You have developed an excellent reputation for being a renowned pastry chef, and one of Scotland’s great talents – how did you get into this profession?
I started baking when I was 10 years old at home with my mother and my grandmother, both great home cooks and home bakers. At the weekends, we would always make something, and I used to sell tray bakes to neighbours to make some pocket money! As I grew older, it continued to be a hobby and whilst I was living in Barcelona. I would see patisseries every street corner and it was a real art! I decided I wanted to be a pastry chef and I moved back to Scotland and studied for an HNC in Patisserie at City of Glasgow College and, whilst studying, I worked at the weekends in the pastry section of Glasgow’s 5-star hotel, Blyswthood Square.
What would you say to a young person considering a consider a career in the pastry world in Scotland today?
It is such a rewarding career as you are responsible for creating special moments for your guests. Everyone eats cakes and desserts to celebrate happy events such as birthdays, anniversaries, weddings etc. It’s a hard job with long hours and a lot of sacrifice and dedication, but it’s worth it. I would recommend taking a college course to learn the basics and obtain some work experience. I have done unpaid work experience with chefs in Barcelona to learn the craft. I was told by a Spanish pastry chef, if you want to do your best, surround yourself with the best chefs. I have had the pleasure to work and learn from some amazing pastry chefs such as World Champion pastry chef Jordi Bordas and Claire Clark MBE, and it is great to bring these skills back to Scotland.
Any career highlights/greatest achievements that you would like to share?
I recently returned from New York after spending a week at the James Beard Foundation, the home of American Gastronomy. This was an amazing experience as I got to cook every day at the guest chef dinners with international chefs such as Massimo Bottura from the best restaurant in the world, 3-star Michelin, Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy. This trip was part of my Les Dames d’Escoffier Legacy Award which I was awarded in May 2018 and I will be going to their international conference in October 2018 to Seattle to present my experience which I am really excited about. In May 2018, I also had the opportunity to work for a week with the Roca Brothers and their team from 3-star Michelin restaurant, El Celler de Can Roca, on the opening dinner of the new Macallan distillery which was a great experience.
In May 2017, I was awarded the Callebaut Patisserie Chef of the Year at the CIS Excellence Awards. Furthermore, I won the Dessert Gold Medal at the Scottish Food Awards for my work at Number 16 restaurant in Glasgow. In May 2016, I was part of the winning team of BBC 2 TV programme, Bake Off Creme de la Creme, hosted by Tom Kerridge.
What kind of Scottish ingredients do you use in your work?
At the moment we are coming to the end of the berry season, but I love to use Scottish strawberries, raspberries and other berries in my desserts. They taste a lot better than the imported berries. I also like to use Scottish dairy produce such as good quality butter and cream in my desserts. It makes such a difference to the final product. I also think Scotch Whisky is a fantastic ingredient to use in desserts. It works so well with chocolate, one of my favourite ingredients! In June this year, I went to A Coruña in Galicia, Spain with BBC broadcaster and author, Rachel McCormack, to do a demonstration at a Gastronomy festival to showcase Scottish whisky in desserts and I used The Arran Malt and Talisker Malt. The Spanish loved it!
If you could change one thing about the Scottish food and drink industry to help more young people work in the sector what would it be and why?
I really think we need to promote hospitality as a valid career choice from school age because when I was a student, academic subjects were pushed to me and I did my degree and postgraduate diploma but ended up becoming a pastry chef! I have recently done some classes at The Glasgow Academy to help highlight to the students that this is a career where you can really work your way up and be successful! I think that hospitality students would really benefit from mentors to help them out as I had access to that and if it wasn’t for them, I probably wouldn’t be doing what I am doing now. I also think that chefs should have access to continuous formal professional training. This is something I have seen in Spain and chefs out there will invest in themselves and their training as they really value it. I have invested in myself by training over there to learn new skills I didn’t have access to here in Scotland.
What’s your Scottish Food & Drink Fortnight goal (#ScotFoodGoals) this year?
I would love the public to see what talented pastry chefs this country has as there are some amazing chefs doing wonderful things throughout the country that people don’t get to see. They are using Scottish ingredients and doing an excellent job with what our larder has to offer.