So You Want to be a Pastry Chef?
Patissier extraordinaire Massimo Bishop-Scotti, who heads up Zucchero Patisserie in South Wales, shares some words of wisdom.
No matter how mind blowing the flavours might be in a main course, it’s invariably the dessert which elicits gasps of delight from diners. But creating such masterpieces takes not only a special touch but a special temperament, according to sweet supremo Massimo Bishop-Scotti who says that the key attributes for an aspiring pastry chef are passion, precision, patience and an artistic flair.
“Patisserie and baking is a very different approach from being a normal chef,” says Massimo. “You can’t just add a bit of this and a bit of that. It’s a lot more precise and a lot more disciplined – you have to stick to the rules. In Italy, where I come from, we don’t call the place where the baking takes place the kitchen – it’s a laboratory and that’s because baking is not like being a chef, you are more like a food scientist.”
But while pastry by demand a methodical, almost regimented approach, it also requires more than a streak of artistic flair.
“Of course any chef needs to be creative,” says Massimo, “but the diners’ visual expectations for desserts are much higher than for any other course.
“And we are making everything from scratch. A ‘normal’ chef has a main ingredient like a piece of meat or fish, and there are different ways of cooking it, but you can’t make another animal!
“A pastry chef will start with eggs, flour, butter and sugar and create something totally new.”
Programmes like The Great British Wedding Cake and The Great British Bake Off have seen a surge of popularity and interest in the sweeter side of baking, but Massimo believes that a lack of specific training for pastry chefs, and an increase in the use of premixed products in kitchens has led to a decline in quality.
“When I did my City & Guilds qualification I had to do a six hour practical exam,” says Massimo. “But you don’t get that now.
“I have taken on students before who on paper were qualified but in reality they did not have the practical skills.
“Now I go by passion and attitude rather than qualifications. If someone has the right attitude then I can teach them techniques.”
“My advice to anyone thinking about going into pastry would be to get as much practical experience as possible and go to somewhere with an artisan element. There are a lot of pubs and restaurants that are buying in more and more pre-made things instead of making them from scratch and I think that is why the industry is suffering.”
And while desserts might be the dishes with the biggest wow factor Massimo warns that a career as a pastry chef may not be right for someone who likes to be in the limelight and urges budding patissiers to look at the long term prospects.
“As a pastry chef you will always be reporting to an executive chef,” he explains. “So if you always want to be number one you might find it quite limiting.”
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Photography and film by Craig Howarth: www.seaaitch-photography.com