To celebrate the launch of The Gathering, the lifestyle section of Esse’s store, we’re collaborating with Asian-led brands, creatives and artists to showcase their work and provide a platform for them to tell their stories.
The most beautiful brands often start from a passion and a personal need that coalesce to form ingenious ideas and businesses. Fankery, an online bakery, started just this way. The business was borne during the 2020 lockdowns when Cathy started experimenting with making cheesecakes and cookies filled with sweet, gooey mochi (a rice cake made of mochigome, a short-grain rice). When Cathy was hit by hypothyroidism in 2021, her focus shifted back to baking and spending more time in the kitchen, experimenting. This led to the development of unique food and flavours, and the signature Asian-fusion bakes she creates at Fankery today.
Inspired by her delicious and innovative flavours, we chat with Cathy about what inspires her and how that has influenced her bakes.
Hi Cathy, you wear many hats – tell us more about yourself and what you do.
Hello! I’m Cathy and I’m an electrical engineer and is also the founder and baker of Fankery, an Asian-fusion bakery.
Featuring the Fankery Ube mooncake on 1616 arita / japan Palace Plate. Available exclusively in the Esse store.
Tell us a bit more about your heritage and how that has influenced some of your bakes.
I was born in Auckland but was raised in Shanghai for the first 6 years of my life. Majority of my favourite foods and flavours were developed during my childhood. One of my favourites is taro bubble tea and anything taro flavoured was guaranteed to be my no.1 choice. I did all my years of schooling as well as university in Auckland. However, I spent ample time overseas on exchanges, specifically in Vancouver in Canada. During my travels, food was what stuck with me most and it was so interesting to see each city's Asian influence.
My mum is an avid lover of cooking and baking, fully self-taught too. Whatever we (my sister, my dad and I) wanted to eat from restaurants, 9 out of 10 chance, my mum could make it at home, but a healthier and homier version. I only realised how lucky my sister and I are now, when other kids ate cereal for breakfast growing up, my mum would get up earlier than us each morning to boil mini wontons and cook a fresh spring onion pancake for us. My dad is also a great chef and can make all the well-known dishes from our hometown Shanghai, such as Braised pork belly (红烧肉), shao mai（烧卖,) Shen jian baos （生煎包), and even rice wine（酒酿)!
Cathy in the Silk-Cashmere Scoop Neck Rib Top in Cornflower Blue serving up Fankery's signature burnt basque cheesecakes.
What are some of Fankery’s signature flavours and what do you draw inspiration from when you are developing new flavours?
The first two flavours I ever made for the mochi filled Burnt Basque Cheesecake x Brownie were Matcha and Ube. To this day, they’re still our top selling flavours!
I get inspired by a lot of different things, renowned bakeries, Korean and Japanese cafes, my Shanghainese background, my travels and also, the desire to include more Western flavours into an Asian inspired dessert.
Fankery started very organically as a passion project – when was the moment you realised that this could be a full-time business as opposed to side hustle?
Hmmmmm, this is a hard question because there was no fine line boundary. Fankery has been a rollercoaster of a journey for me, one that began unexpectedly during the challenging lockdown in Auckland towards the end of 2021. I was struggling with some health issues at the time, which caused me to gain 15 kgs in just one month. As someone who had been a competitive bikini bodybuilder and followed a strict diet plan for nearly two years, this sudden weight gain took a toll on my mental health. All I wanted was to be creative with food and indulge in the treats I had been craving for so long. That's how it all started - I began experimenting with mochi-filled cookies, then moved on to brownies and finally, the mochi-filled burnt basque cheesecakes that have become a staple of Fankery. I never expected it to become a business, but the positive feedback and support from our fans motivated me to take it to the next level.
In engineering, I am often the only female in the room and as an electrical engineer in building services, your creative direction in designs is quite limited due to the projects constraints, budgets, and the other services you have to be mindful of (e.g. mechanical, hydraulics, structural, architectural etc). It’s like solving a huge problem but you’re just a tiny piece of the puzzle. Don’t get me wrong, it was really cool designing electrical systems for hospitals around the country, but with your own business, you are the direction and you can do things however you like.
Through Fankery, I was able to find the creative outlet in me that I never knew existed. I love being able to connect people through our shared love for good food and it means so much when fans support the culturally diverse desserts I create!
How has juggling your full-time day job with Fankery been?
Hahaha... I’m going to be brutally honest and say that there isn’t really much balance. My life revolves around work 24/7. Both are highly demanding and require my full attention. I never quite get the opportunity to feel happy about my accomplishments because the feelings and desire to cross the next item on my to-do list is overpowering. However, I am on a journey to change that and put my own well-being and health first above my work. I think it’ll be a difficult journey because I love work too much haha, but a relaxing day off is sometimes all you need to get refreshed!
From left to right: Cathy in the Silk-Cashmere Scoop Neck Rib Top in Cornflower Blue. Cathy in the Silk-Cashmere Scoop Neck Rib Top in Dune and Elongate Elastic Pants in Takahe Blue.
How do you recharge and recuperate when it comes to juggling work and business?
This is something I’m constantly struggling with because I find it very hard to shut off from work especially when Fankery is my baby. I usually go to the gym in my spare time and working out would always make me feel a bit better and helps clear my mind!
What are your dreams for Fankery?
I want Fankery to become synonymous with Asian Fusion baked goods, being the first choice in mind for people seeking such delectable treats. At the core of Fankery's philosophy lies our belief in using food as a love language, bringing the essence of Asian flavours to enrich our daily lives. The foundation of Fankery is deeply rooted in my family name, and it is my aspiration to proudly proclaim its significance to the world.
What can we expect to see next?
New flavours, more mochi filled products, or maybe even a retail shopfront? Hmmm I guess we’ll have to wait but stay tuned! xx
Special thanks to Cathy for being a part of the interview and Cindy Leong for photos. Visit the Fankery pop-up at Esse, BLOC, 20 Normanby Road, Mount Eden on 3 -4 June, 10am – 2pm.