Plonking plastic in pastry has found me invited to some unique organisations and restaurants and last week I had the pleasure of being invited to see Pastry Chef Damien Wager demonstrate his skills at Bath College.
An Apple for Teacher
I was joining a group of young pastry chefs for a masterclass in making fruity desserts. A sure-fire way to get my five a day and far more enjoyable than a kale infused smoothie. Inspired by his idol Cedric Grolet, Damien produced a mirror glazed apple with a liquid centre for us to savour.
I consider myself so fortunate that I’ve been invited and embraced by the patisserie world, there is nothing more exciting for me than watching chefs at work. The buzz of a professional kitchen, the ingredients and the process not to mention the discipline the chefs have. The gruelling work hours, heat and perfectionism needed to succeed in a professional kitchen isn’t for everyone but if you can stay the course, then you have a chance to elevate yourself above the competition, and that’s good for all of us.
Why can’t the UK be great for dessert? Our French cousins get all the glory but there are only 11 miles between the two countries, but this gap, this channel, seemingly acts as a cultural dessert gulf. In the UK few people can name a pastry chef. Desserts are the bought in as an afterthought, the sinful indulgence. I have visited many restaurants that have a “good” reputation. I’ve poured over the dessert menu and been disappointed by the flavour, effort and execution of the dish. I’ve now reached a level that when I go out with friends I don’t often bother with dessert; a statement that in previous years wouldn’t have left my lips (and one my friends and dining colleagues can attest to). I’d rather have a spoonful of something excellent than a vat of sweet stodgy desserts. In this way, Damien is a bit of revelation to the profession. He wants to create pastry passion here in the UK. He wants people to be able to name a pastry chef, have a British idol, create that buzz around dessert that is lacking in the UK. To be honest that’s my mission as well.
What is a great dessert for me? Well for me the flavour is the most important aspect. The flavour combinations have to be flawless so that the dessert bounces across your taste buds. The ideal flavour should have different notes and intensity. Complemented with luxurious textures that add a dimension and balance to the dessert. The proportion of each component needs to work, together, in harmony, like a choir at peak performance.
Once this sublime blend of harmonies has been achieved then the icing on the cake, is its look, its image, its story. The presentation, drama and theatre of a dessert needs to be precisely and skilfully executed. Only the greatest pastry chefs achieve both the flavour and presentation perfected in one glimmering dish. And that’s why they’re the greatest.
Practise makes perfect
To become a great pastry chef you need to practise the components and master them. The techniques and the processes to be able to make a mousse, a glaze, sponge, gel or meringue. Once you have those tucked away in your apron then you can work on the layers of excellence a dessert needs. The flavours, the textures and finally the delicate hand that is needed for final picture perfect styling.
Damien is teaching young chef’s those component principles and then showing them how they can be used to create a dessert that works. Having earned your stripes in the kitchen, then you get to experiment with the flavour of the mousse, the liquid insert and surprising textures to elevate the basics from its core principles to something exceptional. It is these basic skills that need to be taught to enable the British to start building a body of pastry chefs who can raise the bar (and souffle) of the British dessert.
Myself and the young chef’s learnt a great deal from Damien, but I’m not going to tell you how you get the liquid centre in a dessert. It’s part of the theatre, the creativity, the wow factor that adds to the plate presented to you. For me when I eat great food I want to think, to explore and to unravel the story. I want to wonder ‘How did they do that’, ‘How did they achieve that flavour?’ ‘What did they do to that ingredient to get that taste? I want to be taken on a journey to the very edges of my imagination, to the edges of my own knowledge and to be delighted and intrigued. And for me, the liquid centre is just that. That secret, that illusion, that trick, that leaves you still astounded on the way home. The pastry chef’s little secret. A little bit of magic!
Follow me as I tour the country baking with the best the UK patisserie World has to offer.