Yoghurt & honey mousse with strawberry jelly insert, strawberry gel & fresh Kent strawberries, coffee granola, cereal milk ice-cream and lemon balm.
If there was one word I could use to describe this crazy industry I find myself in it’s this: fluid.
When I started working as a professional pastry chef about 18 months ago (give or take), I never would’ve guessed that I’d have learned so much in such a short amount of time, met so many great people, or been given the opportunities to develop that I have; I also wouldn’t have guessed that I’d already be onto job no. 3.
I have incredibly mixed feelings about this. I come from an accomplished family who work in industries that value commitment and loyalty, values that were instilled in me from a young age. So moving around jobs so much as an adult leaves me feeling a bit torn – on the one hand, I feel disappointed in myself for not sticking it out or “going the distance”; on the other I know that the decisions I make are based on sound, logical (and sometimes medical) reasoning, and they’ve led me to the position I’m now in, which makes me incredibly happy.
Blueberry curd slice on maple pecan biscuit base, chai white chocolate cremeux, blueberry compote and sugar tuile; “The Malteser” – malt biscuit brushed with milk, dark choc & white choc cremeux, milk choc sorbet, malt meringue, malt streusel.
Everybody told me (and still continues to) that this life that I’ve chosen is a hard one, that I will sacrifice so much to it and that’s why I really have to love it; the talk I gave last year repeated this sage advice. The normal rules of “life” do not apply in the professional kitchen: when you burn yourself you pick your cookies up, run it under cold water and slap some cream on it, then you continue; when you cut yourself you wrap it up and keep going, unless you’re bleeding over everything, in which case you might go to the hospital, but probably you’re just going to do something weird like using meat glue to stick yourself back together (side note: meat glue is the most disgusting thing I have ever heard of); racism, sexism, abuse and harassment are just kitchen banter and if you want to complain about it you’re going to be labelled as “that-person-who-bitched-about-everything”. In other words, any normal “work-place propriety” does not apply here and that’s something I’ve had to get used to very quickly.
I remember the first time I saw something I deemed “inappropriate” in a kitchen: a senior chef was bollocking a junior for something they had messed up, which he then followed up by grabbing him by his chef whites and practically shoving his head into the pot of food. I froze, felt my stomach rise into my throat and I remember thinking, “this is really happening, this isn’t on TV, this is happening right now“. It was terrifying but the thing that shocked me the most was how the rest of the staff did nothing. If anything, they sped up, terrified that they would be next (and now, having been on the other side, I know exactly why they did/said nothing). I was called over to a station and truffles were thrust into my hands with the instruction to hurry and put these away as fast as I could – I practically ran, my cheeks red, still hearing the shouting coming from behind me.
“Why am I doing this?!” My head screamed at me, “why am I here?!”
And yet I’m still here, still working, and I’ve finally grown that thick skin everybody told me about. But I was sick of the 16+ hour days, of coming home to find my partner asleep and leaving before he woke up, of not even having enough time to look after my health properly, of being so exhausted and stressed out that I was getting sick every two weeks. So after a year in a busy hotel and a few months in a busy restaurant, I needed to take a step-back, re-evaluate and find a job that would allow me to develop my own work and progress, as well as look after myself and my partner a little better.
Amazingly, I found that and I am now so happy in my work life it’s unbelievable.
We had a little cocktail-themed dessert off at work: “Mojito” by me – lime tart with beurre noisette pastry, Havana rum espuma, salted caramel, mint sorbet, lime gel, mint tips; “Mango Daiquiri” by Kurt – mango mousse, chocolate tuile, mango gel, mango macaron, rum and mango muddle, mango and lime granita; the scoreboard at the end of the day.
I actually get to make my own desserts now and work with somebody whom I get on with so well, I feel like he’s my brother. So for the past couple of months, that’s what I’ve been doing: hiding away in the City, making desserts and having a bit of a life outside of work again. It is amazing the difference it makes having somewhat regular work days: I now know that I will mostly work only Monday to Friday, that the occasional Saturday will be required but because I actually have weekends now, I don’t mind when that happens.
Don’t get me wrong, the job I have now is still hard and my Chef and I work bloody hard – some days I still want to cry with frustration, or slap somebody in the face and scream at them, or throw all of my desserts on the floor and stomp on them; but generally I am a much happier person and the people around me can all tell. I’ve moved around a bit, sure, and I would love for my CV to have longer dates on it, but I’ve moved because I’ve needed to and now I have a great place to work in, a great team to work with and a great opportunity to be me.
“Raspberry & Pistachio” – raspberry mac base, pistachio mac, raspberry gel, fresh raspberries, roasted pistachio, pistachio Swiss meringue buttercream, Jammy Dodger ice-cream; “Apple Pie” – New Orleans style beignets filled with salted caramel & apple gel, Parisienne caramelised apple, apple gel, dulce de leche, blackberries, blackberry sorbet, white chocolate crumb; coconut parfait on salted chocolate crumb base, toasted dessicated coconut, apricot gel, coconut sugar roasted apricots, chocolate tuile & lemon balm.
One recipe which I love to use is this chocolate cremeux recipe. A chocolate cremeux is essentially a chocolate cream, made using an anglaise base, and with a little added gelatine to help it hold up and pipe beautiful peaked bulbs (you know you gotta love a good bulb). It’s delicious on its own or added atop a bar or tart for texture and visual contrast.
How stiff the finished cremeux is does depend on the percentage of your chocolate and quality – this recipe works best with Valrhona Equatorial, a 55% cocoa dark chocolate, but I have used it with other chocolates of varying percentages and qualities, I have also flavoured the cream with spices. If using white chocolate, I would recommend adding about 50g of white chocolate and half a leaf of gelatine, plus make your anglaise a little thicker; if using dark chocolate, decrease the amount of chocolate by about 50g. Always make your chocolate cremeux the day before you want to use it to allow the chocolate to crystallise overnight, and as it contains eggs and dairy, do refrigerate and keep for up to 3 days only.
250g whole milk
250g double cream
120g egg yolks (pasteurised)
50g caster sugar
1 1/2 leaves gelatine (gold strength)
300g Valrhona Equatorial (55%)
1. In a pan, place the milk and double cream and bring to the boil and soak the gelatine leaves in cold water until soft.
2. Whisk the sugar and egg yolks in a bowl – be sure to whisk as soon as you combine the two ingredients, or the sugar will cook the yolks; meanwhile place your chocolate in a heatproof bowl.
3. When boiling, pour 1/3 of the milk/cream mixture onto the yolk/sugar mixture, whisk well, then return to the pan and cook out, whisking continuously, until a digital thermometer reads 83 degrees C.
4. Immediately add the softened gelatine leaves (being sure to squeeze out the excess water), whisk, then pass through a chinois or fine-mesh sieve onto your chocolate.
5. Allow the hot anglaise to sit on the chocolate for a minute or so, then, using a maryse, stir using small movements in the centre of the mix, scraping down the sides of the bowl from time to time, until all of the chocolate is melted and a ganache is formed. At this point you can use a hand-blender* to make sure there are no lumps left in the finished cremeux and if you’re working with a larger batch size, this is definitely a good idea. Alternatively, pass the anglaise into a separate bowl and add it to the chocolate in three incorporations, stirring well each time, then use a hand-blender.
6. Transfer to a fridge-worthy container, clingfilm to surface and leave overnight to allow the chocolate to crystallise.
7. When ready to use, transfer to a piping bag with an appropriate piping nozzle and pipe away to your heart’s content!
*A note on using hand-blenders: be very careful not to incorporate air into your cremeux by holding the hand-blender head too close to the surface. Make sure it is fully submerged at all times and when inserting and removing hold it at a slight angle to prevent bubbles from forming.
Until next time, peace and love,