Daniel Fletcher, freelance Pastry Consultant

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 20th October 2015
Daniel Fletcher has over 15 years’ experience working in some of the country’s greatest Michelin-starred kitchens and alongside names such as Gordon Ramsay and Jason Atherton. After graduating from Westminster College London, Daniel went on quickly to put his new skills into practice. Working at Michelin-starred Foliage at The Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Knightsbridge and for a short period in Hong Kong, before moving through the ranks quickly in some of London's most recognised pastry kitchens. Now self employed as a Pastry Consultant, The Staff Canteen spoke to Daniel about his career, how he thinks pastry is influencing savoury dishes and his plans for the future. XF7Y6872MazeWhat lead you to become a pastry chef? I always had an interest, my mum’s a good cook and my Nan was always a big influence as well – she worked for a school canteen, she was quite heavily into her baking which is kind of why I picked it up. When I got to fourteen/fifteen at school I needed to do work experience, I chose to have a go in a kitchen. I went and worked at a country house hotel for a couple of weeks. I was really keen and eager and I met some good people. They offered me a weekend job so I used to go there and do your normal, bog-standard kind of stuff but that’s how I got into it. How difficult was it transitioning from education to full-time kitchen work? To start with it was very difficult. I mean doing the hours you do at college as well as working at a three-star country house hotel, it’s not the same as working in a five-star deluxe property doing pastry. Who has been the biggest influence on your career? The biggest influence I’ve had is a guy called Claude Lamarche who I worked with at The Great pannacotta low resEastern Hotel. He opened Aubergine with Gordon – he was Gordon’s pastry chef for four years, then he went to work at La Tante Claire for four years with Pierre Koffmann. You know, classical French, very talented chef.

>>>Watch our videos with Pierre Koffman here

I went in as a CDP and went up to a sous chef level. That was my first management role so working with someone so organised, so dedicated, so passionate – I think it rubbed off on me. A lot of what I do today has come from him. Was he a disciplinarian? He was quite a disciplinarian. He never got out of control, he was very old school - obviously working with Gordon Ramsay and Pierre Koffmann and that ilk of chefs you kind of pick that up! He was hard but fair. He was constantly on my back about things but it was all for a reason. I don’t think I fully appreciated it until I left there and went to New York and I was like “wow, actually I really, really learnt a lot from this guy”. He’s one of the few chefs I’m constantly in contact with: I meet up with him every couple of months. He’s a very, very big influence on my career.
Desert Island Desserts: Apple tart tatin: my favourite dessert of all time! I have made countless numbers of these over the years and if I see it on any menu I always order one. Also it is the perfect dessert to share with my wife. Sherry trifle: A dessert that reminds me of my mum and her cooking, everyone's mum makes a mean trifle and my mums is legendary. Coffee and doughnuts at Per Se: so simple but executed to perfection, the best dessert I think I have eaten in a restaurant and the perfect end to a perfect meal. Sticky toffee pudding: A British classic, makes me think of Sunday roasts at home with the family. Classic lemon tart: This dish is something I perfected whilst working at Foliage at the mandarin oriental and takes me back to my early cooking career.
You mentioned New York and you lived in Melbourne for a time, too, how does pastry work differ around the world? I wouldn’t say it changes that much. In terms of produce – the industry is driven towards what’s available; what’s not available – there were things I could get in New York that I couldn’t get in London and vice versa. And again when I went to Melbourne that was quite a big eye-opener for me, there were a lot of products there that I’d never ever seen or worked with before. But in terms of standard or skill levels, it was pretty much the same; I was quite impressed. In Melbourne they might be a little bit more relaxed in the way they work and New York’s quite strict on the hours that the guys can do, but it’s pretty level. If you had to go back to any of the places you have worked, where would you go back to? I’d have to say New York. I mean the city is amazing; it’s one of my favourite places in the world. I was only out for a year due to visa issues so I kind of feel like there’s a little bit of unfinished business, whereas Melbourne it was my choice to leave. Why did you decide to strike out on your own as a consultant after helping Angler and City Social? I’ve always wanted to have my business and I’m in that position now where I can afford to take a little bit of time out and do my own thing, so I just kind of jumped at it really. So what does a typical week look like for you now? It can vary. When I was doing a lot of stuff with Angler I was quite hands-on there for a few months because the pastry chef was on maternity leave. But I might do, say, a couple of days working on their menus. I’m working for One Aldwych Hotel as well, I’m not so hands-on there so I might only do a couple of days a month - just fine-tuning menus for Christmas, that kind of thing. This new position I’ve taken now, it’s taking up most of my time. I’ll be here four, five days a week, between 9 and 5, trying to organise; setting up suppliers, having tastings. Last week I wore my chef whites once, for the first time in God knows how long! vacherinAnd how does it tend to work between you and the head chef, who comes to who with ideas? It depends. Working at the Angler – I’ve worked with Tony before, way back at The Great Eastern when I was working for Claude – we have a mutual understanding. I kind of know what he wants. Whereas working at One Aldwych, the chefs have a little bit more control over me. They might come to me and say “right, Daniel, I need to look at the Christmas menus but can you please include a hot chocolate dish on there, or something that’s seasonal using mulled plums”. He’ll push me in the direction he wants me to go and then it’ll be up to me to come up with those dishes. And do you take responsibility for costings as well? Yep. At One Aldwych we do the costings but especially at Angler, where it’s very cost-controlled, everything has to be costed, everything has to be within a percentage margin. The GP there is 72%. Desserts usually come in around 75%. If it’s not cost-effective it can’t go on the menu. That’s very much part of what I do. So it’s financial as well as creative… Yeah but it’s good for me to know anyway, as obviously moving forward with my own business plans I need to know the cost of things; what works and what doesn’t. It’s all part of the job really. So what are your business plans? I’d like to have my own café/bakery. Quite stripped back, quite casual but doing really great bakes, great products. I’d want somewhere where I could make everything in house myself. Fresh every day but a bit more fun as well - not so serious. I don’t want your classic French patisserie where there are things in glass cabinets. I’ve been quite lucky working in Melbourne and working in New York that I’ve picked up different styles of cooking. I think the offering I would like to give and how I’d like to do things - there’s not really anyone else doing it in London so there’s a gap in the market. How important is presentation to a pastry chef?rhubarb low res I think presentation is important but I think it’s just as important to have the flavours. Obviously pastry is a little bit different, you have that license to have theatre, to have a play to create that visual effect. But there’s no point just having that visual effect – you need the product. And do you think there’s an emphasis on lighter pastry dishes these days? Yeah, when I first started out, fifteen years ago, pastry was quite classical - lots of butter, lots of cream, you know, quite heavy like all these old-school classic French dishes. But now all these new cuisines are coming to London. It’s nice to be able to go out for a meal and be full but not uncomfortably full! Would you say pastry is any more difficult to learn than other areas of the kitchen? I think you have to be a lot more patient than you do in other areas of the kitchen. It’s a lot more precise; you can’t just throw it together and it’s going to work. It’s always a science. For a chef to make a great consommé, there’s a skill level involved with that as well. It’s just very, very different. But I think working with chefs now I’ve started to see that pastry has rolled in to other bits of the kitchen, guys will weigh ingredients whether it be their sauces or even when they’re portioning up. milkchoc low resSo you think pastry chef culture is influencing the way chefs savoury dishes are made? Yeah I think when I first started out in restaurants they would obviously make everything fresh every day but it could vary with the chef that made it. Nowadays – having worked at Angler and other places – the guys have got recipes for everything. So there’s the guarantee that you are going to get that same product every day. Finally, knowing what you do now, if you could go back would you choose pastry a second-time around? Yeah I think I would. I couldn’t do the hours and put myself through this if I didn’t love it. And I don’t think that many people can say that day-in day-out they love their job. Unfortunately there are some ups and downs but I think without that passion I would have never been able to get to where I am today.  

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 20th October 2015

Daniel Fletcher, freelance Pastry Consultant