Chef of the Week: Ellie Cook, Head Pastry Chef at Ettington Park Hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon

How long have you worked at your current restaurant?
Just under one year, I started in July 2023

Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
I always baked with my mother as a child, and she learned from her aunt who was a chef in the army during WWII. I guess you could say it’s a family thing! I loved sharing the products with people afterwards, it really brings people together.

What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
I love the creativity of coming up with new flavours and dishes, but what I really enjoy most is making people happy with the food that I’ve made for them. That’s what gives me the biggest satisfaction from my work.

Name three ingredients you couldn’t cook without.
Vanilla, salt, and garlic!

Which piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without?
My mixer is the most vital thing on my station, I couldn’t bear to be parted from it.

What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
I think sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in trying to put too much on one plate, or have too many flavours knocking about. I try not to have more than 3 or 4 flavours on one plate, and sometimes it’s nice to really focus in on one flavour and celebrate it on its own.

What is your favourite time of year for food, and why?
All of the seasons have their merits but I like the floral/fruity flavours of Spring. It’s so refreshing after a long winter to be able to see and taste some sunshine and colour!

Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
We make a strawberry and lemon verbena Eton mess at the hotel for our a la carte restaurant menu. It’s fully plant based and gluten free, and the flavours are just so refreshing and light.

How do you come up with new dishes?
I spend a lot of time gathering ideas from recipe books and other people on social media, and try to gather a mood board for what I want to achieve from a dish. Once I’ve got the flavours down then I’ll try various ways of plating until I’m happy with the result.

Who was your greatest influence?
Honestly, probably my mum. She supported me a lot when I quit my previous career as a nurse and helped send me to pastry school. She’s always happy to try things and gives me great feedback and new ideas, and her background is in design so she’s often got some plating ideas that I haven’t thought of!

Tell us three chefs you admire.
Julie Walsh – Head Pastry Chef at Le Cordon Bleu. She’s a fantastic teacher with a real passion for the subject. She helped me achieve a lot both during my training and afterwards when I worked at the school.

Amaury Guichon – I’m sure you’ve all seen his videos where he creates amazing sculptures from chocolate! I love how he’s reached such a wide audience with his work, most people have seen at least one of his videos. He’s a very skilled pastry chef.

Nicolas Houchet – Executive Pastry Chef at The Savoy. I had the privilege of being taught by him during my training as well as being able to do a short course in sugar work under his tutorage. He was the sugar candidate for Team UK during the Pastry World Cup, and did an incredible job with the showpiece.

What is your favourite cookbook?
It’s hard to choose! I love the Claridge’s cookbook, and I have lots of old ones that were passed down by my grandma and my great-aunt. I particularly like really old recipes where the quantities of ingredients are a bit more open to interpretation than the ones we have now!