Amy Stoyel, Head Pastry Chef, Gouqi: “I strive every day to make my section a place of support and understanding”

The Staff Canteen

Cultivating a positive, friendly and affirming atmosphere is at the heart of Amy Stoyel’s culinary philosophy, prioritising this in her role as Head Pastry Chef at Gouqi.

When Amy Stoyel first started out as a pastry chef, her number one goal was to become the head pastry chef. Now, as head pastry chef at fine dining venue Gouqi, Amy has achieved this goal.

Yet attaining this milestone hasn’t dampened her passion or aspirations because Amy clearly remembers the hard work, dedication and endurance it took to get to where she is today. When she, in Amy’s words, “finally” got her first head chef role, it was for a new opening. “It was very much being thrown in the deep end,” Amy confirms.

The role saw her ordering equipment, setting up the cooking section, hiring a team, creating standard operating procedures, compiling dish-costing spreadsheets, undertaking health and safety procedures and creating menus.

Describing it as “a high-pressure situation”, it was one where Amy had to learn quickly. “Of course, I made mistakes, but each taught me a valuable lesson,” Amy adds. Far from turning her away from wanting to scale the hospitality ladder to reach her goal of becoming a head chef, it did the opposite—it spurred her on. “Most importantly, I learnt that I thrive when I push myself to the near impossible,” Amy shares.

Following intrigue, imagination and ideas

For Amy, it’s impossible to pinpoint what cultivates her creativity and career to one specific influence. “I find inspiration everywhere and anywhere,” Amy shares. As you may imagine, food is a big source of enthusiasm, encouraging her vision to create the highest quality and most delicious food from a kitchen that fosters collaboration, openness and kindness.

“I love to travel to new places; I’ve been to over 40 countries and draw inspiration from many dishes I’ve eaten and from ingredients I’ve seen in the markets,” Amy shares. But her design and dish influences are not just limited to food. “I find drinks can be just as exciting,” Amy notes, taking inspiration from a fruit pairing she’s tried in smoothies and cocktails, for instance.

Connection and communication with different people in her life also spur new concepts and are often the starting point for new creations. “Family, friends, and my team often have different ideas and perspectives than my own that stimulate new ideas,” Amy shares.

Experience is the only thing that matters

Ideally, a good service is where the fridge is set up, the preparation is done, and everything is clean, tidy and organised. “But really, at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is the guests’ experience,” Amy emphasises.

It’s clear that a big part of Amy’s joy and pride comes from delivering the highest quality food, service and atmosphere to her guests. To enable guests to relax, enjoy and take a break from day-to-day stresses and strains when they step into Gouqi and try her exquisite creations is high on Amy’s agenda.

“Even if everything in the kitchen is complete chaos, as long as the food goes out to the highest standard, on time, and the guests leave happy, then to some extent, it can be seen as a successful service,” Amy adds.

Making hospitality a healthy place to work

There are many challenges affecting the hospitality industry at the moment, from sustainability to affordability to ingredient availability. But for Amy, the critical problem facing the sector is staff availability. “The world and the workforce are changing, and the hospitality industry must change with it,” says Amy.

Gone are the days when staff were expected to work 16-hour days or 60 hours a week. “When I was training, people wore their inhumane work hours as a badge of honour; working longer was a matter of pride,” Amy says. “This view needs to be changed—it’s about the quality of work you give, not the number of hours you clock,” Amy adds.

Amy takes mental health very seriously. “Mental health is a taboo subject within the industry, and poor management, whether it comes from intolerance or ignorance, needs to change,” Amy details. Providing support, inclusivity, and respect in and out of the kitchen is at the forefront of Amy’s culinary approach.

Yet, while Amy is fully trained in mental health first aid, she considers this merely a jumping-off point. “I believe it is how I behave, teach and manage my team on a daily basis that makes the difference,” says Amy. “I have never felt that the shouting, swearing and, on occasion, the flat-out abuse that I have suffered has made me the chef I am today,” Amy adds.

“I am where I am because of the senior chefs who took the time to teach and nurture me, and that is what I aspire to be for my team,” Amy details. “While I am not perfect and, sometimes, in the heat of service, I can be more direct than I should, I strive every day to make my section a place of support and understanding,” Amy expresses.

That is not to say that Amy doesn’t expect her team to perform to the best of their ability and maintain the highest quality, but she doesn’t believe in ineffective ways to get people there. “We are all human, and mistakes happen; berating someone doesn’t make them learn faster,” Amy adds.

While Amy says these issues with long working hours and inhumane environments are starting to be addressed, “we have a long way to go before it is in line with the rest of society”. “The younger generation of upcoming chefs have shown that they are unwilling to accept the conditions that have long defined our industry,” Amy adds.

Invest in yourself and engage in the industry

For anyone seeking a role in hospitality, Amy’s advice is to “keep your eyes and ears open”. You can learn so much by watching and listening to others. “Never stop trying to learn and improve; you never know where a good idea or piece of advice will come from, so respect and listen to everyone around you regardless of their job title,” Amy adds.

Reaching the pinnacle of a career in hospitality requires more than exceptional skill and talent. It’s a person’s genuine love for the industry, consistent application and commitment to show up. “As with anything in life, to be truly exceptional in your field, you need a certain level of talent, but the majority of it is hard work, passion, and dedication,” Amy humbly shares.

Standing out in a crowded scene

A relative newcomer to the London fine dining scene, Gouqi recently celebrated its first birthday. Epitomising style and the finest international cuisine, Gouqi specialises in fine-dining Chinese, with its Legendary Peking Duck currently its best-selling dish. Gouqi is also revered for its Asian-inspired desserts, cocktails, and eclectic wine list.

Gouqi is unique in many ways, Amy says, making it hard to land on just one element that makes it shine in London’s busy fine dining landscape. “Chef Tong is incredibly inspiring; he has a magical ability to create authentic traditional dishes in a beautifully modern way that makes for a refined walk down memory lane,” says Amy.

Chef Tong’s culinary expertise seamlessly blends with its creative dessert and cocktail menu inspired by Asia and its exciting and eclectic wine list. Above all else, though, what makes Gouqi truly special is its team. “Without the incredibly hardworking and passionate people throughout the restaurant, none of this would be possible,” Amy notes.

The goal at Gouqi is to provide every person who walks through its door with a personalised and memorable dining experience. “We measure our success on being able to consistently and to the highest standard bring joy into the day of each of our guests,” Amy shares.

Gouqi’s leading team comprises 20 kitchen members and 20 front-of-house staff working together to deliver up to 100 covers per sitting. Open seven days a week, Gouqi serves lunch from 12:00 to 14.30 Monday through Thursday and 12:00 to 15:00 on weekends. Dinner is served from 17:30 to 22:00 Sunday through Thursday and 17:30 to 22:30 Friday and Saturday evenings.

Written by: Natasha Spencer-Jolliffe


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Editor 30th April 2024

Amy Stoyel, Head Pastry Chef, Gouqi: “I strive every day to make my section a place of support and understanding”