In the past, restaurants have found it difficult to find skilled pastry chefs, is that still the case?
People are out there, but they are thin on the ground. It is difficult to find the right person and you're probably more likely to find someone by chance than having five or six people lined up for the position. I'd say it is quite easy to find junior chefs, but if you're looking for someone mid-range like a chef de partie or demi chef and you want them to come with some skills or technical ability, it’s not easy to find that person. You’ll be lucky to find one person who’s got exactly what you’re looking for.
Why is it so tricky?
They say pastry cheffing is a dying art, which is why it is difficult to get hold of people, but it is also a tough area to work in. I'm making an assumption from general talk from the industry, not factual evidence, but maybe its because pastry chefs coming out of college find out it’s not all rosy, which it isn’t. It’s tough, it’s hard. In pastry, generally you’re first in the door and last out, which is difficult to cope with. You’ve got to be really focused and determined and try to make it work for yourself, day in, day out. So to be first in the door at 8am and sometimes still there at 12.30am waiting for the last table. You’ve really got to want to be there and you've got to be focused to stick it out, which can be tough.
How can the situation improve?
I can’t answer that, but I’ll make a comparison. When you go to restaurants in America, particularly New York, 99 per cent of the time the pastry chef’s name is on the menu, which gives them more status and recognition. They get the recognition for creating part of the menu, but here in the UK it's not the done-thing. Here, the pastry chef is recognised as part of a team with the glory just going to the head chef, which is a shame because there are some really talented guys out there working in pastry who get very little, or no, recognition.
I think as a pastry chef you'd like to get mentioned. It’s great to work for a big name who’s doing well and you want to be part of that, but it doesn’t get any higher than that, you don’t get your name on the menu, which could sound petty, but it is nice to have something back and will give you that little bit of motivation. It’s a slog sometimes, so that little extra reward would make a difference.
I also think there aren’t enough people coming through at grassroots and wanting to specialise in pastry. When I was at college I wasn’t aware you could do just a course in pastry. That has changed and evolved now, you can just train in pastry, but it still has a way to go.
The UK Pastry team achieved sixth place in the World Pastry Cup (Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie) last month. Do you think seeing UK pastry chefs doing so well at an international level could help raise the profile of a career in pastry?
I'd definitely say so. If you come up as high as sixth it just goes to show that competition on an international stage is achievable and can be done. Look at the last three times the team has done it, every time they’ve achieved a higher position, so theoretically moving forward, one day we’ll achieve the ultimate goal which is to win it. Things like that definitely raise the profile of pastry in the UK, but not just here but across the world.
Over the last few years pastry has been exposed more among the industry through the World Chocolate Masters, the World Pastry Cup and more recently the Junior Sugar Championship. These competitions are fantastic because they are showcasing pastry skills. I wouldn’t say they were day-to-day skills, but it’s showing pastry chefs who are in the industry already what can be achieved, so I think it’s really important to keep that momentum going. I think the Junior Sugar Championship in particular is good because it gives junior pastry chefs a goal and a reward where they can build their own skills.
How are you personally making a difference to raising the profile of pastry?
On a day-to-day basis at Marcus Wareing, I'm training and coaching the guys around me and checking that their skills are where they need to be. I make sure they are constantly learning and seeing new things. It's about imparting your knowledge to people who will not only be able to coach new members of the team, but also, when they do move on and go somewhere else, will be able to go on and train people under them.