The executive chef at Pennyhill Park in Bagshot, Surrey, part of the Exclusive Collection, talks about the benefits of high-level pâtisserie training across a broader role to Lisa Jenkins
Can you tell us about your career development at Pennyhill Park since joining as head pastry chef in 2016? What training opportunities have you participated in?
I have always wanted to develop my career and push myself. As chefs we concentrate on cooking skills, but it is also important not to overlook the leadership skills required to become a great chef and an inspiring leader to your team and the wider hospitality community. During my time as head pastry chef, I completed the Exclusive Leadership Programme working with Hilary Cooke, taking time out of the kitchen to work on these skills in more depth. In my previous role at Yauatcha I also completed a leadership programme, which helped shape me into a better chef.
What does your new role as executive chef at Pennyhill Park have you focusing on?
The kitchen operation is vast as we have a very diverse food and beverage offering and a team of 47 chefs, as well as our back of house team. It is important to look beyond that and understand the wider business, which is what drives me to continue to learn and understand. I've been focusing on the guest experience – what do our guests need to ensure they are well catered for? Our food offerings also include our spa restaurant, Themis, which has a lighter menu.
How did you go from pastry to executive chef? What advice can you give to someone looking for a similar change of direction?
When I was first approached about making this transition, I did doubt myself on a culinary level – asking myself what can I give these chefs from the main kitchen? But when I delved deeper and spoke about the opportunity with our general manager Graham Copeman, and Stephanie Ashfield, our people and development manager, I realised I could give a very different perspective than what had come before.
Pastry chefs like me are driven in a meticulous way, with recipes and procedures to ensure consistency and standards. The main kitchen can be more fluid, especially if it is not a Michelin-starred kitchen. Driving procedures, precision with recipes and consistency, can result in increased guest satisfaction, and can also drive profit margin through, for example, a detailed waste reduction programme.
Can you take us back to your first role as a pastry chef with Angela Hartnett at the Connaught – what did you learn there that you've taken through your career with you?
This really was my starting block. I think back now to how crazy it was, having done so much of my own recruitment through the years. I was 16 years old and I arrived at the Connaught, did a trial and asked for a job, Angela took a chance on me and gave me the same opportunity that she had.
I'd never worked in a kitchen before, I just knew I wanted to be a pastry chef and I wanted to work for an inspiring female chef. While I was working at the Connaught I was also doing a pastry apprenticeship at Westminster Kingsway College, which gave me my base skills in pastry.
What lessons did you learn by working in a retail environment with chocolatier William Curley?
Working with William was more challenging that I had first imagined. The range of products was huge, and we couldn't sell out of anything. I spent time working in the shop, packing orders, and it really gave me a different insight into hospitality from a retail perspective.
The business grew and I grew with it and that was when I started to design and create products. I would always think about it from the customer's perspective, asking myself, would I want to buy and eat this product? How much would I be happy to pay for this? Thinking that kept me closer to the customer than when I was in a restaurant or hotel. Now, when I am talking and training the team, I always ask them to think about a dish as if they were sitting in the restaurant, and to keep this in mind when garnishing and plating dishes so they are constantly thinking about it from the guest's perspective.
William and Suzue [Curley's wife and business partner] also helped me develop my chocolate skills and it's where I learned about quality chocolate. I am extremely passionate about chocolate – I love eating it and cooking with it.
What skills did you take from your role as head pastry chef across the Yauatcha Group?
Organisation, mainly. It took a lot to organise three restaurants from one production kitchen. I would plan the week so the team would be as efficient as possible with a range of cakes, macaroons and chocolates to produce. Some Saturdays we would be catering for 700 covers across the two restaurants plus retail sales. Costs and gross profit was a big focus and it really helped me to fully understand costings and profit margins.
Do you go back to Westminster Kingsway College to inspire the students? How else do you support emerging talent within the industry?
I love to work with emerging talent, whether that's with our Exclusive Chefs Academy or with local colleges close to Pennyhill Park, such as Farnborough College of Technology and Reading College. Working with the Craft Guild of Chef's Graduate Awards and the Academy of Culinary Arts is also really fulfilling for me. In my younger years I was focused on my career and what I could achieve, and I always wanted to become the best pastry chef that I could be. Since 2019 my focus and what makes me proud has really changed, and it is so much more inspiring for me to help and develop other chefs – to teach and train them to reach their goals.
Can you tell us more about your role as pastry mentor for the Craft Guild of Chef's Graduate Awards?
I have been working with Will Torrent since 2020 on the Craft Guild of Chef's Graduate Awards. In time I hope to take a more active role and lead from the front on the pastry side, encouraging more entries in the pastry section.
Food photography: Angela Ward Brown. Dishes from Hillfield; Pennyhill Park head chef Adam Fisher
Maid of honour tart
The historic Surrey maid of honour tart is a signature dessert at the Hillfield restaurant at Pennyhill Park. Adapted from a recipe by the late, revered pastry chef John Huber, via pastry chef and Royal Academy of Culinary Arts Master of Culinary Arts Yolande Stanley.
Makes 10 tarts
For the cheese curds
- 2,250g Aldhurst Farm whole milk
- 10g salt
- 5g vegetarian rennet
- 7.5g MSK Ingredients' Standard Cheese Culture
Warm milk to 32°C. Add the cheese culture, salt and rennet and allow to sit for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, line a perforated half gastro with muslin, then place into another half gastro.
Gently, with a large spoon, spoon the curds into the muslin-lined tray. Cover the top with muslin and allow the mixture to drain for 2 hours. Reserve the whey for the sorbet.
For the tart filling
- 220g fresh curds (see above)
- 3 whole lemons zested
- 150g ground almonds
- 290g caster sugar
- 200g large fresh eggs
- 40g egg yolk
Mix the ingredients together and fill the 10 x 10cm brioche pans with 110g of the mix.
For the lemon curd
- 300g lemon juice
- 400g whole eggs
- 100g egg yolk
- 400g caster sugar
- 340g unsalted butter
Place the lemon juice into a pan and bring to the boil. Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs and yolks with the sugar. Temper the eggs, return everything back into the pan, and bring to the boil stirring continuously. Remove from the heat, allow to cool to 60°C and then add in the softened butter. Allow to cool in the fridge until ready to use.
For the lemon slices
Place 5 lemons into the freezer and allow to semi freeze for 2 hours. Slice at 2.5mm thickness on the slicer.
Prepare a stock syrup and bring to the boil. Drop in the sliced lemon and allow to marinate.
Reserve in the fridge up to 1 month until required
For the whey sorbet
- 165g sugar
- 165g water
- 1 zest lemon
- 900g whey
- 1.5g xanthan gum
- 100 Pro Crema
Make a syrup with the sugar and water and zest. Simmer for 2 minutes and then strain. Add the rest of the ingredients and churn.
For the lemon marmalade
- 8 lemons, with the skins peeled
- 1,600g lemon flesh, minus the white pith
- 480g lemon juice
- 1,320g sugar
- 70g pectin jaune
Put the rind and chopped flesh into a saucepan with the lemon juice and heat to 40°C. Add the pectin and sugar, bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Blitz in the thermomix until smooth and then place into a gastro to cool and set.
For the inverted puff pastry
- Mix 1 – flour
- 4,000g white flour
- 100g salt
- 2,125g water
Place all the ingredients into a mixing bowl with a dough hook and mix until smooth and elastic.
Place into the fridge to rest for at least 1 hour
Mix 2 – butter
- 6,000g dry butter – lamination butter
- 2,000g white flour
Mix the ingredients together until well combined. Place into the fridge to chill for at least 1 hour.
Roll out the butter dough to a 1cm thick square. Roll out the flour dough to a 2cm thick square. Sit it in the middle of the butter dough.
Fold the butter dough around the flour dough and make one double turn Rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
Repeat the process until you have done three double turns and then rest for at least 1 hour more.
Roll out to 2.5 mm depth and line the tart moulds and prick with a fork. Place into the fridge to rest again.
To fill and make the tart
Place a teaspoon of lemon marmalade at the bottom of the lined tart. Place the tart filling into the tart mould until it is three-quarters full.
Place into a preheated oven at 190°C fan assisted and bake until golden.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool to ambient temperature.
Garnish and serve with a lemon slice per tart on top of the tart and lemon curd and the whey sorbet on the side.
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