Gerard Chouet, head pastry chef, Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles

The  Staff Canteen

Gerard Chouet is the head pastry chef at Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles. Born and raised in France, Gerard has nonetheless spent much of his career working in the UK including stints at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons and Hotel Tresanton in Cornwall.

He has been the pastry chef at Andrew Fairlie for seven years and describes it as the best atmosphere he has ever worked in.

The Staff Canteen caught up with Gerard to find out  what life is like for a French pastry chef in rural Scotland.  

When did you first decide to become a pastry chef?

I grew up in Burgundy in France and my mum was a great cook. We used to have lots of family parties with all the neighbours and I used to help out in the kitchen. From a young age I saw how much people got excited over desserts so I started to make some very simple things like marmalade using fruit from the garden. We also had a yoghurt machine and I remember making yoghurt at home at the age of about ten. At the age of 19 I left school to do a professional apprenticeship in a pastry shop.

What were your reasons for coming to the UK?

My first experience at Le Manoir was very positive. The mentality was very different than in France where you had a lot of people screaming and shouting; I didn’t find that at all at Le Manoir and I wanted to recreate that experience so I came back to the UK and worked in Cornwall. Then, when I came to Scotland, I had been working for some time in France and northern Spain so my plan was to stay for one year, mostly to stop me forgetting the language but I ended up staying for nine because of Andrew Fairlie!

What is it about Andrew Fairlie that has kept you there?

We’re not a huge team at Andrew Fairlie; we’re just nine chefs in the kitchen so we know each other very well; we help each other when we’re in the s*** and when there’s something wrong we try to find a solution together rather than fighting or screaming at each other. Andrew’s a nice guy who looks after us and has looked after me very well. There’s also very good communication between the kitchen and front of house so in service nobody’s screaming or calling each other bad names, so when you come to work you’re in a good mood.

How has your role developed since you started at Andrew Fairlie?

Since I started the business has really increased in volume and the team has increased from five chefs to nine. The quality and the attention to detail has increased as well over the whole kitchen, not just in pastry. In terms of pastry, when I first came here there were a couple of things we were buying in but I said, “I can make that myself and I can make it better,” so that became my goal and now everything is homemade from start to finish. We buy the flour and the eggs from outside but that’s it, everything else is made in the kitchen – the chocolate, the bread, everything.

Have you developed as a pastry chef yourself?

I think I have improved as a pastry chef in all aspects since I’ve been here: my personality, the way I work, the way I think - they have all evolved. Technically I have learned a lot as well. At Andrew Fairlie we can go once a year for a stage in a restaurant of our choice. I did a stage in Bellouet Conseil pastry school and Valrhona Chocolate School in Paris where I learnt a lot about plating desserts, sugar work and these kind of things which are difficult to learn here on your own in Scotland. I used these opportunities to fill in the gaps in my career and I used the things I learned in competitions, which are a great way to try out new techniques, do research and experiment with things to see if they work or not; for example I was recently a semi-finalist in the Master of Culinary Arts competition. I also feel that I’ve really developed as a teacher and trainer, which I really enjoy doing. I’m the only pastry chef here but there are one or two guys from the main kitchen who I’ve trained like Ross Clark, one of our CDPs who covers me when I’m off. I also teach the guys who come here to stage. I like teaching them and I feel it’s part of a pastry chef’s duty to pass on what we know to the younger generation so that the level of knowledge and skill continues to rise and rise. I’m passionate about pastry; I really enjoy what I’m doing and I want to share my happiness with other people and I think that if you teach with enthusiasm and love, people are more receptive and they learn better.

How do you come up with new ideas for desserts and what inspires you?

Since I’ve been here I’ve developed a lot of recipes so often I’ll revisit something I’ve done before but I’ll add something new and fresh to it. I also read a lot of books and magazines to get new ideas. I go online where you can find lots of great ideas, then I can put my own personal twist on them as well as keeping them within the philosophy of what we do here at Andrew Fairlie. I also take a lot of inspiration from nature and the amazing produce here in Scotland. About 200 yards from my home there is a small wood where wild leeks, wild garlic, wood sorrel flowers, chickweed and elderflowers grow, so at the moment  I have an elderflower and peach soufflé on the menu with elderflowers from that wood. Next month there will be lots of raspberries so they will also feature on my desserts  – these kinds of ingredient are local, fresh, seasonal and free – what more could you want?

You’ve been in Scotland for ten years now; where do you see your future lying?

I want to stay in Scotland and open my own small chocolate business. I love teaching as well so I’d like to teach pastry at the same time, maybe part time at a local college.

You wouldn’t want to move back to France?

No, I’m very well known here and I know all the suppliers so I would have a very strong foundation here which, strangely, I wouldn’t have back in France. Also France has a very strong tradition of pastry already but here in Scotland there are a lot of things I think I could help to develop so I think my input as a teacher would be more helpful. View Gerard’s recipe for Chocolate Hedgehog and Chocolate and Yuzu Sorbet here

>>> Read: The Roux Scholarship winners: where are they now? (part 1)

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 20th August 2013

Gerard Chouet, head pastry chef, Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles