Chef of the Week: Mauro Di Lieto, Executive Pastry Chef at The Landmark and Bake Off: The Professionals Winner 2023

How long have you worked at your current restaurant?
I have been the head of pastry kitchen at the Landmark London Hotel since April 2019.

Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
Passion for baking for me is a family tradition: My parents owned an ice cream and cake shop. I grew up helping them to cut fruit, fill choux buns, clean baking trays. I learnt my basic skills there, watching the pastry chefs working in our kitchen. I perfected my skills in the famous pastry school CAST Alimenti, traveling around Italy and working with several great Italian chefs like Inginio Massari, Leonardo Di carlo, Emmanuele Forcone and Davide Comaschi.

What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
My favourite part of the job is creating new desserts. Matching the ingredients creatively, finding the perfect balance, exciting textures and temperatures.

Name three ingredients you couldn’t cook without.
I love pears, you can always find them in my menus. I also like pistachios, preferably from Sicily. I’m also a huge fan of star anise, especially when poaching fruits, or infusing milk for custards.

Which piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without?
At the moment, my favourite piece of equipment is the spinner: I use it for our afternoon tea pastries, for decorating our plates in the Winter Garden restaurant and for our baked Alaska signature dessert on our banqueting menu.

What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
Having just opened our pastry shop, I had the opportunity to play with more creative Viennoiserie. I made a new version of croissants, called a “broissant” inspired by (combining brioche- the Italian version of a croissant- and a French croissant). It has a more elegant presentation, with more colour and exciting flavours.

What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
The biggest mistake a chef can do is to forget the customer and cook only to satisfy his or her own ego. It’s important to remember what guests expect from their meal: they would like a delightful experience not a technical masterpiece. To appreciate what they are eating, they need to understand it. It’s our mission to make our food exciting, nicely presented, clear with recognisable flavours and enjoyable textures.

What is your favourite time of year for food, and why?
I love Christmas time and the traditional Italian pastries that come with it: panettone, pan d’oro and mustaccioli, which is a typical south Italian spiced biscuit.

Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
My last signature dish was inspired by one of my Bake off: The Professionals challenges. It’s a dark chocolate and black truffle mousse, with a pecan and coffee dacquoise, pear and vanilla compote, pear and limoncello sorbet. It’s one of the most intricate and interesting mixes of flavours I have ever made. With proper balance, it yielded extraordinary results – and a win at bake off!

How do you come up with new dishes?
I always apply the rule I’ve learned from one of my favourite pastry chefs Gianluca Fusto: 3 flavours, 3 textures. When I find the 3 seasonal ingredients I want to use, I think about how to balance them. In the end I take care of the presentation.

Who was your greatest influence?
I’m inspired by the great Italian pastry chefs. Iginio Massari, the godfather of the Italian“pasticceria”. His style is very classical and reminds me to remember and celebrate my Italian heritage. Gianluca Fusto, the modern side of the Italian pastry culture. Creative and respectful of the fresh ingredients.

Tell us three chefs you admire.
Markus Bohr,
executive pastry chef at Harrods. The level of perfection he achieved at the pastry counter, in the chocolate room and in all their outlets, together with his team, is pure poetry. Martin Chiffers, international pastry consultant. I was lucky to work with him and he is an institution for the British pastry arts. He is a living pastry encyclopaedia, ever in evolution. And a man with a big heart. Nicolas Rouzaud, executive pastry chef at The Connaught. In my opinion, his pastry kitchen is the best in London. Nice desserts, nice afternoon tea and an impeccable counter in their pastry shop.

What is your favourite cookbook?
Tradizione in evoluzione” by Leonardo di Carlo. A 1000-page book, all the pastry art in one book, complete with theory, methods and recipes. Every Italian pastry chef keeps a copy in their locker.

Who do you think are the chefs to watch over the next few months?
Phil Khoury, without a doubt. After he published his book about plant-based desserts, he is being very active. Plant based is the future and he is well positioned to be the pioneer and drive the revolution.

What’s been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
Not really into new restaurants, but I love to go to bakeries when I am off. I am excited to see the chain “buns from home” doing so many new openings. The product and the concept are fantastic, simple but inventive for a very reasonable price!