Chris and Harpal Pollard, La Roche, Tunbridge Wells

The  Staff Canteen
Four shops in husband and wife duo Chris and Harpal Pollard are award winners in their own right, bringing together their skills and knowledge in bakery and patisserie to open La Roche. Going from London to Tunbridge Wells Chris and Harpal explain why it’s been a tough barrier to break when it comes to their haute patisserie and boulangerie and why they still appreciate the orders coming from London. When did you and Chris open La Roche and what are both your backgrounds?La Roche Harpal: Before we founded La Roche in 2012 we founded Le Papillon Patisserie in 1992, we then moved from there to Surrey where we stayed for eight years but we got really burnt out. It was too much and more geared to snacks and takeaway items rather than what our passion was which was bread and patisserie. We took a break for three years in France trying to set up a school where we could teach patisserie but gradually the money run out as we were refurbishing an old chateau. We wanted to showcase the boutique patisserie where people could come and learn and improve their skills, from ordinary people to those working in restaurants. Chris: I did so many things, I never got catering experience at school, there were lots of jobs about at the time and you were just encouraged to do whatever you wanted to do. I’ve gone from factory work to demolition but then I met Harpal and she slapped me into shape and said that I can’t go on drifting like this. So I went to a local college and did a City and Guilds in bakery, which was really quite great as the lecturer was a fellow of the Master Bakers Society, she dedicated her whole life to teaching and she was totally amazing. ChrisI saw a job for Sainsbury’s which offered training and got it. After only three months going in as assistant I got promoted to manager and I was there for seven years. It was very controlled environment which was good but I missed the artisan side of it. It was very different to how I’d been trained, there it was a case of taking stuff out of a box and baking for 20 minutes and products that had no flavour, it was just about high speed breads with as much air and volume as you could. I decided I wanted to get back to the hands-on making side of it than just purely managing so I started looking around and found a shop in Muswell Hill. I took over the shop and as it was only me making everything it got too much as it started to grow so I asked Harpal to come and help. That was my real apprenticeship if you like, now we’re four shops on and at La Roche. So Harpal where did you learn your craft? I’ve always been interested in food, I had a small interest because of Chris being a baker but I was working in local government. Chris got quite despondent working as a baker in Sainsbury’s, when he left to open Le Papillon the response was so huge that I had to leave my job to help. From this I decided to go to Le Cordon Bleu where I was taught by Claire Clark, who was very inspirational at the time; then after that I had lots of other teachers including Alexander Bordeaux.DSCF5378 I went to Ecole L’Notre in Paris and attended a lot of short courses; but at the end of the day I stick to the very classical way I’ve been taught. My main love is layering and understanding what goes with what, I don’t go crazy like those who are putting basil with things; for me patisserie is like a state of food that has to keep its core being, it has to stay classical. Why did you decide to open in Tunbridge Wells? Harpal: Now looking back we would have been better off in London but we decided Tunbridge Wells as it was nearer the coast and we could go back to France easier. We should have been in London as it’s cutting edge, in haute patisserie people in London appreciate that as it’s cosmopolitan and it calls you if you’re a creative person. Here in Tunbridge Wells we have to deal with retail where we get Joe Bloggs saying I want cake with ‘10’ written on it. So we go from those that get offended when you’re not spending time with them working out how to do their cake to Londoners having complete confidence in their pâtissier. DSCF8038Chris: For me this is the nicest bakery that I’ve ever had, you can’t exactly hold a barn dance in it but it’s very compact and easy to clean. I really do enjoy it but the hours are really hard, it’s a 1.30am start in the morning going through to sometimes gone 7pm. Friday I get in at 2am and then work right the way through to 6pm Saturday evening as the volume of products is more for the Saturday. Harpal: We were one of the first to open in Tunbridge Wells but they are still not very in tune with what we do, there are cafes selling cakes with lots of icing on top but what we make is patisserie that is refined. So it’s a difficult barrier to cross. Would you say after three years of being open that you have broken down that barrier? Harpal: We have a core customer base, we’re appreciated by the town but at the end of the day as a pâtissier you have to constantly be creative and seeking perfection all the time. It’s nice to work in this environment where you are being challenged but for us London is calling out; we’ve got decisions to make whether we stay here or go to London.
Signature pastries/bread: L’orange – you just wouldn’t find it anywhere else Opera -Coconut and lime and white chocolate We use gold and silver leaf which some people thought was silver foil The baguette – been doing it my way since 1992 and it’s still popular 100% rye, wheat-free bread – many bakers don’t make it
Chris: There’s nothing like seeing your own product and putting everything in to it. I just wish we could sell it all, all the time. The market here in Tunbridge Wells is really up and down it’s a very fashion-conscious town when it comes to food, whenever a new place opens everybody abandons the old place and heads straight to the new one. How do you set yourselves apart? Harpal: Our thing is that we don’t use any gelatine, we won’t use any animal fats so when you taste our products they’re very natural and you can taste the difference between ours and those that have gelatine in it. We’ve also designed most our recipes to be gluten free, where we don’t use a lot of wheat flour, for example a frangipane we will use rice flour and make it very light. Chris: Wherever you are situated you have to gauge your business, who’s coming through the door, even who’s not coming through the door and try and pull them and attract them with whatever products you can. DSCF3386You said you were doing orders for London, do they allow you to be more creative? Harpal: Yeah, they’re bigger, for example an order came for an event in London and the customer said I will leave it to you to decide what to send and then since then we’ve had so many requests as people were impressed by what they ate. In London I can use gold and silver leaf whereas here people ask why there is silver foil on the cake. It’s just not on that level here. Do you think it is important for people to expand their knowledge when looking to get into patisserie/baking? Harpal: Yes, you will realise that people will open up places and call themselves French patisseries but they don’t have the credentials to call themselves that. In France that wouldn’t be allowed, the standard is really high, you have to have been to a school and got some kind of accreditation. You must go and see what’s there, go to Paris and see the high calibre as being with these pâtissiers can bring out your creativity.DSCF5421 Chris: There isn’t really anything new, to find a niche is hard. So whoever wants to do this would have to find somewhere with a large variety of breads being made to learn the skills of how to do this and learn the methods. After that you can pretty much go and work anywhere as you have the skills to do that. Out of everything you do create what would you say is the most popular? Harpal: Most popular is our opera, people have seen it on TV and are fascinated by the nine layers in such a thin slice. We do different flavours for example one with pistachio cream, white chocolate, dark chocolate and layer it. We also do an orange version with a real layer of marmalade, and a layer of almond sponge soaked in orange syrup with dark chocolate and orange buttercream. We do loads of different slices for each different layer and that is something we want to develop more. DSCF2545Is it right Harpal that you won a British National Chocolate award and Chris you won Baker of the Year? Harpal: Yes in 1994, it was a complete shock. It was a large chocolate company that sponsored it so we had the Belgium people from come with the judges to visit us at Le Papillon. They went around quite a lot of places and I was really shocked that I was nominated and then won. We were assessed alongside huge companies that had big factories so it’s nice that such a small place, as we were, was recognised by the baking industry. Chris came runner up for Baker of the Year in 1996 and then won it in 2002, it was like the Oscars of the baking world; it was a real accolade. Chris: Out of all of them winning that was really good to win, everybody in the trade gets to know that you’ve won. General public don’t really know as it does tend to be industry led but it was really good to win.DSCF5734 They take into account everything within your business, your skills etc. they basically rank you against everyone else that they have seen and who they know. These judges have been around for years, they work out whether you are an innovative business and whether you deserve to win such an accolade. Would you enter any competitions now? Harpal: I would love for Chris and I to do something, one of the reasons we started La Roche was to give back to the community. We wanted to link up with schools and we’ve just done a session with 30 schoolkids which was really good fun and we’ve had requests for more. But competitions would be good but not sure how much we could stand the stress now that we’re that bit older. What are your plans for La Roche, is moving to London on the cards? DSCF5394Harpal: We have to make a decision very soon. The growth will be better if we were suppliers especially with the skills we have. Retail is fine but at the moment is saturated. We feel that every other person now wants to be a pâtissier because of the exposure and TV shows everybody’s excited about baking. Some people come in and have seen an opera being made on TV and see ours and want to buy it, that’s quite nice for them to be doing that. They are getting excited by it and come in saying that they appreciate the amount of work it takes to make one product; so it’s like raising the level of education which is really good for us. They’re interested and interested in talking to us, they have that respect for us as bakers. If working within pastry is something that appeals to you then have a look at our jobs board where you will find a whole host of pastry chef positions.
In these challenging times…

The Staff Canteen team are taking a different approach to keeping our website independent and delivering content free from commercial influence. Our Editorial team have a critical role to play in informing and supporting our audience in a balanced way. We would never put up a paywall and restrict access – The Staff Canteen is open to all and we want to keep bringing you the content you want; more from younger chefs, more on mental health, more tips and industry knowledge, more recipes and more videos. We need your support right now, more than ever, to keep The Staff Canteen active. Without your financial contributions this would not be possible.

Over the last 12 years, The Staff Canteen has built what has become the go-to platform for chefs and hospitality professionals. As members and visitors, your daily support has made The Staff Canteen what it is today. Our features and videos from the world’s biggest name chefs are something we are proud of. We have over 500,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social channels, each connecting with chefs across the world. Our editorial and social media team are creating and delivering engaging content every day, to support you and the whole sector - we want to do more for you.

A single coffee is more than £2, a beer is £4.50 and a large glass of wine can be £6 or more.

Support The Staff Canteen from as little as £1 today. Thank you.

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 21st April 2015

Chris and Harpal Pollard, La Roche, Tunbridge Wells