Ami Blakey, Head Pastry Chef, The Oxford Blue

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 18th April 2017

Ami Blakey started her career working as a waitress for a local hotel but soon found herself working for a string of Michelin-starred chefs including Andrew Pern, Brett Graham and Clare Smyth, to name but a few.

Ami is now the head pastry chef at The Oxford Blue Old in Windsor where she works with her fiancé and head chef, Steven Ellis.

After deciding a life in the kitchen was for her, Ami quit college to learn from the best nabbing herself a job working for Andrew Pern at his Michelin-starred restaurant, The Star Inn. From there Ami moved on to work for the likes of Paul Walsh at 28-50, Brett Graham at The Ledbury and Clare Smyth at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay where she met her now fiancé, Steven Ellis, who would also later open The Oxford Blue Old Windsor.

Having experienced most areas of the kitchen Ami fell in love with the creativity pastry offers and has been working as a pastry chef for little over three years.

The Staff Canteen spoke to Ami to find out why she considers the pastry course to be the most important part of service, how she finds working with her fiancé and why gender shouldn’t matter in the kitchen.

Cambridge Burnt Cream
Cambridge Burnt Cream

What attracted you to a career in the hospitality industry?

It was actually a career I had never considered, when I left school I decided to get a summer job. I was a waitress at The Pheasant Hotel, Harome, North Yorkshire. It was here I first saw kitchen life; the head chef would let me taste dishes and introduced me to herbs I hadn’t even heard of before. This began to interest me in the kitchen and being a chef. I also enjoyed the pace of service and the comradeship amongst the chefs. I was always more interested in what the chefs were doing rather than polishing cutlery.

After collecting my GCSE results I left three months later with a completely different view on what I wanted to do with my life enrolling in hospitality and catering at my local college. However, I found the learning process quite slow and if I really wanted to be a chef the best thing to do would be to learn the practical elements from working in a kitchen. I rang Andrew Pern, owner and chef at the one Michelin starred, The Star Inn, Harome, North Yorkshire. I asked him for a job in the kitchen, having no previous experience, just the love of what I had observed! I started three days later.

Have you always been a pastry chef or have you covered other areas of the kitchen?

I have been a chef for eight years this year and only three of those have been as a full time pastry chef. I just realised I don’t get the same buzz from other sections in the kitchen, pastry was where I felt most at home and felt most passionate about.

What is it about pastry that you enjoy?

In most restaurants and pubs, the first thing you will get from the kitchen is bread and the last thing you get is dessert or petit fours with your coffee. This all comes from the pastry section, this will be the guests first and last impression, so I find the pastry an incredibly important part of service.

I love all of the different techniques, making bread, parfaits and tempering chocolate. I like the feeling of making something like rum baba, making the perfect dough, proving it the perfect amount, cooking it correctly, soaking it perfectly, glazing it perfectly, etc. There are so many different things that can go wrong and then when you have a perfectly finished product it’s so satisfying. I’ve also always been artistic and a perfectionist and pastry gives me a chance to show a little finesse and flair.

Info Bar

Where they’ve been -

Andrew Pern, The Star Inn, Harome, North Yorkshire

Paul Walsh, 28-50, Fetter Lane, London

Brett Graham, The Ledbury, Notting Hill, London

Clare Smyth, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Chelsea, London

Signature dishes -

Earl grey soufflé with biscuit ice-cream

Chocolate, malted mousse, cocoa nibs and mascarpone sorbet.

Rhubarb bavarois, confit ginger and rhubarb sorbet

Desert island desserts -

Rum baba

Apple tatin

Soufflé

That is all I would need!

What have you found to be the most difficult part of pastry to master?

I think tempering chocolate was probably the most difficult. Not just mastering the correct technique but also making sure you’re working in the best conditions and that your surroundings aren’t going to affect your work. Sometimes you need to adjust your technique depending on the type of chocolate, the time of year or whether the kitchen is hot or cold.

What is Steven Ellis like to work with?

We actually met working together, at The Star Inn seven years ago, and since then we also worked together at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. I love working with him and think we make a great team. Fast forward to now and he’s my fiancé, however, if I wasn’t a chef at The Oxford Blue, I doubt I would ever see him, he’s already married to the job!

The Oxford Blue
The Oxford Blue

Do you have much say in what goes on the menu?

Given our relationship, Steve trusts my judgement and allows me to have a lot of freedom with the dessert menu. Of course, he always has the final say. But most of the time we are on the same page and agree on most things.

What are the biggest challenges in your role as a pastry chef?

What I find most challenging is always striving to get better and to build on my own knowledge. I am a perfectionist and I’m always pushing myself to come up with new dishes that will better the previous one, so it can take a while before I am totally happy with a dish.

Where do you find inspiration for your dishes?

Inspiration comes mostly from the season we are in. For instance, Yorkshire rhubarb has just returned, so the autumnal warm carrot cake and roasted walnut ice-cream will come off the menu and will be replaced with a new seasonal dish. Another source of inspiration is British produce, being a pub we love to support English heritage. The Oxford Blue uses amazing Tregothnan tea from Cornwall, when I smelt and tasted the quality of the tea I knew I had to use it on a dish. Tregothnan Earl grey soufflé with biscuit ice-cream is now on the menu.

Chocolate, malted mousse, cocoa nibs and mascarpone sorbet

Chocolate, malted mousse, cocoa nibs

and mascarpone sorbet

Are there any new dishes you’re currently working on? What’s your favourite from the menu at the moment?

Yorkshire rhubarb is back! I love working with rhubarb it is one of my favourite flavours and it’s also incredibly diverse. It tastes great in soufflés, parfaits, crumbles, bavarois, the possibilities really are endless. Blood orange will also soon update our clementine parfait.

My favourite dessert will definitely be the new rhubarb dish, it is going to be special.

Do you think there is a shortage of female pastry chefs at the moment?

Not necessarily, I think 10 years ago this industry was incredibly male dominated however, there are now a lot of females in the kitchen now (I think it is actually rarer to find a kitchen without a mixture of both nowadays). I have met amazing male and amazing female pastry chefs. I don’t think gender matters, we are all chefs at the end of the day.

Overall, would you say you have seen an increase in interest in pastry, or is it still a struggle to get chefs?

I definitely think there has been an increase of interest, thanks to TV programs like, The Great British Bake-Off and Crème de la Crème. It really showcases pastry and desserts unlike others which predominately focus on the kitchen.

The Oxford Blue interior
The Oxford Blue interior

Would you advise young chefs to choose earlier to specialise or experience all aspects of the kitchen then choose?

I think this is just personal preference, I started on the pastry section but didn’t know I would end up loving that the most. I decided to do all other sections of the kitchen this way so I could be sure on what I wanted to pursue. I would advise young chefs to just do what makes them happy.

What are your future plans?

To continue to grow as a pastry chef, to get better and better. You can never know too much!

*A question from our sponsors Callebaut:

With special occasion dining being so popular, do you add special pastry dishes to your menu to allow your guests to celebrate, making their meal even more memorable?

We make small individual celebration cakes for our guests, (currently chocolate and vanilla) served on a plate with a special message written in chocolate. If we are aware the guests are celebrating, we send this out at the end of the meal as a surprise.

Are you interested in a career as a Pastry Chef? Find all the information and jobs available here

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 18th April 2017

Ami Blakey, Head Pastry Chef, The Oxford Blue