Andy Blas, pastry chef and ice carver, UK Pastry team 2017

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 15th December 2015
Inspired by childhood summers spent in Brittany, Andy Blas embarked on a career in pastry that has taken him from The Samling to Le Manoir and, more recently, the legendary Café Royal in London, where he was Executive Pastry Chef, before leaving earlier this month he oversaw a team of sixteen pastry chefs. He has also undertaken the role of ice carver for the UK Pastry Team at the Coup du Monde. The Staff Canteen spoke to Andy about his career to date, future plans and why he fancies one more crack at ice carving. BY2RPSXCMAE5j7HLet’s start with Café Royal: it’s a huge operation, how did you find managing a team so big? It’s great. You have to manage the bakery; the chocolates; the constant banquets; the restaurants we have; the bar; the dining. It’s broader than what most pastry chefs will have the opportunity to do. Who took overall control of recipes and dish development? Recipes, method, menus, concept – that was pretty much done by me. Thankfully it's not one of those hotels where it’s dictated by sales or HR or PR or things like that. How often did you get stuck in? I’m still stuck in, definitely! But it was a job that comes with a certain amount of office work. I like to make sure that the sous chefs are getting the opportunity to develop their skills on the office side of things as well of course, you can’t be a head chef without knowing how to do that sort of stuff. And that also goes down to the juniors. Some of the juniors will also spend three or four days in the office and they’ll type some recipes, they’ll do a recipe format - just so that they are gaining another skill because when they go somewhere else they might be trying to go for a position up to what they’ve got now.BrPFncHCEAACr-a And did you take ideas from your team on new creations? Yeah there were sixteen heads there full of ideas, full of inspiration they’ve picked up from their walk to work or from the magazine they read last night or MasterChef that I watched the other night. All of these things give us inspiration. And if you put your chefs in a box and you never let them grow, you’re never going to get the best out of that person. You need to let their imagination go a little bit and then it’s about controlling that imagination and controlling the ideas that they may have. Which is more important for a young pastry chef to have, precision and technique or that creativity? They’re both as important as each other, really. Precision and technique you can teach someone; you can’t actually teach someone to be inspirational. What’s the hardest thing for a young pastry chef to learn? You know what I find when I employ pastry chefs now? I find that they are missing the classical knowledge, for instance how to line a tart. The classical knowledge is missing and that’s something that I’m pushing every single day back into my team. You’ve said you wanted to be a chef from an early age, but what was it about pastry that inspired you? B1J1HSdIYAA-mqEThere is a very arty side to pastry and I’ve always been a very arty person. Both my parents were in the food industry: my father was a pastry chef when he was younger back home in France and my mother spent time in a bakery. So it’s a very family thing. And I spent a lot of time in France in the summer when I was younger looking at the bakeries and being involved. I first went into a bakery when I was eight years old because of the relationship my Nanna had with the baker there. When you’re in France, in Brittany, the bakeries are not like what you see here - it’s not Gregg’s! Yes, we love pastry in Britain but it’s not the same relationship. Do you think that will change? It’s not going to change it is changing. And it has been for the last few years. It’s about bringing awareness, raising the awareness of the pastry industry so that people can see it. You have programmes like British Bake Off where it’s put to the public now. It never was before. The biggest thing that was put to the public was a bit of cookery but now it’s pastry, now it’s people wanting to know about how to make bread, how to make cake, and ‘oh my God look what you can do with chocolate!’ Social media helps massively. I have about 400 hundred people following on Facebook and about 500 Twitter followers. So it’s not going to change it is changing right now. And we are getting into that mind-set in this country, like the French have already got, where food becomes more of your day, more of your life, rather than just a thing that you have because you need to eat. You’ve also worked in some slightly different places as well, in a cookery school and as an Operations Manager, what kind of perspective has that given you?5141 Chefs were considered for a long time like cavemen and to an extent it was true. You know when you see Ainsley Harriot on TV and he is just larger than life and he’s got this burst of personality. Then you see a Michelin-starred chef who has only ever been in the kitchen, they don’t know how to respond to the public and they’re only on TV because they have a Michelin star. The two separate themselves out massively and I wanted to be something in the middle. So that was what made me go to the cookery school. Then from there I went to a bakery. I always loved bread and I really wanted to make sure that when I was the Exec Chef somewhere, the head baker couldn’t pull the wool over my eyes, the chocolatier couldn’t pull the wool over my eyes, my sous chefs couldn’t pull the wool over my eyes. I wanted to make sure I knew everything about everything in my kitchen. And that’s the reason I went to Degustibus – to learn the real scratch bakery method and systems, and that’s what I learnt there. Then I changed to Young’s Bakeries, where I was Operations Manager, because I felt I needed to learn the business side of how patisserie works, so how, logistically, you dealt with getting cakes from one place to another, how you dealt with having staff in different outlets. Again, I think it’s served me very well as this hotel is very multi-outlet. Tell us about the Coupe du Monde, the World Cup of the pastry world, how were you chosen to be in that squad? ‘Lyceum’ the frozen fruit dessertYeah that was a bit of a weird situation. I offered to do the driving to the European Cup, where you take all of the team’s equipment, all of their pre-prepared stuff and basically had to drive it to the event which was in Geneva. When you go to the World Cup you’re adding an ice carver to the team. They already had the plan that Barry was going to do the chocolate, Nicholas was going to do ice, then they were going to bring in another guy to do sugar. So I just sort of hung around in the background helping out because that’s what we do in this industry. We’re part of a club and we help each other. And then in August suddenly one day Nicholas came to a meeting and said ‘guys I’m sorry, I’m leaving this place to go to Hong Kong’. So very quickly in a meeting they said, ‘Andy you were the reserve candidate because of what you did in the Europeans, Nicholas is gone so the whole point of having a reserve candidate is that you can step in if anything happens, so would you like to do the ice?’ I said, ‘well I’ve never done it before and it’s August and the competition is in January but yes I’ll give it a bash’.

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I went through some very intense training for the next three or four months and then we went to the Coupe du Monde and everything went completely wrong on the day. Twenty minutes in to my ice carving and the ice block snapped in half, so I still got sixth place in the competition for my ice carving. That was that journey: it was insanely hard. I had to build up skills in a completely new area because ice carving is very, very different to royaume_uni_piece_glace-200x300everything else. In all other pastry competitions, with chocolate and sugar and everything like that, you build up a sculpture, you add things to your sculpture. This is the exact opposite, you have to take away from a solid block and it’s a completely different way of working for a pastry chef. You seem like someone with a clear plan of where you want to be. What else is on your agenda? Definitely to stay involved with the pastry team. Go through the next Coupe du Monde, either train the next ice carver or be the next ice carver, I can probably get away with doing it one time. And then I would love to have my own pastry shop – a beautiful patisserie serving chocolates and cakes. That will be my little dream.    
The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 15th December 2015

Andy Blas, pastry chef and ice carver, UK Pastry team 2017