In our inaugural Pathways column, Lisa Jenkins speaks to the pastry sous chef at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons in Oxfordshire to discover what route his career has taken and what advice he has to offer.
Did you study a hospitality course at school or college?
I studied at the Colchester Institute for three years, achieving VRQ levels one, two and three in professional cookery and advanced pâtisserie, as well as level three in food safety.
Did you do an apprenticeship in hospitality?
No, I started working on larder and pastry at 16 at a local restaurant three days a week and continued this after being accepted onto the full-time course at college.
Did you do any work experience in the industry?
When I was at secondary school, I did a week's work experience. We had to choose two places where we wanted to work. My first choice was a bike shop and the second was a kitchen in a nearby restaurant. I didn't get my first choice and by the end of that week, I realised that I wanted to be a chef.
What initially attracted you to working in hospitality?
I had always been interested in becoming a chef. My dad had a restaurant when I was very young, and I used to watch him getting involved in the kitchen when needed and running a busy service. As a result of this, I used to cook a lot at home with my best mate Chris, who is now a chef for Rick Stein. I could see how much joy you could bring to people through cooking, and I knew then that it was what I wanted to do.
I could see how much joy you could bring to people through cooking, and I knew then that it was what I wanted to do
What was your first hospitality job?
My first paid job was at the Food Factory in Colchester on the weekends, on the pizza and pastry sections.
Who was your first mentor or role model in hospitality?
Many people throughout the early stages of being a chef pushed me and trained me, but my first experience of a real mentor was when I joined Le Manoir. Benoit Blin introduced me to the world of competitions and took the time to train me to the level needed to enter.
Were there any influences, influencers or experiences that encouraged you the take the route you have taken?
When I was 19, I was working on larder and was unhappy. I was seriously considering leaving the kitchen. The pastry chef at the time was leaving and I asked the head chef if it would be possible to move into that section. He agreed, and I have never really looked back.
What networks have supported you in your career progression?
In 2013 and 2015, I was a mentee for the UK team at the Coupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie [pastry world cup]. I led the team in 2019 as captain and sugar candidate. This year I will be team president.
During the third lockdown, I was approached by the Chefs Forum to do a sugar masterclass for lecturers and students, and I have since continued to offer online masterclasses to UK colleges. The most recent event was a sponsored entremets cookalong with Valrhona UK and Matfer Bourgeat.
Have you embarked on any additional career development?
Le Manoir has encouraged me to enter competitions and has run workshops and courses to help my development in areas such as leadership. These skills have allowed me to move up through the team over the years.
What are the biggest challenges you've faced?
We always talk about the hours and the strain it can have on your body physically. However, after many years of working in the trade, I have come to learn that mental wellbeing is extremely important. This is now something I put first.
Do you have any regrets or things you wish you'd done differently?
I wish I'd travelled more when I was younger, to learn about other countries' approaches to pastry and flavours that we don't necessarily see here in the UK.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?
Ask questions – the more you ask, the more you learn. Don't be afraid to make mistakes, because you might create something better.
What are your career goals?
This past year has been very strange with lockdown after lockdown, so I have decided to work on refining the chef that I am, looking at techniques and style.
Would you recommend a career in hospitality to your friends and family?
Yes, I would. It can be incredibly rewarding, but I would warn them it is hard work to get there.
Who inspires you in the industry?
My biggest inspiration is Raymond Blanc. The care, love and passion he has for ingredients and making food an occasion rather than just a meal is something I also believe in.
June 2013-present Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, Great Milton, Oxfordshire
2010-March 2013 Milsoms Kesgrave Hall, Suffolk
2007-2010 The Boathouse, Colchester, Essex
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