. 

I self-published as no publisher was interested; they said there were too many cookbooks on the market. It sold out in 18 months. The feedback was just great – people told me that older children could just be left to bake from it and younger ones given some guidance along the way. 

Then you did a revised and expanded version of that first book. What changes did you want to make and why? 

The revised book came about as more families were hearing about me, and I had new toddlers in class. By then I knew the faults with the first book: ingredients not in the order used, other recipes I felt were needed in there, and some that weren’t as popular to come out.

I wanted to expand the recipes to include more hob-less cooking – lasagne, pies, breads, pizza, quiche, tarts – things that the children can make but the whole family can enjoy. The children then get a proud feeling sharing it with their family and their confidence and self-esteem grows. 

The standard of the new book is very high, and you seem to have had a clear vision of what you wanted. How did you set about making sure it was professionally put together? Who’s on your production team? 

This book came from my classes once again. I was doing a free, live bake along for a whole year of lockdown, celebrating New Year, Mum’s Day, Easter, May Day, VE Day, Halloween, Bonfire Night, Christmas and more bakes, and I had been told before in my classes, we were always celebrating something: Chinese New Year, Carrot Day, Saints Days, even Chocolate Day – so why not get them all in a book, so people can make and bake them, so the journey started again!

My brother is a successful graphic designer and works with many companies and we work together well, so I asked him about book three, and he said yes. So, I wrote, and he designed. I knew a professional photographer and thought: let’s get Bun children on the front, so she and I set up and got them having some making fun.

It was a bit of a family affair: Son Bun would make the recipes again at home to check he understood them as well as the other kids, and Mr Bun and Bun parents proofread – and then I knew a professional proof-reader to go through it, and then I proofread it myself once again, and again, and again! I could recite the recipes in the book by the end of it.

What advice would you give to someone who was thinking of self-publishing a cookbook? 

Organisation! Know what your audience wants from it, do your research, have a good cover design. And buy your ISBN – you will need it. That is the one thing my first book didn’t have, so I knew I needed it on the others. Also make sure you have a market for your book and do marketing as this will help your sales immensely.  

How do you handle the sales and distribution? It’s not only on Amazon but available via Waterstones, Blackwells, and WH Smith.

This time I have a distributor to work with and I sell some myself. They were great, taking me on board – knowing I had sold out my other book within 18 months and the following I had built, they were happy to take on this new book.  

One of the things I found interesting reading it was that I could imagine what would have happened if it had come to me when I was working in-house at cookery publishers and how we would have tried to put more reference info into it and make it bigger and more complicated. Yet its great strength is that it’s so simple. It’s a book you genuinely could see a child using all by themselves. What are your thoughts on what makes a good book for children? 

Thank you! That makes me so happy to hear, and it is the feedback I get about it: that it works for all children – young ones working with an adult or older sibling, and then older ones can be left in the kitchen to follow my recipes all by themselves and produce delicious food for the family. I have also been told many adults enjoy using it as they were never taught cooking at school or home, so they are on their cooking journey, making proper food, not ‘children’s’ food either. 

I do think less is more at times for children’s books. Don’t overcomplicate it. They don’t want to get confused about the recipe. They need it to be straightforward, easy to follow, and then when they have made it maybe several times, they can start to be more adventurous with it and try variations and their own style. I already have an idea for another recipe book, something a little different, not out there… but that can wait for now! 

Tell me some of the ways your real-life work with kids has impacted the book and its recipes. 

Children are all different, all our tastes are different, so it has taught me to teach children and adults that recipes can be changed. It’s important that children learn how they can adapt (for example) the lasagne recipe, so if there’s no peppers to use mushrooms, or to make it vegetarian use Quorn or lentils instead of mince, or to use the lasagne sauce to create a spaghetti dish, or use it as a pie filling. 

I often hear people saying they are afraid of getting it wrong. There is no wrong to me in cooking. No apples for the cake? Use plums. No self-raising flour? Use plain and some baking powder. Vegans can use plant milk for the custard. You can always adapt, as long as you know what options are available. So all my recipes offer variations. I’m very keen on product development with my recipes – the Bun boys often are my testers and at home we have a kitchen full of different smells. Making recipes healthier is also key. 

The book is mainly hob-less too, because (as I said earlier) my insurance won’t allow hobs, sharp knives, or electrical equipment to be used by the under-11s, so my cooking had to be adapted too. 

I also know younger children have a short attention span. They don’t want to be cooking for two hours, they need a variety of tasks. As my classes were just an hour, the recipes in my book mostly keep to this time scale, so children can really enjoy the making and baking. 

The portions are also scaled for children. We don’t have a cake with four eggs, because it is too much mixture for the child to stir. We don’t have them chopping five carrots. And we divide biscuit dough into four pieces to roll out, so they aren’t struggling with one large piece. 

Lots of activities use their hands, too: squashing beans, ripping spinach or crushing biscuits, and using scissors to cut spring onions or peppers. There are also tips in the recipes to help the recipe reader. 

What’s your approach to social media? We are in an interesting phase when officially kids aren’t meant to be on it until they’re 13 and yet many are... And yet you must also need to target the parents as they are the people who actually purchase things. 

Social media is a minefield! In some ways I wouldn’t have done so well without it, in terms of reaching people. And in other ways, I wasn’t brought up with it, and I know how much I loved my childhood without it. My son only had Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat when he started college and needed them for the course he is doing in media! Before then, he had no need for it.

As you say, parents are the ones I am aiming at, as they are the purchasers of my book and social media has been invaluable for meeting people, especially during lockdown when I did the free, live bake-along on a Friday. They looked forward to having something to do on a Friday, engaging with me and learning a new skill. We mastered pastry, Swiss rolls, meringues, baking blind and breads, to name a few. 

What’s next for you? Will you be working more on Youtube?

I will be doing more YouTube: weekly bake-alongs similar to my lockdown Friday bake-alongs, but on YouTube rather than Facebook, so that the kids can bake whenever they like.

Follow Angie on Instagram @mrsbunthebaker and Twitter @AMrsbunthebaker


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