'The more integrated pastry chefs can be into the main kitchen, the better for everyone' Anna Higham on ending the sweet and savoury chefs’ divide

The Staff Canteen

Why is there such a disconnect between Pastry chefs and those working other sections in the kitchen - and could they learn a thing or two from one another?

The River Café's award-winning pastry chef Anna Higham sat down with The Staff Canteen to discuss her new book, The Last Bite, which is due to launch on May 5th, and her experiences as a pastry chef in some of the UK's finest kitchens.

During our conversation, Anna explained that in many modern restaurant kitchens, there is a disconnect between the pastry chefs and the rest of the team.

It was not long ago that Daniel Clifford and William Curley claimed that pastry is a dying art in professional kitchens, as the number of specialised chefs has declined over time. But for those that are lucky enough to still have a pastry section, in Anna's opinion, there is great value in working together to learn and develop coherent menus as a unit.

Learning from the Savoury side of the kitchen

Though she has always been a pastry chef - starting her career at Bread Street Kitchen before moving on to Pétrus, London, then Gramercy Tavern in New York, as well as working at Michelin-starred restaurant Lyle’s in Shoreditch - Anna has learned a lot from the other sections of the kitchen, namely when it comes to recipe development.

She discussed how she had to learn "to not just take a recipe at face value but to, like they do in the savoury kitchen, constantly taste and constantly adjust."

And before serving anything to anyone else, one must try the whole dessert, to "understand what it's like to eat it as a customer or as a guest."

Even doing this, however, it is often hard to know how the dessert will fit in with the rest of the meal, especially at restaurants with à la carte menus or with a separate pastry kitchen - emphasising the need for a strong relationship between all sections.

And that is the bottom line here: having a cohesive team who develop menus together isn't just beneficial for the purposes of learning: it improves the guest experience, too.

"You want the whole meal to end on a high," she said.

‘Pudding is not just a bit of Cake at the end’

“That was the amazing thing about working at Lyle's," as with the restaurant's set menu in the evening, "I very much knew exactly what was coming before [dessert]. So, if they had a heavier or richer main course then really I didn't want to be creating a pudding that was going to be too rich or I would never want to double up on ingredients or techniques.”

By working together with the other chefs, the overall balance of the menu was improved. Far too often, in Anna's opinion, dessert is considered “an optional thing” or “an extra indulgence,” but that is far from the case.

She said: “Pudding is not just a bit of cake at the end, it should be part of the whole - the whole meal and the whole experience of eating."

Anna has had the good fortune to have worked in restaurants that share her views.

"I've been really lucky to work in restaurants that think like that, where the pastry department isn't like this separate thing, full of these alien chefs that work in a completely different way. I've always worked in places that've been really integrated into the kitchen."

"I think that's super important both from an experience point of view but also for chefs - the more integrated pastry chefs can be into the main kitchen, I think, the better for everyone."

We have two signed copies of Anna's book to give away, head over to our Insta @thestaffcanteen for the chance to get your hands on one.

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 26th April 2022

'The more integrated pastry chefs can be into the main kitchen, the better for everyone' Anna Higham on ending the sweet and savoury chefs’ divide