Gary Hunter, Westminster Kingsway College, London

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 18th February 2014
Gary Hunter is the head of faculty for hospitality and culinary arts at Westminster Kingsway College, where he has been a pastry chef lecturer for 17 years after stints as a pastry chef at several hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants. He is also head judge for the UK World Chocolate Masters and a Callebaut chocolate ambassador. The Staff Canteen caught up with him to ask about his various roles and how the students of today are squaring up to become the star pastry chefs of tomorrow. Your career has very much balanced being a pastry chef with teaching; how did that come about? I came to Westminster Kingsway College as a pastry chef lecturer 17 years ago and a little while later I was asked to become one of the first Callebaut Chocolate Ambassadors for the UK, so I was able to work with my chocolate passion alongside the other passion that I have for teaching. I became the head of pastry here a year later which then gave me the opportunity to develop the pastry team, which is now probably the biggest specialised teaching pastry team in the country. When I first came here there were only two and a half pastry chef lecturers and now there are seven, which is a phenomenal progression coupled with more than doubling our pastry and bakery teaching facilities too. You’re the head judge of the UK heats of the World Chocolate Masters; what did you think of UK entrant, Ruth Hinks’ performance last year? Ruth’s performance in the UK was outstanding and it had to be strong because she was up against some really tough competition from other countries renowned for their chocolate craft. It’s not just about performing well but about performing consistently and she has that consistency in the delivery of high quality chocolate work. Once you’ve become the UK World Chocolate Master you can’t just stand still, you then need to move forward and really devote time and effort into increasing your ability and your concepts and she did that incredibly well; you can’t imagine the work that Ruth put into developing her concepts and ideas. She travelled up and down the country meeting and working with people and there’s been a real team ethic behind her to help her develop and grow. That’s exactly what the other teams do that have constantly been winning the accolades like Japan, France and the US – it’s all about the team supporting the one individual and Ruth has worked really hard to get that team approach and personal mentorship in place, and she’s reaped the benefits of her hard work. In your time as a pastry chef lecturer have you seen a lot of change in what the industry is looking for? Yes, the industry adapts very quickly and moves ahead at a great rate of knots and at times its very hard – for colleges especially, who can be underfunded – to keep up with that. At Westminster we try not to just maintain that pace but to become part of that innovation ourselves, working with the industry to achieve that. I think that’s the key – to work with the industry to develop ideas and to seek what it is that they need us to deliver so that students are absolutely job-ready by the time they finish with us but also to send their own chefs back to us from industry to update their skills on a regular basis. The communication between us and the hospitality industry is probably the most important part of what we do; without that partnership it really is worthless, which is why I work with Callebaut, also why I sit on the education panel for the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts, and why I also sit on the management committee for the Craft Guild of Chefs and for the Master Chefs of Great Britain. I’ve got to be in a position to influence the industry but also be influenced by the industry.  The Great British Bake Off is putting pastry back in the limelight thankfully; have you seen this translated into an increase in students wanting to be pastry chefs? Yes without a doubt. Last year we had to develop our own bakery courses because the demand for bakery and patisserie was so immense, so much so that we ended up going outside our own college to hire kitchens in another college to deliver the bakery classes. We now teach about 400-500 pastry chefs a year compared to about 200 students seven or eight years ago so it really has increased a lot. It’s really good news isn’t it, because the industry has suffered from a shortage of pastry chefs for quite a long time now? It really is; this is a highly skilled job and it takes a special type of person to become a pastry chef who devotes a lot of attention to detail and has artistic flair at the same time and with a real dedication to the task in hand, but we’re seeing a lot students coming to us and also a lot of chefs who are already in the industry coming to us and saying they want to learn pastry skills. They see the market value of having these skills on their own CV but they also see the very real benefits of having a skilled pastry chef on their team. Are students sometimes not quite prepared for just how tough it is being a pastry chef, after just having seen it on TV? Sometimes it can be hard for them, yes, because not everybody has that dedication and attention to detail that a pastry chef needs to have. So yes it can be tough and there can be tears when there’s this dawning realisation and they see the long hours that pastry chefs put in, all the bakery products they have to produce and the consistency they have to achieve when producing large numbers. It is a tough job but we’ve got some brilliant role models around who are excellent pastry chefs in the industry and we get our students to undertake work experience with these guys. So for example Graham Hornigold takes on a lot of our students and he’s a brilliant role model and a fantastic pastry chef in his own right. Do you think the future looks bright, overall for the UK pastry industry? I really, really do because our pastry chefs are now competing in an international market, going out to do big roles with international hospitality companies around the world. We’ve got our UK Pastry Team going out and competing well in the world championships; we’ve got the World Chocolate Masters as well; it’s a really vibrant community at the moment but also a community that are very supportive of each other. They need to continue to work with students to inspire and develop the next crop of pastry chef talent. View Gary’s recipe for Tonka bean and sesame chocolates here View Gary’s recipe for Opera cake with blood orange sorbet here View Gary’s recipe for Gianduja Macaroons here View Gary’s recipe for Strawberries and Cream Petits Fours

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 18th February 2014

Gary Hunter, Westminster Kingsway College, London