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Loving life in hospitality: Kacey Bignell

18 October 2016 by
Loving life in hospitality: Kacey Bignell

The pastry chef at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park and Highest Achiever Award winner in the Craft Guild of Chefs' Pastry Graduate Awards talks to Katie Pathiaki about the competition

How are you feeling after winning the Highest Achiever Award?

I'm still so shocked that I won. Passing was my aim throughout but to achieve the highest mark is such an honour and so rewarding for all the effort I put in. It's been a lot of pressure but we've now set the standard for years to come.

I am hoping that in 10 years' time the Pastry Graduate Awards will be as successful as the hot kitchen one, and there will be a new generation of pastry chefs competing in the awards.

Why did you enter the competition?

I entered it to challenge myself. I was aware of the pastry judges and knew their expectations were high so I wanted to see if I could push myself to the highest level. I learned so much throughout the months of training, improving more as a chef each day.

It was challenging yet rewarding. For me, designing our own chocolate sculpture was the fun part. I've been surrounded by chocolate work since I first entered a pastry kitchen. The mystery box was hard because there was only so much you could prepare for, and once the competition starts, if your mind goes blank, there's not really much you can do. You just have to rely on your instincts as a chef.

When did you decide you wanted to be a pastry chef?

When I was younger I made cakes at home in my parents' kitchen. For my 16th birthday my parents organised work experience at William Curley, which was an absolute dream. After one day in the Belgravia store on the dessert bar, I knew I wanted to be a pastry chef.

What did you learn from him?

I think my time there was what enabled me to gain my position at my current job at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park. I quickly learned I needed to toughen up, - I was so young starting out at 17, but being around a successful chef like William moulded me into a better chef and person too.

What attracted you to the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park?

The opportunity to work in a renowned five-star hotel under a great chef like Heather Kaniuk was just too good to miss. I love getting into work not knowing what surprises are in store, as we get so many guest requests and special orders. We get to be so creative.

Who inspires you?

I get a lot of inspiration from Yolande Stanley, my chef at college who taught me for two years. I've now developed a similar style of my own in the kitchen. Her career path is something I hope to follow over the next few years. My current and previous head chefs, Heather Kanuik and Alistair Birt, have both shown me the kind of head chef I want to be one day: hard working, full of ideas and respectful to the team. All of these people are proof that hard work pays off, and that keeps me going each day in the kitchen.

Do you think the industry is doing enough to raise the profile of pastry chefs?

When I was first starting out there wasn't that much information about becoming a pastry chef, which makes it harder to start. There aren't that many good courses to take either; I was very lucky to be taken on and to train with some fantastic people at both college and work.

That's why I took part in the Craft Guild of Chefs' Graduate Awards competition. I hoped it would inspire other young pastry chefs. I think it's important that pastry is recognised to the same level as any other kind of section in the kitchen.

What are your plans for the future?

I'd like to travel at some point, learning skills from around the globe. Maybe I'll enter another competition! They're good experience for learning a lot in a small period of time.

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