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Just Desserts

It’s all in the pastry

At the Lindeth Howe Country House Hotel in the Lake District they serve the world’s most expensive pudding* but according to one top, UK-based chef, it’s not the price of the desserts on your menu that are worth their weight in gold but rather finding a good pastry chef.

It used to be said that if you had cool hands, you’d be good at making pastry. In turn, this made you an ideal candidate for becoming a pastry chef but since pastry went all patisserie, recruiting staff for the dessert section has become more difficult.

According to Ernst van Zyl, the South African-born head chef at the 2AA Rosette Etrop Grange Hotel in Hale, Cheshire, good pastry chefs are now among the most sought after members of the kitchen brigade. Says Ernst, who devises and creates the deserts served in both the hotel’s brasserie and separate fine-dining restaurant: “It’s a question of confidence when it comes to puddings.

“Most chefs are good at devising and delivering savoury dishes. They know you can add a bit of this to boost flavour, leave a little something out next time if you need a bit more subtly but with desserts, you either come up with or follow a recipe and if that recipe calls for 2g of something, then that’s what you give it. It’s 2g for a reason. You have less room for manoeuvre in the desserts section. It’s more of a science, more technical and that makes a lot of people more nervous and less confident.

“I find my chefs are more afraid of the pastry section. A good pastry chef can therefore be worth his or her weight in gold and in my experience, female pastry chefs can sometimes have the edge over men as they tend to be more accurate and precise rather than work on a trial and error basis, which can be more of a male approach.”

So could a patisserie specialisation be for you? A quick scan of situations vacant within chefing definitely highlights a demand for pastry chefs with starting salaries for junior pastry chefs around the £16,000 per annum mark rising to the mid-twenties with some experience. Head pastry chefs, it would seem, can demand their own rate of pay within reason with “competitive” salaries promised to entice those with even more experience.

Being a pastry chef or patissier doesn’t always confine you to being part of a kitchen brigade in a hotel or restaurant either as Sarah Frankland is proof. Having worked at Mayfair’s Connaught Hotel for two and a half years when Angela Hartnett was restaurant chef-patron, Sarah studied patisserie one day a week at college.

She then left to work for Scottish-born patissier William Curley and his Japanese patissier wife Suzue, who together are proprietors of three London area chocolate and patisserie boutiques in Richmond-upon-Thames, Belgravia and in Harrods. Now just over six years on, Sarah, who originally hails from Folkestone in Kent, is head patissier at the couple’s Twickenham kitchen, where the boutiques’ chocolates, cakes and desserts are made. Says Sarah, whose ambition is to one day open her own patisserie/cafe in London: “I really enjoy what I do.

“The hours can still be hard especially in the run up to Christmas when there is more demand for our chocolates but I do believe patisserie has given me perhaps more opportunities to further to my career.”

Sarah’s yearning to make a name for herself as a patissier won her a scholarship worth £3,500 which enabled her to train for two months at a French patisserie college and then spend three weeks in Japan. Says Sarah: “Japan was fascinating and I’d love to go back there. The Japanese have really taken patisserie to heart with many Japanese patissiers now training in France and then going back home only mix what they’ve learnt with their own culture so for example, you’ll  get patisserie with black and red beans.

“I was also able to go to New York where the fashion for dessert bars started. William introduced a dessert bar in his Belgravia boutique and it’s massively popular.”

Sarah also won last year’s inaugural Movenpick Gourmet Dessert Chef of the Year Competition. Held in partnership with the Craft Guild of Chefs, it required entrants to match one of the Swiss ice cream company’s ice cream flavours with a dessert of their innovation/choice. The finalists – six in all – then had to make their entry in a live cook-off held at Westminster Kingsway College.  Sarah opted for Hazelnut ice cream served with a poached apple cannelloni with a jasmine mousse topped on a chocolate sable Breton.

Judge Allan Pickett said the competition “should act as inspiration for chefs to put desserts back on the menu and encourage a revival of a course that is so often seen as an after-thought rather than what could be the icing on the cake of a top class meal”. For her efforts, Sarah won a weekend for two to Switzerland.

Adds Sarah: “I was so excited to win and to be part of something that raises the profile of desserts.”

Perhaps you might want to consider if a shift to sweets could bring you your just desserts?

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