Andy King, Pastry Chef, Gidleigh Park Hotel

The  Staff Canteen

Andy, now in his 15th year as a pastry chef at Michael Caines’ restaurant at Gidleigh Park hotel, tells us about his daily routine, what the future has in store for him and his advice for young chefs.  Andy King first and foremost thanks for inviting me down to Gidleigh. Give us an overview of your role here as pastry chef at Gidleigh Park Hotel.

Basically, I oversee the whole department. It’s quite a small team, there's five of us so it’s quite hands-on. I'm in every morning by five o'clock.

Are you really? Yes. Is that for bread and morning goods?

Croissants mainly, and pain au chocolat which we cook fresh daily.

Andy, there's not many places that are still doing morning goods, even very good operations are buying those sort of things in, do you pride yourself on still doing that?

Yes I do and it’s really rewarding, I really enjoy doing it, every day when you take them out of the oven the smell of them just cooked and it’s brilliant, I don’t know any places maybe out of London that actually do that kind of work, apart from obviously the le Manoir. So yes that's the start of my day and then all the biscuit baking, then by about half seven, eight o'clock, I'm making the speciality breads which Michael (Caines) brought to Gidleigh, Michael spent time in a bakery in France, it’s something he's very passionate about. So I spend a good three or four hours making bread then making sure the team are ready for the lunch service, then chocolate work, and during the remainder of the day getting the section ready for the dinner service before I leave the team.

How many menus do you run?

At lunchtime, we have the lunch menu, à la carte menu and our signature menu. For dinner service, we also have the tasting menu.

So how many desserts is that for you?

À la carte five desserts, lunch menu three desserts and a signature menu which includes, pre-dessert and main dessert and then obviously the petit fours on top of that and then for dinner we have the à la carte, the tasting menu which is slightly larger than the à la carte menu but not as big as the signature menu which changes weekly, we also serve hand-made chocolates with dinner.

So talk us through menu changes, how many times do you change the menus and how do you go about it? Do you come up with dishes? Do you work with Michael? How does it work?

We’ve got a good sound repertoire which Michael and I have created over the years.

You've been here 15 years now is that right?

Yes, I have.

So I guess in 15 years you've got quite an extensive recipe bank, haven’t you?

It’s pretty good. So it’s very seasonal. The lunch menu changes weekly so you’ve got four or five weekly menus on a rolling basis through the season. À la carte obviously seasonally changing and the tasting menu changes also. So there's a lot of mise en place to keep on top of at all times.

Are there certain things on the menu you have to have, you've got to have a chocolate dish? I mean are there things that if you took it off you’d have guests saying, “Where’s that gone?”

Yeah one of our dishes on the à la carte, the trio of chocolate is probably Michael’s signature dessert. That's been on the menu pretty much from when we created it a number of years ago until now and there's always a soufflé on the menu, whether it be raspberry in the summer, prune and Armagnac in the winter, or pistachio, or orange and Grand Marnier. I think the guests kind of expect that really and then obviously in the winter we’ll have an apple tart. That runs all through the cox apple season and then obviously this time of the year we’ve got an abundance of berries locally.

Is this as a pastry chef the season where everything comes alive for you?

Yes it is, I can't wait for the arrival of April, May, June. After a long winter you can't wait for the forced rhubarb season to come in, personally I don't like rhubarb, myself and Michael and I have got a standing joke about my dislike for rhubarb but it’s a great commodity to be able to cook. As soon as the berries are coming in, you've got apricots, peaches, and cherries. It’s just a fantastic time of year and we’ve got a fantastic garden here at the hotel which our gardener who especially just grows what we ask him to grow.

How has your role and the pastry department developed and adapted over that 15 years? Were you baking bread, making Danishes, croissants, when you first came 15 years ago?

Michael trained me up back then. When I came for my interview he said, “We make croissants and pain au chocolates daily,” I was like “oh flipping heck” but I learnt quickly how to make those. When I first arrived, the whole kitchen was a lot more basic than it is now, there's been a lot of investment in the kitchen here over the years. When I first came here we didn’t have a pastry break we did all of our rolling out on a marble slab in the fridge, which was a bit of an eye-opener in the mornings. So when Michael brought the pastry break that was a good day. Since the refurb five or six years ago the pastry section has now doubled in size with new bread ovens.  I'm pretty lucky with the section I've been given. And now obviously with the Andrew Brownsword collection, there are a lot more properties for chefs to come here learn and see what we do and to take that knowledge back to their own operation. The group is now 12 properties I think Michael sees Gidleigh as a place where people come to be inspired and for me it’s great, especially when I look back fifteen years, the chefs that have been here as youngsters are now taking up big jobs in the industry, it’s great to see and it’s really rewarding.

Andy, have you always been a pastry chef or have you done any time in the main kitchen?

In my first job, I was there for five years, it was a very small kitchen, there were only three chefs so predominantly I did the pastry section but when other chefs were on their days off I would cover on other sections but my passion’s always been for the pastry section and chocolate work especially. When I left college I taught myself how to temper chocolate with Michel Roux’s cookbook and I would say chocolate work is probably my biggest passion and maybe one day I’ll have a chocolatier shop somewhere.

Absolutely. What advice would you give someone who’s thinking about embarking on a career as maybe a pastry chef? Would you say only do pastry or would you say get experience in the hot kitchen and see which one you like?

I think it’s good to see both sides really. What we tend to do here is a commis chef will go on a six-month rotation so they’ll get six months on a section in the main kitchen and six months in the pastry and some of them prefer to go back in the kitchen others say, “Actually pastry’s really good I’d like to stay in,” and then I have a chat with Michael and if I'm lucky he lets me keep them and we train them up as pastry chefs. I think it’s good for young chefs to see everything and then chose.  

Andy why is there such an industry shortage of people like yourself? Why are we struggling for good pastry chefs?

I don't know I think a lot of the youngsters nowadays see chefs as working long hours, hard work and unsociable hours, I think that's part of the problem and I think the industry’s just trying to address that by trying to bring the hours down, straight shifts as opposed to split shifts but there's a lot of talented people come through the door and you've just got to keep them and train them up and look after them really.

Andy 15 years here at Gidleigh how do you keep motivated and how do you find inspiration for new ideas? Do you eat out or what keeps you going?

It's quite easy to be motivated because Michael is such an inspiration. Every time he comes out here he's got new ideas and he's seen something that he wants to try and it’s brilliant, as for motivation my day is so diverse not many chefs could be making croissants one minute and then tempering chocolate an hour later. So there's so much diversity in what I do within the section and training up the youngsters it’s a real passion of mine.

Fantastic. Two more questions for you, young pastry chef just going into the industry what is the one book you would recommend they have?

I think Michel Roux desserts is probably one of the best books.

If they only had one book that would be the one you’d said to them to start with Michel Roux’s desserts?

Yes.

Okay. Last question then 15 years, fantastic achievement, Gidleigh’s going from strength to strength, two stars, pastry’s expanding but what does the future hold for you? Where are you going to be in five years’ time? What’s the end goal for you?

I would imagine I will still be working for Michael in some capacity, possibly at Gidleigh, probably at Gidleigh in fact but whether my role changes slightly and I'm more in a training capacity for the group.

I guess that's an opportunity now with the other hotels, isn’t it?

Yes.

You've got 15 years expertise that they could use you as a centre of excellence almost.

Yes sure, and maybe if he's feeling nice a little chocolate room and I’ll make chocolates for the group, that would be quite a nice little job.

Well, Andy thank you very much for your time. Pleasure. Really interesting to talk to you thank you very much.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 6th September 2012

Andy King, Pastry Chef, Gidleigh Park Hotel