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Tom Kerridge: the truth about pastry chefs

31 March 2016 by
Tom Kerridge: the truth about pastry chefs

The new Bake Off: Crème de la Crème BBC2 programme seems to have split opinion among TV critics and the Twitterati. Tom Kerridge spoke to Lisa Jenkins hours before the first show.

Why did the BBC ask you to present a pastry programme?

Because I could be the link, I think. You've got amazing technical skills being presented by the competitors, and they are demonstrating methods that are unfamiliar, and because of some of the terminology, the standards, temperatures and terms (like pastillage and tempering). It was my job to convey that to the viewer in layman's terms. I'm similar to the viewer in that I can't do pastry at their level, but I can explain it in simpler terms to the viewer.

I wanted to be the teams' encourager, to help them relax. I was completely impartial and wanted them all to succeed. I wanted to make them all feel comfortable - I've been in their shoes and it's nerve-wracking!

I think you will see this more as the show progresses. The days at Wellbeck Abbey [where the show is filmed] were really long; 16-plus hours on some occasions but we wanted everyone to do well and highlight the level of skill they have - even the teams that ran out of time. The coverage will show the intricate elements that go into their creations.

You've fronted and competed in a lot of shows for the BBC but you've not hosted a team competition programme. How did it compare to the other formats you've experienced?

You're right, it's the first time professional teams have competed and the first unique programme about professional pastry chefs.

Claire has an MBE for her pastry, Cherish's Afternoon Teas are jaw dropping and Benoit told me: "I'm judging this as if I'm sending it out to our guests at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons."

Do you eat cakes and patisserie?

I don't usually, and I've cut down on my carbs and alcohol, but I did have a couple of tiny tasters during the show. Desserts with custards and mousse are my weakness, but it's all about the balance.

Is it true you described pastry chefs as "complicated" to Benoit Blin?

They are complex, they are more scientific with the focus on exact temperatures and measurements - and precision is paramount for them. They work in their own space, which becomes their "world". They can't allow themselves to be affected by the hot kitchen which is much more organic (the touch and feel), there is more fluidity in the hot section.

There is no room for error in pastry, and although hot kitchen and pastry chefs are all driven, pastry can't be rushed, as a particular dish may have taken two or three days to get to a crucial point. Also pastry chefs have more time to think about the final visual impact, their "show-piece", if you like, including the colour and vibrancy. They can be more flamboyant.

Have you changed your mind about pastry chefs?

Yes. I thought they were all quite laid-back and that they perhaps didn't have as much drive as chefs in the hot kitchen, but I was wrong, they are as driven and determined as any other chef, if not more so due to the necessity for more precise timings.

Will you put any of the desserts you've seen on your menus at the Hand & Flowers and the Coach in Marlow?

I don't think so. I'd love to have some of the chocolate sculptures you will see on the menu, but there are too intricate for our businesses. I did take away some pastry "tricks of the trade" though.

What will the industry get from the show?

They will finally get a show that represents great pastry work, that's often overlooked. In spite of the success of programmes like Great British Menu and MasterChef: The Professionals, the desserts were always a bit of a let-down. It's a brilliant TV show to watch, it showcases our industry in a good light and portrays the contestants in a positive way. I hope it will encourage teams to enter next year and inspire younger people to join the industry as pastry chefs.

Any surprises on the show?

From the start some of the teams you expect to do well, don't and, there are some tears. It's a rollercoaster of a show with some teams coming back from the ashes. There was no script and absolutely nothing was pre-determined.

It's a completely honest TV show that's entertaining and educational

Bake Off: Crème de la Crème continues on BBC Two on Tuesdays at 8pm. The series is aired over eight weeks, including five heats, two semis, and a final.

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