Gerard Chouet joined Fairmont St Andrews in Scotland as head pastry chef in May. Growing up in Burgundy, France, he developed a passion for foraging from an early age before undertaking an apprenticeship in a patisserie at 19. He continued to work in pastry, completing a Master apprenticeship in France before moving to the UK to work at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. He went on to work at Hotel Tresanton in Cornwall and Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles before starting his latest role.
What are you enjoying about your new role?
Fairmont St Andrews is a renowned hotel in Scotland and I’m really excited to have joined such a prestigious group. The Fife region has a huge local larder of some of the freshest ingredients in the UK, so as a keen forager I’m looking forward to making the most of these flavours and celebrating the best produce to an international audience. I love changing perceptions of what people think British and Scottish food is, particularly how delicate and refined chocolate and patisserie can be. The hotel also offers a great platform to train and develop talented young chefs which I really enjoy doing and hope to inspire the next generation of pastry chefs in Scotland.
What is it about working in Scotland that appeals to you?
When I first came to Scotland my plan was to stay for one year, and I’ve been here for nearly 13 years! I take a lot of inspiration from nature, Scotland has some of the most amazing produce and I love working in such naturally rich environments. Fife, where the hotel is based, is thriving with naturally diverse produce so I enjoy spending my time adapting and experimenting with these ingredients in my pastry menus.
We’re now in raspberry season so there will be lots of raspberries featuring on my desserts – these ingredients are local, fresh, seasonal and free – what more could you want?
You claim to have a passion for experimental flavour combinations, what’s the most unusual one?
About 200 yards from my home there is a small wood where wild leeks, wild garlic, wood sorrel flowers, chickweed and elderflowers grow – I’ve been known to create an elderflower and peach soufflé with elderflowers from that wood. I also like apricot and rosemary in my macaroons, which is delicious, so I’ve been told.
What are the current trends in pastry and what do you predict to be big in the next couple of years?
Patisserie was traditionally quite a masculine environment, however that is changing. People do not eat as they did 10 or 20 years ago, people are more sugar intolerant so I create techniques in pastry that require less sugar but still give the wow factor.
I love to forage for ingredients, things like wild berries and flowers will continue to grow in popularity as chefs look for alternative flavours and cheaper ingredients indigenous to their area.
Who has inspired you most in your career?
My mum was a great cook and massively encouraged me to enjoy and experiment with cooking. We used to have lots of family parties with all the neighbours and I used to help out in the kitchen. From a young age I saw how much people got excited over desserts so I started to make some very simple things like marmalade using fruit from the garden.
What industry issue would you most like to solve?
I can’t stand laziness. As a chef I want to challenge my brigade and re-establish what is recognised as ‘standard’. I always strive to go above and beyond with the dishes on my menus and where possible use produce on my doorstep that I can make myself rather than buying in. If you can, I don’t understand why you wouldn’t pick and grow your own ingredients and make something from start to finish. We buy the flour and the eggs from outside but that’s it, everything else is made in the kitchen – the chocolate, the bread, everything. Too often people are willing to cut corners for the sake of quality, I would rather use local suppliers and deliver a lasting economy and infrastructure that will deliver for years to come.
Pastry is one of the toughest sections to recruit for, why is that?
To me, patisserie is more challenging, elegant and more technical than many other disciplines in the kitchen. The precision and technical ability of patisserie is a similar concept to a physician, you have to be precise.
It takes practice, patience and even more practice to develop skills and techniques to become a pastry chef and this can make it hard to recruit new talent. The reality is, only those dedicated to becoming a pastry chef will succeed – it’s not an easy profession, it takes a lot of time and dedication, which isn’t for everybody, but I think part of my role as a pastry chef is about sharing my experiences and skills with the next generation of chefs. I always teach students to work with enthusiasm because people are far more receptive that way.
What is the secret to being a successful pastry chef?
Be enthusiastic, be focused, but above all don’t be afraid. It takes practice and a lot of patience, but the best way to learn is by experimenting and making mistakes along the way and learning from them. When I’m not serving in the kitchen I’m practising and refining dishes at home, that’s the fun part of the job.
Hospitality & Catering News, Interviews Editor