Mark Tilling is resident tutor for Squires Kitchen, a cookery school based in Farnham, Surrey. He has worked as a pastry chef at many top hotels including the Lanesborough, Lainston House Hotel, Hotel du Vin and Michelin-starred Le Pave d’Auge in Normandy, France. Lisa Jenkins talks to the two-time UK chocolate master to find out what it takes to become world-class
Can you tell us about your role as resident tutor at Squires Kitchen?
I’ve been a resident tutor at the school for seven years, teaching a variety of classes including chocolate, pâtisserie and bakery. We teach at all levels, from novice to professional, and attract students from across the world including China, Florida and Australia. I have also just taken on the role of school manager and I oversee the running of the courses and diary.
Where did you gain your grounding as a pastry chef?
I took my first role as a pastry chef at 16 at the Botleigh Grange Hotel in Southampton while studying at Southampton City College for a Btech National Diploma in catering and NVQ Level 3 in pastry.
After college I moved to London and worked as commis pastry chef at the Lanesborough Hotel under chef Paul Gayler. In 2009 I moved home to Winchester and joined Hotel du Vin Winchester as pastry chef, then head pastry chef at Hotel du Vin Bristol. In 2006 I moved to Lainston House Hotel [part of Exclusive Hotels]as head pastry chef working with Andrew MacKenzie, who was then head chef.
What are the biggest challenges faced by pastry chefs today?
Pastry and the skills involved in creating desserts don’t seem to get equal recognition in our industry. We have so many talented pastry chefs and chocolatiers in the UK but head and executive chefs tend to get the limelight. Maybe we need to speak up more?
How can we get more pastry chefs back into the industry?
The launch of the new BBC show Bake Off: Crème de la Crème, will thrust professional pastry chefs into the limelight. I hope it will encourage younger chefs and show that there is more to cooking then just starters and mains.
Why is pastry and chocolate work such a fulfilling role?
It’s the variety and creativity involved. Chocolate is such a versatile ingredient with an interesting history and a fascinating process from bean to bar. I have been lucky to visit cocoa plantations in Brazil and Ghana, and meeting the cocoa farmers has spurred me on to learn and create more.
What’s changed in your sector over the last 10 years?
The most significant change has been in the ingredients we now have access to. The availability and quality of ingredients has improved dramatically. Now even rare origin chocolate is more readily available.
You were ranked seventh at the 2009 World Chocolate Masters and have since been a judge and ambassador.
It’s been hugely influential and an amazing honour to represent the UK. It has helped me improve my chocolate skills and opened my eyes to a greater knowledge of chocolate. It’s wonderful to be able to pass on this knowledge at the Squires cookery school and the Callebaut Chocolate Academy.