The time has flown by since I graduated from Maison Christian Faure in October, 2016. I’d intended to keep up the monthly blogging but somehow I got caught up in the crazy whirlwind of starting my career as a pastry chef back in the UK. So, the adventure has not been plain sailing, more of a rollercoaster extraordinaire but not a ride I’d trade for anything. Welcome along . . .
November the 1st I arrive back in England. I set up my mobile phone account and spend the afternoon in my jet lagged state applying for jobs online. By the next morning my phone is ringing off the hook. In my naïveté I think I’ve been applying directly to the restaurants but in fact it is to catering agencies. By the third day I have 15 potential job offers! I am over the moon, I feel reassured that I have made the right decision to walk away from my career as an international trade law expert to pursue my dream of becoming a pastry chef. Recruiters are wooing me with offers of working with Michelin Star Chefs and in well-renowned restaurants. I feel spoiled for choice.
In the end after doing five trials across the country (this is where you go and work for free in the kitchen for a day) I accept an offer at a lovely boutique country hotel in the Cotswolds. The Chef is a personable chap and his approach to food is similar to mine – we both want to prepare seasonal food with integrity. He presents the opportunity to add my own desserts to the menu and agrees to teach me how to do service (something we didn’t touch on during my training). Eight weeks in and I have to honest with the Chef and myself, I’m just not a ‘country hotel’ pastry chef. The monotony of making creme brûlée and creme caramel over and over again is dragging me into despair. By the end of January, I have to leave.
In February, with a renewed spring in my step, I accept a position as a pastry chef in a small but highly regarded restaurant in one of the quaint and bustling market towns in the Cotswolds. The owner wants me to push the boundaries of desserts. I am to be given full creative licence to make the desserts of my imagination without any restrictions – pure heaven!
I loved the atmosphere in the kitchen. The chefs are calm and focused. This is in direct contrast to the country hotel where people were always yelling and frankly there was too much drama.
Unfortunately, what I think is the perfect job is short-lived. A misunderstanding in mid-March forces me to leave. I’m beginning to think I’m the problem. Two jobs in less than five months?
Maybe I’m not cut out to be a pastry chef? Should I abandon my new profession and return to the law?
Recruiters start calling again. Offers keep coming in from hotels and restaurants but I am despondent. I’m scared of making another wrong choice and becoming a jaded pastry chef in only a few months.
A few weeks of rest (some would call it unemployment) gives me the time to reflect on the last few months and I come to the realisation that I’m not necessarily a lofty restaurant pastry chef but I’m definitely a pâtissière. It was the neighbourhood patisseries of Paris that inspired me to pursue this new career after all, and to one day have my own small patisserie – The Pastry Counter. As Chef Christophe at Maison Christian Faure used to say to us, “Maybe in 14 years you can call yourself a pastry chef,” but for now pâtissière suit me just fine and maybe it always will.
My true love is the preparation of petit fours, tarts and eclairs. What I really enjoy is the making small batches of creams, piping choux pastry and baking celebration cakes like Charlottes and Fraisiers for clients. I’m at my happiest getting up early in the morning to roll out croissant dough and spending my evenings poring over recipes. Restaurant service is an adrenaline rush but not one that I require personally. I had enough of that when I worked in conflict zones and have no desire to recreate it in a kitchen.
That night I realise what I need to do is find a patisserie that will allow me to make the French pastries that I love.
As these things happen the next day my mobile rings. It’s the owner of a small family-run bakery in South Devon. They are setting up a new patisserie in Salcombe. We’d been in touch a few weeks before but feeling a little battered and bruised still I had turned down the chance to visit them. The man on the phone has a kindly voice and urges me to come down and see the place. This time I say yes. So begins the new chapter of my life . . . a pâtissière in Devon.
Over the next year I promise to blog about my experiences living and working as a pâtissière in idyllic Devon. Home of some of the best food in the country.
It’s been a slice . . .