|18 Dec 2020|
|Amazing Alumni: Business|
Tell us about your shop.
My shop is actually a kitchen with a counter at the front. It’s all take away so essentially it’s more like a patisserie atelier-style space rather than a traditional shop. During the first lockdown when we lost all our work with Selfridges, Fortnum’s and all the other shops I decided to look for somewhere that would at least have some kind of counter so that we could still stay open, because obviously we had no events, no work and I was just seeing the business crumble. It was an office and it was really cheap rent so I decided to take the lease on and transform it into an open plan atelier-style baking kitchen where we could also do classes. The actual shop was only something I thought about very last minute and when you go in you realise it’s more of an open plan kitchen with a counter. It works really well with what we’re doing. It’s in Ladbroke Grove and it’s part of a block of other offices with other small businesses operating from there.
What’s your best seller?
The milk chocolate fleur de sel cookies are probably our best seller. The choux buns are obviously a big seller too, our hazelnut chocolate choux do very well probably because they’re my favourite so I always tell everyone to go for them. But in terms of a best seller the classic milk chocolate cookies just fly out.
Do you have any Christmas goodies?
Yes, lots! For Christmas we’ve changed two of our choux, there’s a Baileys one which has a really delicious light fluffy Baileys cream, it’s like having a little shot of Baileys in a choux bun. And then we’ve got speculoos which is that gingerbread Christmassy biscuit flavour. We’ve also got a triple chocolate yule log and a few Christmassy tarts, and a flourless chocolate orange cake. We started working on a range of chocolates, so we’re doing milk chocolate, hazelnut and feuilletine biscuit rochers that we sell in boxes for gifts. And we’ve got almond clusters, mini meringues and loads of little snackable chocolate gifts.
What’s your favourite sweet treat?
That’s such a hard one! Our cookies are very, very good. Anything new we make I get really, really into because obviously I haven’t eaten as much of that as of the other things. I do love our hazelnut chocolate cookies, passionfruit choux and coffee eclairs, which we started doing recently because so many people were asking for them.
How has it been opening your shop in the current climate?
Surprisingly good because it’s not like a classic shop where people are sitting at tables, it’s just got a take away counter. So while most shops have been closed we’ve actually been quite lucky because people are looking for something to buy and because our stuff is take away everyone is buying things from us. And as no one’s allowed to go to the restaurants people buy more take away. So it’s actually been really good. People are happy that we are there and very positive so we’ve had a great response. So funnily enough, it’s actually been great.
What route led you here?
Wow that’s a big question. We started out on the market stalls all around the city. First in old Spitalfields, then we started doing events then supplying Selfridges, Fortnum and Mason and eventually doing more corporate events. But before all of this I went to university and after university trained as a pastry chef in Paris at a patisserie school on an four-year apprenticeship. Then I came back to London and worked as a chef for a while until I realised I didn’t really enjoy the working climate in the kitchens so I decided to start up my own business which led to the market stalls. From there it was just slowly building up the brand, getting customers and trying to stay as consistent as possible and keep on the path of quality – that was the main thing.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
There have been so many challenges. Obviously financial, I don’t think anybody really tells you how little money you make when you’re in business, especially in food. Spending no money and staying focused, not letting yourself drift with all the other options you could be doing, staying consistent. Another really huge challenge has been staffing and getting people to help. I was always taking on people who were underqualified and I thought I could train them but that just meant I was spreading myself too thinly and I was doing everything. I’ve only recently in the last year decided to take on staff with experience and it’s better to pay for someone who has the right skills than to pay a starting salary for someone who hasn’t. Then there are pricing challenges, pricing our pastries and knowing how much to charge.
But the absolute biggest challenge is being being able to say no. I always say yes. Even when I can’t do something I will always say yes and the thing is sometimes you just can’t do it. I’ve only recently been able to say no because I’ve been confident enough that our products will sell. So now I can say no to people who want things that are completely impossible to pull off such as big deliveries for the next day and people wanting very bespoke pastry that ends up being three times more work and more expensive with buying specialist ingredients. Saying no has been really tough as I always like to please everybody and I hate to turn people down. So saying no has been my biggest challenge.
What do you love about your work?
I love so many things about my work, I love the creative process, creating new products, seeing the end product. I love how you can make something from A-Z, from the raw ingredients to boxing it up to the photograph the customer sends you or their social media post. So the sense of achievement from creating something, that’s what I love most.
What keeps you motivated?
Luckily I’m doing something that I absolutely love so that keeps me motivated. When you have customers and staff you really need to stay motivated because your energy energises them. Obviously we are all going to have down days and be tired but because I love what I’m doing that’s what fuels me, which sounds like a cliché but I’ve taken on something that I really enjoy, I love creating baked goods, I love pastries, I’m obsessed with chocolate so it’s just about being really passionate about what you do.
What’s next? What else would you like to achieve in the world of patisserie?
There are so many things I want to do. I want to teach more whether that’s online or in person. I want to have the confidence to transmit that to others. The kitchen we’ve built is perfect for teaching or having a little online presence where people can learn more. I just don’t really have a lot of time these days. I’d love to work on more Viennoiserie products, which are croissants, brioche and all of the breakfast things but I’d like to do that in a different place not in the space we are in now. I’d love to open up a proper café or patisserie shop once things get back to normal. I’d love to do more things with choux and eclairs - there are endless possibilities!
Any words of encouragement for students looking to get into a similar area?
I would say training is probably the most important thing because training, being qualified and being skilled in one thing is what will differentiate you from everyone else. Whether that’s like me and patisserie or whether that’s being a chocolatier or a wine connoisseur or anything in food and beverage or even if it’s in art, being really skilled in one thing and being the best at that one thing I think is the only way these days that you can differentiate yourself because there is so much competition out there. Also, realising that nothing happens overnight and there are always ways of bettering yourself and being better in what you do. Try to find that one thing that you really like and focus just on that.
Did your time at St James help you in your work at all?
Absolutely. I think that there are great things about St James: generosity, patience and the skills on meditation and being at peace with yourself. I haven’t always been very good at that. It definitely helped me in realising that things don’t just revolve around me and if you are generous and kind to others that will reflect back on you. Giving your time up for other people, whether that’s helping someone younger learn or in charitable work, those kind of things that are taught in St James definitely helped me to realise that the important things in life just come down to helping others.
What’s your fondest memory of St James?
The art of hospitality week at Waterperry and baking biscuits and sausage rolls. That was my first time baking and cooking and I remember I loved it so much. Also of course being with my friends who I’m still really close with now, sports classes, having fun – I definitely have so many fond memories of St James.