Flavour/taste/texture and looks

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Patisserie, one of the hardest jobs in the kitchen because there is nowhere to hide and no corners to cut. Ofcourse there are chefs out there that cut corners or say “Nah, pastry is easy, I don’t bother weighing it, throw it together and it just works!”, well balls to that.

There is such an unbelievable amount to take into account when trying to become a pastry chef and becoming the pastry chef you’ve always wanted to be. Watching TV and seeing beautiful creations that are made in minutes, books that are filled with dreamy desserts that are picture perfect and visiting your favourite places with the best patisseries, these can all inspire you to be better and more creative but the reality is that 60-70% of aspiring pastry chefs will never get to that standard. My theory to this is that you need to have an artistic level of thinking with a scientific mind, looking at the ingredients at a molecular level and not just something that you use to hold things together. I’ve been a pastry chef for over 20 years and have also worked with many chefs and pastry chefs over those years. Some extremely talented chefs and others that seem to just to it for a living. With pastry, it has to be a career choice, it has to be something you absolutely love and live for, there is no in-between.

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I honestly believe that anyone can become a decent pastry chef with the right training and guidance but I don’t believe that anyone can become a great pastry chef. I’m very lucky in my job to be able to have a team and to be able to teach within my workplace. This isn’t always an easy ride for me and can be extremely frustrating and take me to the edge of sanity at times. When I have young chefs, older chefs or chefs that in their own right have great skill, come to me because they want to learn what I do or want to be where I’m am in my career, I say to them “There is no easy route, there is no cutting corners, work hard, open your mind and believe”. I feel that with these ethics you can create your path.

But, missing any one of these parts will result in failure. If you cut corners the public will notice, if you don’t work hard enough, all will notice. If you don’t open your mind you’ll never develop and if you don’t believe in yourself or have an “I can do this” attitude, then give up.

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This then brings me onto taste, texture, flavour and looks. These elements are also a must as we eat with our eyes first, so looks are very important. For a pastry chef just to plop something on a plate without a care in the world is mostly unheard of, even at the early stages of your career as a pastry chef, most have a passion with presentation. This in turn will develop over time. Taste and flavour are probably the next part before texture. I’ve eaten in quite a number of restaurants and hotels and I would say 70% of the desserts I have eaten have been of a pour quality, Simply because it has been style over substance, looks great on a plate but has tasted of nothing but sugar. With me, I work on the flavours first, test them with many different people, well before I decide on what it will look like on the plate. Then we go for the look, this part is highly important as it should go without saying but again these things can be missed, crazy you say, but it happens! As I mentioned earlier, we eat with our eyes first then we get the aroma, lastly the taste. These are the only guides a pastry chef needs to understand to be successful and to have a good understanding of patisserie. Knowledge is the key to all, train hard, listen to others but most of all be true to your passion and yourself. Remember what you came into the industry for, to excite the public with your flavours and impress with your talents and skill as a pastry chef.

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I have made pastry my own without guidance from others, without having to dive into other chefs cookery books or scour the internet for recipes for my next dessert creation. I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing and I have asked colleges on how to formulate certain recipes in the past but I do feel that creativity comes from the soul. So if and where you can, develop your own recipes, your own creations and style. They don’t always work and can be very frustrating in the development, but this is how we learn in life, by making mistakes. And remember, a recipe is only a guideline and something that you don’t need to follow, rules are there to be broken!

Bake Off The Professionals

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We would never have thought in a million years that we would end up on The Bake Off! But we did and what a ride it was!

I had followed the Bake off Professionals for a couple of years and to be honest, it scared the shit out of me. Not because I thought the challenges are unrealistic and way too demanding, but the time scales to do the tasks were crazy. Plus you have to bare in mind the conditions on which they had to work with. Heat is not a friend in pastry unless it’s in the oven, cold is not sugar’s best friend when trying to make sculptures, this is what scared me. Great for pastry chefs to watch as we can empathize with the chefs on the show, but for the general public it must be something different all together, shock, amazement and the “Wow” factor must play a large part in the viewing. And there must be “I wonder how they did that” moments.

So, maybe after the third series and it was moving from the BBC to Channel 4, it was time for us to apply? Over a couple of beers and a chat with Bharat (we didn’t actually agree to do it this point) we thought in our minds that maybe we should apply and would think on it. Me being me applied the next day without telling Bharat and sent the application off to Love Productions, then forgot about it. I literally forgot about it for a couple of months, I hadn’t even told Bharat when a phone call came through from Love Productions asking if we would like to apply for the show. I proceeded to tell them that I’ve already applied (this was whilst myself and Bharat are in the kitchen). You should have seen the look Bharat’s face!

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After a number of phone calls and chats we were invited to the auditions in London, where we had to bring along a macaron selection and a Pastry of our own creation. I love making macaron’s so I knew that wouldn’t be too difficult, the other item held a few more problems. We had to come up with something that would last from Birmingham to London, a travel cake, a travel bar maybe. It came to me that we needed something with great flavour, looks and strength for a long train ride and underground madness whilst in London-shire.

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As you can see by this Macaron photo we developed 12 different macarons and flavours. This wasn’t the brief, they had asked for one flavour and 12 macarons! Oh well, they tasted good I’m sure.

Below you can see the travel bar, we tested this on many different people at work, home, friends and whoever we thought might give us a true opinion of the looks and flavours of the creations. I think we got this spot on, so we wrapped them up in box’s and headed down south!

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This for myself and Bharat was something completely new! Camera’s, Lights and Action!! Haha, it was actually like that and it makes you sweat on the spot, for some can be very intimidating. The crew however were amazing and put us at ease from the time we stepped through the door for the first part of the audition, this was to test our knowledge of the industry and also the flavours of our creations, a tense time. But we needn’t have worried, I wasn’t put off by the camera’s and lights and Bharat was great with the questions which then got us through to the second part of the process. This was more about us as people and our backgrounds. Again, I have plenty to offer in this way as long as the ear wants to listen, and with this we finished the audition and went home, waitting to hear if we had been selected. This was a very long wait indeed.

After a seriously long time waitng for Channel 4 to make there mind up, we got a phone call saying that we had been selected and it wouldn’t be long before we received our first brief……. Shit the bed!! It was real, this was it I suppose. Bharat and I jumped with joy but at the same time thought “SHIT!!” It’s time to get serious and get training!

I will continue this over the next few weeks, a lot to fit in but an amazing journey for sure. I would also like to say that we couldn’t have done it without the help and support of Resorts World Birmingham, the Marketing team, Andy Waters and Ian Bennett who have great faith in us all the way.